Exploring Mental Models and Testing Framing Effects on Public Attitudes Towards an Ecological Economy Paradigm

The current economic model depends on ever expanding use and transformation of natural resources. However, the planet’s ecological capacity to provide goods and services is shrinking while our human load – in terms of population size and consumption – keeps growing. For decades, ecological economists and others, have acknowledged the limits to growth and have called for a change in the economic paradigm; primarily highlighting the importance of focusing on improving quality of life (rather than focusing solely on growing GDP) and stressing the need to eventually move into non-growing, optimally-sized economies (rather than aiming at keeping the economy growing at any cost). Although the ideas of ecological economics are not new and seem adequate for generating a sustainable society in a finite planet, the field has not taken off in academic, political nor public circles.

The main purpose of this investigation is to uncover more effective ways in which some of the principles and policies of ecological economics, such as the need of transitioning into non-growing steady state economies, can be better transmitted to, and accepted by, the public. It will be informed by the fields of psychology and behavioural economics, and more specifically, will use framing theory to assess whether acceptance of an idea is affected by the way the information is presented. In addition, this study will also explore the mental models (i.e. conceptions, beliefs and assumptions) that people hold in relation to ecological economics (e.g. economic growth, limited resources, uneconomic growth) and to explore the degree to which these may moderate how people perceive different post-growth messages.