PhD Research - Alex DeGolia

BA Political Science, Swarthmore College

My Bren School PhD research is cross-disciplinary. I incorporate methods from political science, social psychology, and economics to explore individual motivations for pro-environmental behavior and their policy implications. In particular, I study distinctions between individual actions to address environmental problems through choices in the private sphere (e.g. green consumerism) and participation in collective environmental action (e.g. direct political action or support for specific policies). I also do research to understand how values that are not explicitly environmental, such as altruism or egoism, influence individual environmental action. This project focuses on how environmental messages can employ these value frames to increase their persuasiveness.

Outside of academic life, I work part-time as a research manager for the Analyst Institute, where I help implement field experiments with progressive political organizations. I also spend a few weeks a year working as a field instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). In this role I teach students how to become better leaders through backpacking trips into some of the most remote wilderness areas in the U.S.

Dissertation Abstract:
In this dissertation, I ask a series of questions regarding why people perform different environmental behaviors and how communications can influence individuals’ actions and opinions related to environmental management. I begin by evaluating the structure and psychological drivers of different types of environmental behavior and political behavior more generally, which provides new insight regarding how individuals’ values motivate political participation and how those motivations differ across political actions. And whereas existing literature suggests three categories of environmental behavior, my survey analysis shows the presence of as many as six distinct types of common environmental behaviors including household behaviors, consumer behaviors, support for environmental policies, and several types of environmental political activism. Using these categories of environmental behavior, I show that individuals' values exert the largest influence on relatively low-cost, non-activist environmental behaviors. Finally, I apply lessons from this survey analysis to a messaging experiment regarding the relative impact of messages that highlight ecological or economic benefits of specific projects on public support for environmental management. I find that overall the public is more concerned with protecting the environment for its intrinsic value than its economic value, but that political orientations and environmental values moderate the effects of these messages.

Year Admitted: 2012
Research Areas: Environmental Politics and Policy; Environmental Psychology; Political Behavior
Faculty Advisor: Sarah Anderson

Fellowship Awards

  • H. William Kuni Bren Fellows Award, 2016
  • UCSB Crossroads Fellow for seminar in Psychology, Environment, and Public Policy, 2013-2014
  • Michael J. Connell Foundation Fellowship, Bren School, 2012-2013