Dr. Andy Skelton, Psychology

Sustainability in Social Psychology

After participating in the 2009 Valley and Ridge group, I altered two courses in social psychology so that environmental sustainability is featured prominently. Social Psychology (Psyc 140) is an entry level course dealing with individuals' psychological process in a social context. We study such questions as, "How do individuals explain their own behavior and that of others?," and "In what ways does the presence of others affect our thoughts and actions?" Such questions are easily reframed to bring environmental issues to the foreground, for example, "How do people explain their own successes/failures to act sustainably, compared to their explanations of other people's successes/failures?," and "In what ways does the pro-environmental behavior of others affect our own actions?"

Research Methods in Social Psychology (Psyc 340), a course for majors, has become since 2010 largely focused on developing empirical studies that (a) test hypotheses about sustainability-relevant attitudes and behaviors and (b) generate useful data for planning and implementing institutional sustainability initiatives. For example, we have studied college employees' modes of commuting to campus and explored their amenability to less carbon-intensive modes. The classes' results have been used by the Climate Action Task Force, and their survey items will be incorporated into regular institutional assessments of commuting--a real-world payoff for students who've taken the course.