Behavioural Science

Eco-Morals Lead Nowhere

Research question

When does eco-friendly thinking lead to actually doing the same thing?


We can clearly see that people know about the climate change situation, but many struggle to make a consistent change in becoming more and more sustainable. This leads to saying one thing but doing another. In psychology and behavioural sciences, this type of behaviour pattern is called the attitude–behaviour gap. Hence, we can raise the following questions, such as ‘Why does the attitude– behaviour gap happen?’ and, more importantly, ‘When attitude–behaviour gap doesn’t happen?’


Theoretically, there are two key components that lead to specific behaviour. These components are attitudes and intentions. That is positive attitudes towards being eco-friendly lead to the intention of being eco-friendly, and the intention of being eco-friendly leads to actual eco-friendly actions. However, some behaviour cases do not result from this chain of events, and eco-friendly behaviours serve as an example of such cases. Hence, we raise the question of why positive attitudes towards eco-friendly behaviours often fail to translate into actual eco-friendly behaviours? What is so special about eco-friendly behaviours that lead to people saying one thing but doing another?


A behaviour modelling study was designed to understand the reasons for the attitude–behaviour gap. To do so, we have used the theoretical behaviour model, known as Hunt-Vitell’s General Theory of Marketing Ethics. We have chosen to use Hunt-Vitell’s model for our study because it is based on the idea of morality. More specifically, the model assumes that the moral dimension is the key factor forming attitudes, intentions, and behaviours. Therefore, finding an inconsistency between what people say and do would mean that the attitude–behaviour gap occurs because of the broken effects of the moral dimension.


Indeed, the results have shown the importance of a sense of morality in an attempt to become eco-friendly. Specifically, our findings revealed that the moral dimension leads to the consistency between what people will say and what people will do. For example, when there is a strong non-conscious sense of what is moral and what is not, this sense will continuously motivate a person to be eco-friendly. However, this may not always be the case if the sense of morality is present only on the conscious rather than the non-conscious level. In such cases, it is likely, that positive attitudes towards being eco-friendly will not translate into actual eco-friendly actions.

Why it Matters

The study suggests the idea that the difference between the conscious and non-conscious sense of morality has a tremendous impact on whether people will do what they say. For example, a strong non-conscious sense of morality leads to consistency between people’s attitudes and behaviours. However, a strong conscious rather than a non-conscious sense of morality is unlikely to be as effective, and this could be the reason why we see the attitude–behaviour gap. This suggests that moralising about the need to be eco-friendly is unlikely to provide long-term effects because knowing what is moral and what is not needs to start on the non-conscious level.



Zaikauskaite, L., Butler, G., Helmi, N. F., Robinson, C. L., Treglown, L., Tsivrikos, D., & Devlin, J. T. (2022). Hunt–Vitell’s General Theory of Marketing Ethics Predicts “Attitude-Behaviour” Gap in Pro-environmental Domain. Frontiers in psychology, 13.