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Goal-framing theory in environmental behaviours: review, future research agenda and possible applications in behavioural change

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  • Natália Rohenkohl do Canto, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul
  • ,
  • Klaus G. Grunert
  • Marcia Dutra de Barcellos, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul

Purpose: Preserving the environment is fundamental to the planet’s long-term sustainability, but attempts to promote pro-environmental behaviours often do not take into account the motivational determinants of such behaviours. This study aims to present and critically evaluate the theoretical and empirical basis of goal-framing theory, which asserts that pro-environmental behaviours might stem from conflicting goals. This study compares the theory to other approaches used to explain pro-environmental behaviour, reviews the empirical evidence for it and comes up with suggestions for future research. Design/methodology/approach: This study compares the theory with other popular theories to explain pro-environmental behaviour and behaviour change and systematically review 25 empirical research studies that adopt the goal-framing theory. Findings: Most studies rely on survey data, focus on Europe and gather self-reported behaviours or hypothetical responses. Furthermore, many studies of goal frames neglect key situational factors. Thus, the directions for further research outlined herein emphasise the need for more experimental studies of real behaviours, with consideration of situational factors, using methods that can explicate unconscious processes too. Overall, goal-framing theory provides a promising approach for analysing pro-environmental behaviours, in that it explicitly deals with goal conflicts, takes situational factors into account and encompasses conscious and unconscious processes. The authors conclude that the theory can form a useful basis for the design of social marketing behavioural interventions to promote pro-environmental behaviours. Originality/value: To the best of the authors’ knowledge, as the first systematic review of empirical applications of goal-framing theory, this study provides refinement and validation. By also offering propositions and a research agenda, the authors hope to inspire researchers in social marketing to address the remaining gaps and refine the theory even further.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Social Marketing
Pages (from-to)20-40
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023

    Research areas

  • Goal-framing theory, Motivation, Pro-environmental behaviour, Systematic literature review, Theory-based review

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