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Institutional and Structural Factors

How do human psychological processes interact with various elements of context such as modes of economy, technological capabilities, power differentials, demographic trends, political structures and ecological conditions? While these questions have received attention since the earliest efforts of the social sciences, they have become mainstream to psychology in only the past couple of decades (Triandis 2007). Here we review just a few of the categories that have received attention in the literature.

7.5.3.1 Economic Development

Economic development has historically been a central focus of social science theory. It is particularly strong as a result of the influence of Marx who had a broad and lasting influence across the social sciences, especially in sociology and political science. A contemporary articulation of his modernization theory is found in Postmaterialism theory, as introduced by Inglehart (1997), who focuses on modern-day (post World War II) global cultural change. Inglehart's theory proposes that increases in modernization (wealth, education, and urbanization) reduce the prevalence of subsistence needs among citizens of a nation. As subsistence needs decline, needs for affiliation and self-esteem become more prominent, and as needs change, so do people's values. Materialist values, emphasizing a concern for basic physical and economic security, are replaced by self-expressive (also referred to as post-materialist) values, and in the realm of religion, traditional values are replaced by secular values. This shift in values is proposed to have important implications for many areas of social life (Pippa and Inglehart 2004; Inglehart and Welzel 2005). For example, when materialist values pre-dominate, individuals are more willing to subordinate their own preference for the greater good, but with self-expressive values, individuals tend to pursue their own preference and an active voice in government. This, Inglehart contends, produces a trend toward participatory decision-making and away from hierarchical authority.

Post-materialism theory has been used to address environmental topics in two areas. The first was to provide an explanation for the growth of environmentalism. Inglehart initially proposed that the rise of pro-environmental attitudes was associated with the shift toward post-materialist values: as countries became modernized and less concerned about meeting basic needs, citizens would become more concerned about the environment. Findings from his own data, however, showed a preponderance of pro-environmental attitudes in developing countries (Brechin and Kempton 1994), prompting Inglehart (1995) to suggest that environmentalism will arise: (1) in situations where there are “objective conditions” of increased environmental degradation, but also (2) due to “subjective conditions” of cultural shift, in countries of increasing modernization. This issue continues to be explored in a multi-level context with an interest in understanding the cause of both in-country differences and intra-individual differences in explaining the growth of environmentalism. Findings generally support the chain of events in which an increase in economic well-being brings about a shift toward post-materialist values, and that shift in turn yields a rise in pro-environmental attitudes (Gelissen 2007; Franzen and Meyer 2010; Haller and Hadler 2008).

A second conservation-related application of Post-materialism theory is found in research by Manfredo et al. (2009). These researchers proposed that the changing context of social life has led to a shift from domination to mutualism value orientations toward wildlife in the U.S. While domination prioritizes human well-being over wildlife and promotes treatment of wildlife in utilitarian terms, mutualism views wildlife as capable of relationships of trust with humans and is defined by a desire for companionship with wildlife. This theoretical perspective argued that the reduced reliance on wildlife for material goods, the human tendency toward anthropomorphizing and a growing need for affiliation in post-materialist society have fueled the trend toward mutualism wildlife value orientations. This shift, in turn, has had an important impact on people's relationships with wildlife and their attitudes toward wildlife policy-related issues. A multi-level study in 19 western U.S. states revealed a strong contextual effect of modernization variables – i.e., individual differences in wildlife value orientation scoring could be explained by state-level influences of urbanization, income, and education. Higher levels of these state-level predictors were also associated with higher percentages of mutualists in a state. Moreover, those with a mutualism versus domination orientation were less likely to favor traditional wildlife management techniques (e.g., lethal control) and participate in recreational hunting, revealing the connection between wildlife value orientations and wildlife-related attitudes and behaviors (Manfredo et al. 2009).

7.5.3.2 Governance Systems

Over the past two decades, a growing body of work has centered around questions of governance in SES research, recognizing the importance of institutional mechanisms in influencing system dynamics and resilience (Gerlak 2013; Anderies et al. 2004; Walker et al. 2004). Broadly, governance can be defined in this context as creating the conditions for collective action and ordered rule as well as the set of formal and informal rules that constitute the social system's institutions (Walker et al. 2006). More specifically, environmental governance, defined as the “set of regulatory processes, mechanisms and organizations through which political actors influence environmental actions and outcomes” (Lemos and Agrawal 2006, p. 298), has received increasing attention in the literature.

An area ripe for research considering the role of the individual is reflected in the move toward new approaches to environmental governance, including adaptive governance or adaptive co-management which relies on collaborative networks that connect individuals, organizations, and institutions at multiple levels for managing ecosystems (Dietz et al. 2003; Folke et al. 2003; Olsson et al. 2004). These approaches build upon the extensive tradition of research on community-based governance of common-pool resources advanced by Ostrom (1990, 1997, 2007a) and others (e.g., see Agrawal 2002; Schlager 2004) and are reflective of the rise in more participatory, decentralized forms of decision-making, or collaborative governance (Ansell and Gash 2007; Rogers and Weber 2010).

Using a series of case studies from Sweden and Canada, Olsson et al. (2004) point out how individual actors and their characteristics, including leadership and trust-building capabilities as well as cultural values and local ecological knowledge, are often a critical component of the self-organizing process that defines adaptive co-management systems. They go on to demonstrate the potential of such systems for building resilience by enhancing community capacity to deal with uncertainty and change. The individual characteristics they identified have also been described as important elements of social capital, a term widely used across the social sciences to represent the collective capacity of individuals in social networks (Walker et al. 2006; Ostrom and Ahn 2003; Pretty 2003). According to Ostrom and Ahn (2009), social capital can be viewed as “an attribute of individuals and of their relationships that enhance their ability to solve collective-action problems” (p. 20).

In addition to social capital and related elements such as leadership, a host of other factors designed to connect individual and group-level characteristics to governance regimes were identified in a recent SES framework advanced by Ostrom (2007b). Under the category of resource “user” variables, Ostrom included, for example, individuals' knowledge or mental models of the SES, their dependence on the resource and history of use, and socioeconomic characteristics. Recognizing concerns over recommended panaceas or blueprint approaches to the governance of complex social-ecological problems, the framework was intended to serve as a diagnostic tool for analysis by detailing an array of variables posited by prior research and theory (including a review by Agrawal [2001]) to impact patterns of SES interactions and outcomes. While Ostrom cautioned that not all variables would be relevant in every study, demanding an assessment of which variables and at what levels would be relevant in terms of their potential impact on human behavior and SES outcomes, the framework was proposed by the author as “a step toward building a strong interdisciplinary science of complex, multilevel systems” that would facilitate future research to match governance strategies to particular problems in the SES context (Ostrom 2007b, p. 15181).

Emerging work in this area shows the potential for establishing stronger linkages between environmental governance and the psychological characteristics of individuals within a given social structure. For example, Newig and Fritsch (2009) conducted a meta-analysis of 47 case studies to assess the effectiveness of participatory, multi-level forms of governance. While polycentric governance (consisting of multiple centers of decision-making authority) was correlated with environmental outcomes, the environmental preferences of individuals (averaged across all participants) had by far the strongest effect. In another example, Paciotti et al. (2005) examined the linkage between collaborative personality styles and the adoption of social justice institutions in comparing the Sukuma and Pimbwe ethnic groups in Tanzania. Game theory methods showed a much stronger sharing tendency in the Sukuma compared to the Pimbwe. This finding was true in situations of within-group and between ethnic group games. Sharing and trust served as a foundation for the Sukuma institutional form of justice called Sungusungu. The Pimbwe's attempt to adopt this form of governance was simply not successful due to their lack of cooperative style. The researchers suggested that the alignment of personality characteristics and governance styles serves to adapt social groups to their surroundings.

Arguably, as indicated by these examples, psychological research could contribute to further addressing certain individual-level variables and interactions that Ostrom (2007b) and others have identified as well as aid in expanding the list of individual characteristics (including measures of psychological constructs such as values, attitudes, etc.) worth considering in the governance, and broader SES context. In addition, inclusion of governance considerations in HDNR research would expand understanding of the broader institutional and structural factors that can influence individual thought and behavior.

7.5.3.3 Geographic Regions

Geographic variation on psychological attributes has long been an interest in the social sciences (Allik and McCrae 2004; Hofstede and McCrae 2004; Rentfrow et al. 2008). There has been a strong focus on national differences, but differences have also been identified at regional levels (Nisbett 1993; Kitayama et al. 2006; Rentfrow et al. 2008). Attributes found to vary have included personality characteristics, cultural values, and emotional expression. As an illustration, Rentfrow et al. (2008) revealed how the “Big 5” personality characteristics varied considerably at the state level across the U.S. Further, state-level personality correlated strongly with other social quality variables such as crime rate, social involvement, and religiosity (all increased with levels of extraversion).

While the geographic differences found in such studies are interesting, the real value of their findings is the provocation to explain, or theorize, why these differences exist. For example, Rentfrow et al. (2008) proposed that the explanation for geographic variation in their study was tied to “founder migration” – non-random groups of people with distinct attributes and perhaps genetic make-up settling in an area. The characteristics in a region are perpetuated through selective migrations (people moving to the area) and social and environmental influences. Similarly, Nisbett (1993; Nisbett and Cohen 1996) suggested geographic differences in white male violence could be attributed to cultural factors associated with historical patterns of economy and migration. Kitayama et al. (2006) also relied on a similar cultural mechanism to explain regional differences when comparing “frontier” settlement areas with other areas across nations, but Kitayam and Uskul (2011) went on to argue that cross-cultural psychological and behavioral differences are the result of complex interactions among different systems that make up human individuals (genes, brains, minds) and collectives (social networks, cultures, broader environments). As these examples reveal, understanding geographic differences in psychological attributes will require holistic theorizing and multi-level approaches that recognize the complexity of the human context. Recent advances integrating culture in psychological research, discussed in more detail below, offer promise in informing new directions in this area (Oishi et al. 2009; Kitayama and Cohen 2007).

7.5.3.4 Cultural Groups

Cross-cultural psychology emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, and as recently as 1998 Segall et al. (1998) proclaimed “psychology in general has long ignored 'culture' as a source of influence on human behavior and still takes little account of theories or data from other than Euro-American cultures” (p. 1102). Yet, cross-cultural psychology has given fresh insight into the pursuit of identifying human universals, considered one of the primary goals of psychology (Jahoda and Krewer 1997). Interestingly, the growing body of cross-cultural research has found that many of the central theories of psychology, which originated from research in North America, have not generalized well to other cultures (Norenzayan and Heine 2005).

But the contrasting goal of psychology, understanding diversity, has been well served by cross-cultural psychology, and the logic for such diversity coincides with the main goal of an SES approach – determining the adaptive interrelationships of humans and their environments. As Triandis (2007) states:

[people]…determine ways of organizing information, symbols, evaluations, and patterns of behavior; intellectual, moral, and aesthetic standards; knowledge, religion, and social patterns…systems of government, systems of making war; and expectations and ideas about correct behavior that are more or less effective [functional] in adapting to their ecosystem. (p. 64)

Further, the methods and theory of cross-cultural psychology can be key to informing SES approaches to conservation issues that include individuals and account for their varied cultural backgrounds.

One area of research in cross-cultural psychology that has received enduring attention is the diversity of cultural values and understanding why they exist (e.g., Hofstede 2001; Schwartz 2006). This research has been guided by practical concerns of improving intergroup relations, increasing success in global markets, and international diplomacy. A frequent focus in this area has been on the documented difference between the collectivist values of Southeast Asian cultures and the individualistic values of cultures of Europe and North America (Triandis 1995). Two recent studies illustrate the social-ecological nature of the explanation for this difference, highlighting the relevance of cross-cultural psychology in an SES context as well as the potential for this sub-discipline to inform future directions in HDNR research aimed at understanding the broader influences on individual thought/behavior. Kitayama et al. (2010) proposed a production-adoption model of cultural change which they used to explain the strong individualistic and independence “ethos” in the U.S. They argued that novel values and practices arise within a social group to cope with major adaptive challenges for biological, economic, and/or political survival, whereas adoption of existing practices is motivated by a desire to achieve prestige and higher status within one's community. In the U.S., values and practices associated with independence and self-reliance emerged as settlers moved West and had to adapt to sparsely-populated, harsh environmental conditions. Given the economic success of Westward expansion, residents in the Eastern U.S. imitated these values in achieving higher social status and prestige.

In another recent example, Gelfand et al. (2011) proposed exploring the collective-independent difference through a cultural systems model of “tightnesslooseness” that links ecological threats, social processes (norms and tolerances of deviant behavior), socio-political institutions, and psychological processes. Overall, based on empirical findings with data from 33 nations, they suggested that as ecological and human threats increase, the need for strong norms and punishment of deviant behavior also increases because these mechanisms facilitate social coordination in response to the threats. Such coordination enhances the chance of survival. Given that institutions are a reflection of norms and tolerances, societies with strong norms (“tight” nations) would have more restricted press, more laws, criminal justice systems with higher monitoring and severe punishment, and stronger religion, while “loose” nations would be the opposite. Also, in tight cultures, there is a higher degree of structure and constraint in day-to-day situations as well as individual-level psychological adaptations like self-regulation and self-monitoring.

 
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