Finding ways to adapt natural tendencies and nudge collective action is central to the well-being of future generations.
Hundreds of studies in behavioural economics and other social sciences, conducted over the past few decades, have established that people often make choices that take into account the well-being of others. This contradicts an assumption held over centuries that people exclusively pursue their own material well-being. It also offers hope for the prospect of developing public goods (see‘Glossary: behavioural economics’) that will benefit future generations.
Glossary: Behavioural economics
- A public good is a resource such as the atmosphere that individuals cannot be effectively excluded from using, and for which use by one person doesn’t reduce the availability of the good to others.
- People who care about the well-being of others have other-regarding preferences.
- People who care only about their own material well-being have self-regarding preferences.
- Conditional cooperators will share the burden of providing public goods or comply with social norms that benefit the group as long as others do the same.
- People whose tolerance of risk depends on when in the future the consequences of their decisions will materialize show delay-dependent risk tolerance.
- People who become more cautious as a result of observing the outcomes of their decisions over time show feedback-dependent risk aversion.
- Short-term impatience is giving disproportionate weight to current benefits compared to future ones.However, another body of evidence, gathered over the past two or three decades, indicates that people display an array of other tendencies, such as giving excessive weight to current benefits over future ones. These could hamper policies and initiatives aimed at building or sustaining public goods.
The message emerging is that sustainable development will require the design of policies and schemes that specifically take advantage of some of our natural tendencies, and mitigate others.
- More: http://www.nature.com/news/sustainability-game-human-nature-1.19417