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Nation’s “personality” influences its environmental stewardship, shows new study

October 23, 2014

TORONTO, ON — Coun­tries with high­er lev­els of com­pas­sion and open­ness score bet­ter when it comes to envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­i­ty, says research from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to.

A new study by Jacob Hirsh, an Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Orga­ni­za­tion­al Behav­iour & Human Resource Man­age­ment at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Mis­sis­sauga’s Insti­tute for Man­age­ment & Inno­va­tion, who is cross-appoint­ed to U of T’s Rot­man School of Man­age­ment, demon­strates that a country’s per­son­al­i­ty pro­file can pre­dict its envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­i­ty records.

While Prof. Hirsh’s pre­vi­ous work has looked at how per­son­al­i­ty traits pre­dict an individual’s atti­tudes about the envi­ron­ment, this lat­est study takes the research to anoth­er lev­el, exam­in­ing how those traits play out across whole nations.

“We used to think that per­son­al­i­ty only mat­tered for indi­vid­ual out­comes,” says Prof. Hirsh, “but we’re find­ing that pop­u­la­tion dif­fer­ences in per­son­al­i­ty char­ac­ter­is­tics have many large-scale con­se­quences”.

The new study exam­ined nation-lev­el per­son­al­i­ty traits from a data­base of over 12,000 peo­ple in 51 coun­tries. Nation­al per­son­al­i­ty dif­fer­ences, reflect­ing aver­age trait pro­files of a country’s cit­i­zens, were used to pre­dict scores on the Envi­ron­men­tal Per­for­mance Index (EPI). The EPI, devel­oped at Yale and Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ties, ranks coun­tries across 22 envi­ron­men­tal indi­ca­tors, includ­ing Co2 emis­sion lev­els, use of renew­able ener­gy, and ecosys­tem man­age­ment.

High­er scores on the EPI, reflect­ing more envi­ron­men­tal­ly sus­tain­able prac­tices, were pos­i­tive­ly cor­re­lat­ed with nation­al lev­els of two per­son­al­i­ty traits: Agree­able­ness, which reflects empa­thy and com­pas­sion, and Open­ness, which reflects cog­ni­tive flex­i­bil­i­ty and aes­thet­ic appre­ci­a­tion. The same rela­tion­ships were observed even when con­trol­ling for nation­al dif­fer­ences in wealth, edu­ca­tion, and pop­u­la­tion size.

These results high­light the psy­cho­log­i­cal fac­tors that can shape a nation’s envi­ron­men­tal poli­cies, says Prof. Hirsh. “Not only can a person’s atti­tudes about the envi­ron­ment be pre­dict­ed from his or her per­son­al­i­ty traits, but the envi­ron­men­tal prac­tices of entire nations can be pre­dict­ed from the per­son­al­i­ty pro­files of their cit­i­zens”.

The paper was pub­lished in a recent issue of the Jour­nal of Envi­ron­men­tal Psy­chol­o­gy.

For the lat­est think­ing on busi­ness, man­age­ment and eco­nom­ics from the Rot­man School of Man­age­ment, vis­it


For more infor­ma­tion:

Ken McGuf­fin
Man­ag­er, Media Rela­tions
Rot­man School of Man­age­ment
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
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