No control, no drive: how noise may undermine conservation behavior in a commons dilemma



Sometimes people may no longer engage in conservational behavior (e.g., to reduce emissions) because their attempts to do so have been thwarted by “negative noise”, or external forces that may cause otherwise cooperative intentions to translate into non-cooperative action (e.g., strikes prevented to commute by public transport rather than by car). The purpose of the present research is to examine whether experiences with negative noise in a commons dilemma may undermine conservational motivation and behavior, even in a subsequent commons dilemma that is free of noise. Participants first interacted in a commons dilemma task—with noise versus without noise—in which the common pool was sustained versus deteriorating. Afterwards, participants were involved in an identical second task in the same pool size condition but noise-free for everybody. Consistent with hypotheses, participants who faced noise and a deteriorating resource in the first task exhibited lower levels of conservation in the second task than did participants who were always acting free of noise. This pattern was mediated by a reduced motivation to preserve the common pool, suggesting that the experience of noise in combination with a decline in collective resources may especially undermine cooperative motivation and behavior. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.