Study title
Rationality and environmentally responsible behaviour
Ref study 2188
Study language German
Contributing institutions
  • Verkehr
  • Kommunikation
  • Umweltpolitik
  • Rationalität
  • Einstellung
  • Kooperation
  • Umwelterziehung
Geographical space
Zürich (Kanton)
  • Switzerland
The starting point of this study was the frequent social dilemma situations in everyday "environmentally responsible behaviour" as they have been described in game theory. An environmentally friendly solution to these dilemmas requires "non-rational" cooperative behaviour. As a way out of such dilemmas, there were calls from various sides for a different rationality in our actions. One of the most prominent suggestions comes from Jürgen Habermas. With his theory of communicative action he established an expanded understanding of rationality and thus made an important theoretical contribution to overcoming social dilemmas and promoting environmentally responsible action. This theory has not yet undergone a rigorous empirical examination in real decision-making situations. Empirical studies on the conditions to be met are also missing so that the fundamentally cooperation-oriented communicative rationality can take effect.
Problem 1: Environmental problems are largely cooperation problems because they have the character of social dilemmas. Problem 2: The connection between communicative rationality and environmentally responsible action is not empirically proven. Problem 3: Environmental policy lacks a clear and comprehensive concept for the so-called "cooperation principle".
The work has both scientific and practical political significance. One of the most important concerns of the work proposed here is to build a bridge between scientific-theoretical insights and everyday practice.
a) The practical political significance:
- The study proposes concrete practical instruments to promote environmentally responsible action.
- It provides an easy-to-understand yet scientifically based concept for supplementing the environmental policy guidelines with the so-called "cooperation principle".
- It offers a perspective (model) for a variety of different environmental policy instruments based on cooperative rationality (for environmental authorities at federal, cantonal and municipal level) and thus enables better coordination of these instruments. The effectiveness of these instruments should be significantly enhanced by their coordinated complementary use.
- This study should offer concrete suggestions for environmental education and therefore, above all, start with the younger generations of importance for the future.
- The modelling of cooperative behaviour in the choice of transport modes in the Zurich area should represent a more targeted policy both to promote the switch to public transport in particular and to promote cooperative behaviour in favour of the environment in general.
b) The scientific significance:
- This study should deepen the scientific insight into the basic decision-making processes regarding environmentally responsible behaviour. In particular, the normative and expressive decision bases and the decision context should be explicitly considered. A mathematical decision model was developed and empirically tested in the form of structural equations.
- Such operationalization, mathematical modelling and empirical testing of the core elements of the theory of communicative action had not been carried out up to now and thus represented a turning point in the area of rational choice modelling.
- In the juxtaposition and empirical examination (using structural equation models) of behaviorist and action-theoretical concepts for linking "attitudes" or "action dispositions" and action, a deeper insight into human action processes should be achieved and a bridge between action-theoretical and behaviorist approaches enabled.
Methods (description)
Grundgesamtheit (für emp. Teil der Untersuchung): Schweizer und Schweizerinnen zwischen 18 und 60 Jahre alt und Wohnhaft im Kanton Zürich.
Zeitbezug: Einmalig, November/Dezember 1994.
Auswahlverfahren: Zweistufige Zufallsauswahl, auf erste Stufe 20 Gemeinden gewichtet nach Grösse der Grundgesamtheit in dieser Gemeinde, auf zweite Stufe zufällige Auswahl von Personen aus der Grundgesamtheit (gleiche Stichprobengrösse in jede ausgewählte Gemeinde).
Stichprobengrösse: verschickt an 6'500 Personen, realisiert ±3000.
Erhebungsverfahren: standardisierte schriftliche postalische Befragung mit einmaliger Mahnung.
Datenerhebung durch: Forscher.
Analysemethode: Statistisch: Strukturgleichungsmodelle, Varianzanalyse, Logit-Analyse.
Methods (instruments)
Replicated study No
  • Ernste, Huib. 1996. Kommunikative Rationalität und umweltverantwortliches Handeln. In: Kaufmann-Hayoz et al.: Umweltproblem Mensch? Humanwissenschaftliche Zugänge zu umweltverantwortlichem Handeln. Bern, 1996.
  • Ernste, Huib. 1994. Pathways to Human Ecology. From observation to commitment. Lang, Berne, 1994.
  • Ernste, Huib. 1994. How Rational is Rational? The relationship between rational choice and communicative rationality in modelling environmental and spatial behaviour. In: Ernste, Huib (ed.): Pathways to Human Ecology. From observation to commitment. Lang, Berne, 1994.
  • Ernste, Huib. 1994. Trust, communicative rationality and the anthropological foundation of the man-environment-relationship. In: Wright, S. (ed.): Proceedings of the seventh International Conference of the Society of Human Ecology "Progress Through Integrative Perspectives". Michigan State University.
  • Ernste, Huib. 1993. Die Emanzipation der schweigenden Mehrheit. In: Geographica Helvetica, Vol. 48, Nr. 2, 1993, S. 85-92.
  • Ernste, Huib. Flexible Specialisation and Regional Policy. Submitted to Geograsicky Casopis. Geographical Institute of the Slovak Academy of Science.
Financed by
Ethical approval No
Study type
Data availability
Source (Updates) Web
Date created 24.04.2018
Date modified 24.04.2018
Start - End date 01.05.1994 - 28.06.1996