A conservation orientation in commons dilemmas




Lavallee, Loraine F.
Gifford, Robert
Sussman, Reuven
Kronisch, Devan
Iglesias, Fabio
Matheson, Heath

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Journal of Environmental Psychology


Commons dilemmas have an unforgiving logic: depleting renewable resources, such as a community's freshwater reservoir, will harm those who depend upon it. The conservation-orientation hypothesis proposes that most individuals understand this logic and therefore are inclined to conserve replenishable resources. Two studies tested this hypothesis by placing participants in either sustainable-fishing or over-fishing microworlds. Consistent with the hypothesis, when (computer-programmed) fishers in Study 1 harvested sustainably, participants also harvested sustainably. When faced with an over-fishing context, most participants who valued power and wealth sustained the resource over time. Participants less motivated by power and wealth went further by sacrificing more of their own harvest to sustain the fish population. A true conservation-orientation goes beyond protecting the resource for one's personal interests and this proposition was investigated in Study 2 with Prosocial or Proself individuals. Majorities of both groups sustained the resource at high levels for future generations of fishers even when their own financial outcomes would have doubled by depleting the resource. The conservation-orientation hypothesis was largely supported: members of small commons conserved the resource for themselves over time and for future generations and, when faced with a depleting resource, attempted to restore it.


The authors thank Jorge Aranda, who provided invaluable technical expertise and assistance in setting up the FISH computer programs and experiments, and also thank Drs. Don Hine (University of Canterbury, NZ) and Valdiney Gouveia (Federal University of Paraiba, Brazil) for their statistical assistance on this project.


commons dilemmas, resource conservation, power values, social value orientation, equal-division rule, inter-generational equity


Lavallee, L. F., Gifford, R., Sussman, R., Kronisch, D., Iglesias, F., & Matheson, H. A conservation orientation in commons dilemmas. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 94, 102252. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2024.102252