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Environment-Specific vs. General Knowledge and Their Role in Pro-environmental Behavior

Geiger, Sonja Maria; Geiger, Mattis; Wilhelm, Oliver

Environmental knowledge has been established as a behavior-distal, but necessary antecedent of pro-environmental behavior. The magnitude of its effect is difficult to estimate due to methodological deficits and variability of measures proposed in the literature. This paper addresses these methodological issues with an updated, comprehensive and objective test of environmental knowledge spanning a broad variety of current environment related topics. In a multivariate study (n = 214), latent data modeling was employed to explore the internal factor structure of environmental knowledge, its relationship with general knowledge and explanatory power on pro-environmental behavior. We tested competing factor models and uncovered a general factor of environmental knowledge. The main novel finding of the study concerns its relationship with general knowledge. Employing an established test of general knowledge to measure crystallized intelligence revealed a near perfect relationship between environmental and general knowledge. This general knowledge (including the environmental domain) accounted for 7% of the variance in environmentally significant behavior. Age, additionally to acquired education, emerged as a common predictor for both general knowledge and environmentally significant behavior. We discuss the consequences of the strong relation between general and environmental knowledge and provide a possible explanation for the positive age-environmental conservation relationship reported in the literature.
Published in: Frontiers in Psychology, 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00718, Frontiers Media S.A.