Reflecting on Behavioral Spillover in Context: How Do Behavioral Motivations and Awareness Catalyze Other Environmentally Responsible Actions in Brazil, China, and Denmark?

Nick Nash, Lorraine Whitmarsh, Stuart Capstick, John Thøgersen, Valdiney Gouveia, Rafaella de Carvalho Rodrigues Araújo, Marie K. Harder, Xiao Wang, Yuebai Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Responding to serious environmental problems, requires urgent and fundamental shifts in our day-to-day lifestyles. This paper employs a qualitative, cross-cultural approach to explore people’s subjective self-reflections on their experiences of pro-environmental behavioral spillover in three countries; Brazil, China, and Denmark. Behavioral spillover is an appealing yet elusive phenomenon, but offers a potential way of encouraging wider, voluntary lifestyle shifts beyond the scope of single behavior change interventions. Behavioral spillover theory proposes that engaging in one pro-environmental action can catalyze the performance of others. To date, evidence for the phenomenon has been mixed, and the causal processes governing relationships between behaviors appear complex, inconsistent and only partly understood. This paper addresses a gap in the literature by investigating accounts of behavioral spillover in three diverse cultural settings using qualitative semi-structured interviews. The analysis shows that while around half of participants overall who were questioned recalled spillover effects, the other half had not consciously experienced spillover. There were few significant differences across cultures, though some forms of spillover effects were reported more in some cultures than others. More environmentally engaged participants across all three countries were significantly more likely to experience spillover than those who were less engaged. Accounts of within-domain spillovers were most commonly reported, mainly comprising waste, resource conservation and consumption-related actions. Accounts of between-domain spillover were very rare. Recollection of contextual and interpersonal spillover effects also emerged from the interviews. Our findings suggest that more conscious behavioral spillover pathways may be limited to those with pre-existing environmental values. Behavioral spillover may comprise multiple pathways incorporating conscious and unconscious processes. We conclude that targeting behavioral catalysts that generate more socially diffuse spillover effects could offer more potential than conventional spillover involving a single individual.
Original languageEnglish
Article number788
Number of pages17
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue number788
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jun 2019

Bibliographical note

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.


  • Behavioral spillover
  • Brazil
  • China
  • Cross-cultural
  • Denmark
  • Pro-environmental behaviour
  • Qualitative


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