HUMANITY is faced with big problems - poverty, climate change,
human-rights abuses, inequality. We need to find durable solutions,
but these are bigger-than-self problems that it may not be in an
individual's self-interest to solve.
Social marketing - applying insights from marketing physical
products - is one strategy that has been used to promote
sustainable behaviour. But the Common Cause project argues that
this can be counter-productive, and that we need an approach that
begins with personal values. Instead of using marketing techniques
that appeal to self-interest, good causes need to appeal to
Common Cause grew out of work undertaken by Dr Tom Crompton and
his colleagues at WWF-UK on how pressure groups campaign on climate
change. It is now funded by a number of campaigning organisations,
and in 2011 published The Common Cause Handbook, which
looks at the values that guide how we receive information, and how
VALUES represent our broadest motivations, based on what we
think is important. Psychologists have assembled a large body of
evidence that shows that certain values and beliefs tend to align,
while others tend to be opposed. So values can be categorised into
two main groups.
Self-enhancing, or extrinsic, values are centred on external
approval or rewards, such as money, status, and power.
Self-transcending, or intrinsic, values are based on more rewarding
attitudes, such as concern for nature, human relationships, and
creativity. Exercising these values tends also to increase personal
well-being as a by-product.
We are all oriented more or less towards extrinsic and intrinsic
values. People who identify with one extrinsic value tend to
identify with other extrinsic values and less with intrinsic
values, and vice versa.
Psychologists have found that engaging one value strengthens
neighbouring values. So, for example, when we are reminded of
intrinsic values, we are more likely to respond positively to
requests for help. Conversely, temporarily engaging one value
suppresses opposing values; so, when people are reminded of
extrinsic values, they are less likely to respond to requests for
THE University of Cardiff recently undertook a study that
illustrates both these tendencies. Three groups of people were
invited to memorise words associated with intrinsic values,
extrinsic values, and food (the last one was the control group).
Later, they were invited to volunteer their time on another
project. On average, those in the control group volunteered about
40 minutes of their time, the intrinsic-values group 70 minutes;
and the extrinsic-values group only 30 minutes.
In another example, researchers surveyed people in Switzerland
on whether they would be willing to have toxic-waste sites near
their communities. The people were aware of the risks, and when
civic responsibility (intrinsic) was emphasised, about half of
those questioned said yes. But when compensation (extrinsic) was
also suggested, only a quarter said yes.
Psychologists have also found that if values are repeatedly
engaged and exercised, they become stronger. Conversely, values
that do not have the opportunity to be expressed become weaker.
Politicians tell us that economic competitiveness is the most
important indicator of national performance. Advertising insinuates
the idea that consumption of a product will enhance our image and
status. We are no longer citizens, but consumers. And when we are
engaged in the slightest way as consumers, those extrinsic values
are being strengthened further.
THESE insights lead to three important lessons for campaigners.
First, the prevailing culture needs to be challenged. We need to
lay a foundation of intrinsic values - not just through campaigns
for par- ticular good causes, but with more general campaigns
against extrinsic, and for intrinsic, values. Some examples would
be to replace GDP with an indicator of well-being, and to teach
empathy in schools.
The current norms are powerful, however; so campaigners and
policy-makers need to work together, which is itself intrinsic
My the same token, competition between campaigns is
counter-productive. This is the second lesson. As good causes are
linked by the intrinsic values that underpin them, work on any
cause to reinforce intrinsic values will benefit other causes.
Encouraging people to care about their neighbours will mean that
they are more likely also to care about people in parts of the
world that they do not know.
Campaigns that borrow from standard product-marketing do not
care about motivation, so they typically appeal to people's
self-interest, for example by promoting energy efficiency by
emphasising the financial savings. But the third important lesson
is that it is counterproductive in the long-term to appeal to these
types of extrinsic values to achieve intrinsic goals, because
appealing to extrinsic values will reinforce those values.
Worse, offering an extrinsic reward can actually discourage the
intended intrinsic behaviour. One project found that the incidence
of blood donations decreased when a monetary reward was
CAMPAIGNS that prompt their audience to reflect on the
importance that they attach to intrinsic values are more likely to
be successful in prompting concern about bigger-than-self problems.
This is because, despite our prevailing culture, it seems that
almost everyone holds some intrinsic values, and the majority still
hold intrinsic values to be more important than extrinsic
Some people question whether there is time to shift our values,
usually in the context of the swift action needed to address
climate change. But Common Cause argues that it is not so much
about shifting values as engaging the intrinsic values that are
Change based on appealing to extrinsic values is often limited,
and all too easily unravels, as we saw when the recession hit, and
interest in the environment waned. We do not have the time or the
excuse not to engage intrinsic values, if we wish to address the
bigger-than-self, important problems that we face.
Clare Bryden is an Honorary Research Fellow of the
University of Exeter. The Common Cause Handbook is at