Research Article

Determinants of Undergraduates’ Environmental Behavioural Intentions and Their Links to Socioscientific Issues Education

Interdisciplinary Journal of Environmental and Science Education, 2021, 17(2), e2231,
Full Text (PDF)


Socioscientific issues (SSI) education provides a framework for students to learn about controversial scientific topics such as climate change, vaccines, and genetic engineering, but rarely measures specific personal factors in student decision-making. SSI educators might benefit from building on behavior theories such as the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) and Value-Belief-Norm Theory of Environmentalism (VBN) in examining how students make decisions about different types of environmental issues. Undergraduate students (n=132) were surveyed to investigate for which types of behavior TPB, VBN, or both theories are most effective, and to explore whether climate change knowledge was a significant predictor of behavior. Behaviors were divided into indirect behaviors with recycling as a direct behavior comparison. The combined theories of behavior best predicted behavioral intentions in regression models over either theory individually. Recycling, a direct environmental behavior, was predicted by different determinants than three indirect environmental behaviors. Climate change knowledge was not a significant predictor in any of the models. These results support the use of different behavior models for different behaviors and exploration of subjective and personal norms around environmental behavior in the SSI classroom.


Theory of Planned Behaviour Value-Belief-Norm Theory environmental behaviour environmental citizenship socioscientific issues


Kirby, C. K. (2021). Determinants of Undergraduates’ Environmental Behavioural Intentions and Their Links to Socioscientific Issues Education. Interdisciplinary Journal of Environmental and Science Education, 17(2), e2231.
Kirby, C. K. (2021). Determinants of Undergraduates’ Environmental Behavioural Intentions and Their Links to Socioscientific Issues Education. Interdisciplinary Journal of Environmental and Science Education, 17(2), e2231.
Kirby CK. Determinants of Undergraduates’ Environmental Behavioural Intentions and Their Links to Socioscientific Issues Education. INTERDISCIP J ENV SCI ED. 2021;17(2):e2231.
Kirby CK. Determinants of Undergraduates’ Environmental Behavioural Intentions and Their Links to Socioscientific Issues Education. INTERDISCIP J ENV SCI ED. 2021;17(2), e2231.
Kirby, Caitlin K. "Determinants of Undergraduates’ Environmental Behavioural Intentions and Their Links to Socioscientific Issues Education". Interdisciplinary Journal of Environmental and Science Education 2021 17 no. 2 (2021): e2231.
Kirby, Caitlin K "Determinants of Undergraduates’ Environmental Behavioural Intentions and Their Links to Socioscientific Issues Education". Interdisciplinary Journal of Environmental and Science Education, vol. 17, no. 2, 2021, e2231.


  1. Abrahamse, W., & Steg, L. (2011). Factors related to household energy use and intention to reduce it: The role of psychological and socio-demographic variables. Human Ecology Review, 18(1), 30-40.
  2. Acar, O., Turkmen, L., & Roychoudhury, A. (2010). Student difficulties in socio-scientific argumentation and decision-making research findings: Crossing the borders of two research lines. International Journal of Science Education, 32(9), 1191–1206.
  3. Aguilar-Luzón, M. del C., García-Martínez, J. M. Á., Calvo-Salguero, A., & Salinas, J. M. (2012). Comparative study between the Theory of Planned Behavior and the Value-Belief-Norm model regarding the environment, on Spanish housewives’ recycling behavior. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 42(11), 2797–2833.
  4. Ajzen, I. (1991). The Theory of Planned Behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50, 179–211.
  5. Baptiste, A. K. (2018). Climate change knowledge, concerns, and behaviors among Caribbean fishers. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 8(1), 51–62.
  6. Barr, S., Gilg, A., & Ford, N. (2005). Defining the multi-dimensional aspects of household waste management: A study of reported behavior in Devon. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 45(2), 172–192.
  7. Beaumont, E., Colby, A., Ehrlich, T., & Torney-Purta, J. (2006). Promoting political competence and engagement in college students: An empirical study. Journal of Political Science Education, 2(3), 249–270.
  8. Blackmore, C. (2007). What kinds of knowledge, knowing and learning are required for addressing resource dilemmas?: a theoretical overview. Environmental Science and Policy, 10(6), 512–525.
  9. Bord, R. J., O’Connor, R. E., & Fisher, A. (2000). In what sense does the public need to understand global climate change? Public Understanding of Science. 9, 205–218.
  10. Burn, S. M., Winter, P. L., Hori, B., & Silver, N. C. (2012). Gender, ethnic identity, and environmental concern in Asian Americans and European Americans. Society for Human Ecology, 19(2), 136–145.
  11. Carmi, N., Arnon, S., & Orion, N. (2015). Seeing the forest as well as the trees: general vs. specific predictors of environmental behavior. Environmental Education Research, 21(7), 1011–1028.
  12. Chawla, L., & Cushing, D. F. (2007). Education for strategic environmental behavior. Environmental Education Research, 13(4), 437–452.
  13. de Groot, J. I. M., & Steg, L. (2008). Value orientations to explain beliefs related to environmental significant behavior: How to measure egoistic, altruistic, and biospheric value orientations. Environment and Behavior, 40(3), 330–354.
  14. de Leeuw, A., Valois, P., Ajzen, I., & Schmidt, P. (2015). Using the theory of planned behavior to identify key beliefs underlying pro-environmental behavior in high-school students: Implications for educational interventions. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 42, 128–138.
  15. Dunlap, R. E., & Van Liere, K. D. (1978). The “New Environmental Paradigm.” Journal of Environmental Education, 9(4), 10-19.
  16. Fang, S. C., Hsu, Y. S., & Lin, S. S. (2019). Conceptualizing socioscientific decision making from a review of research in science education. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 17(3), 427-448.
  17. Fielding, K. S., McDonald, R., & Louis, W. R. (2008). Theory of planned behaviour, identity and intentions to engage in environmental activism. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 28(4), 318–326.
  18. Gärling, T., Fujii, S., Gärling, A., & Jakobson, C. (2003). Moderating effects of social value orientation on determinants of proenvironmental behavior intention. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 23, 1–9.
  19. Gifford, R. (2011). The dragons of inaction: Psychological barriers that limit climate change mitigation and adaptation. American Psychologist, 66(4), 290–302.
  20. Gifford, R., & Nilsson, A. (2014). Personal and social factors that influence pro-environmental concern and behaviour: A review. International Journal of Psychology, 49(3), 141–157.
  21. Gutierez, S. B. (2015). Integrating socio-scientific issues to enhance the bioethical decision-making skills of high school students. International Education Studies, 8(1), 142–151.
  22. Han, H. (2015). Travelers’ pro-environmental behavior in a green lodging context: Converging value-belief-norm theory and the theory of planned behavior. Tourism Management, 47, 164–177.
  23. Harland, P., Staats, H., & Wilke, H. A. M. (1999). Explaining pro-environmental intention and behavior by personal norms and the theory of planned behavior. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 29(12), 2505–2528.
  24. Hassan, L. M., Shiu, E., & Shaw, D. (2016). Who says there is an intention–behaviour gap? Assessing the empirical evidence of an intention–behaviour gap in ethical consumption. Journal of Business Ethics, 136(2), 219–236.
  25. Hawcroft, L. J., & Milfont, T. L. (2010). The use (and abuse) of the new environmental paradigm scale over the last 30 years: A meta-analysis. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30(2), 143–158.
  26. Heimlich, J., & Ardoin, N. (2008). Understanding behavior to understand behavior change: a literature review. Environmental Education Research, 14(3), 215–237.
  27. Herman, B. C. (2015). The influence of global warming science views and sociocultural factors on willingness to mitigate global warming. Science Education, 99(1), 1–38.
  28. Herman, B. C. (2018). Students’ environmental NOS views, compassion, intent, and action: Impact of place-based socioscientific issues instruction. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 55(4), 600–638.
  29. Hines, J. M., Hungerford, H. R., & Tomera, A. N. (1987). Analysis and synthesis of research on responsible environmental behavior: A meta-analysis. Journal of Environmental Education, 18(2), 1–8.
  30. Jansson, J., Marell, A., & Nordlund, A. (2011). Exploring consumer adoption of a high involvement eco-innovation using value-belief-norm theory. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 10(1), 51–60.
  31. Kaiser, F. G., Hübner, G., & Bogner, F. X. (2005). Contrasting the Theory of Planned Behavior With the Value-Belief-Norm Model in Explaining Conservation Behavior. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 35(10), 2150–2170.
  32. Kaiser, F. G., Wölfing, S., & Fuhrer, U. (1999). Environmental attitude and ecological behaviour. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 19, 1–19.
  33. Kenis, A., & Mathijs, E. (2012). Beyond individual behaviour change: the role of power, knowledge and strategy in tackling climate change. Environmental Education Research, 18(1), 45–65.
  34. Klöckner, C. A. (2013). A comprehensive model of the psychology of environmental behaviour-A meta-analysis. Global Environmental Change, 23(5), 1028–1038.
  35. Klosterman, M. L., & Sadler, T. D. (2010). Multi-level assessment of scientific content knowledge gains associated with socioscientific issues-based instruction. International Journal of Science Education, 32(8), 1017–1043.
  36. Kollmuss, A., & Agyeman, J. (2002). Mind the Gap: Why do people act environmentally and what are the barriers to pro-environmental behavior? Environmental Education Research, 8(3), 239–260.
  37. Lee, H., Yoo, J., Choi, K., Kim, S. W., Krajcik, J., Herman, B. C., & Zeidler, D. L. (2013). Socioscientific Issues as a Vehicle for Promoting Character and Values for Global Citizens. International Journal of Science Education, 35(12), 2079–2113.
  38. Levine, D. S., & Strube, M. J. (2012). Environmental attitudes, knowledge, intentions and behaviors among college students. Journal of Social Psychology, 152(3), 308–326.
  39. Libarkin, J. C., Gold, A. U., Harris, S. E., McNeal, K. S., & Bowles, R. P. (2018). A new, valid measure of climate change understanding: associations with risk perception. Climatic Change, 150(3–4), 403–416.
  40. López-Mosquera, N., & Sánchez, M. (2012). Theory of planned behavior and the value-belief-norm theory explaining willingness to pay for a suburban park. Journal of Environmental Management, 113, 251–262.
  41. Markowitz, E. M., Goldberg, L. R., Ashton, M. C., & Lee, K. (2012). Profiling the “pro-environmental individual”: A personality perspective. Journal of Personality, 80(1), 81-111.
  42. Meinhold, J. L., & Malkus, A. J. (2005). Adolescent environmental behaviors: Can knowledge, attitudes and self-efficacy make a difference? Environment and Behavior, 37(4), 511–532.
  43. Oreg, S., & Katz-Gerro, T. (2006). Predicting proenvironmental behavior cross-nationally. Environment and Behavior, 38(4), 462–483.
  44. Osbaldiston, R., & Schott, J. P. (2012). Environmental sustainability and behavioral science: Meta-analysis of proenvironmental behavior experiments. Environment and Behavior, 44(2), 257–299.
  45. Peel, A., Sadler, T. D., Kinslow, A. T., Zangori, L., & Friedrichsen, P. (2017). Climate change as an issue for socio-scientific issues teaching and learning. In D. P. Shepardson, A. Roychoudhury, & A. S. Hirsch (Eds.), Teaching and Learning about Climate Change: A Framework for Educators (pp. 153–165). Routledge.
  46. Sadler, T. D., & Fowler, S. R. (2006). A threshold model of content knowledge transfer for socioscientific argumentation. Science Education, 90(6), 986–1004.
  47. Sadler, T. D., & Zeidler, D. L. (2005). Patterns of informal reasoning in the context of socioscientific decision making. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42(1), 112–138.
  48. Scannell, L., & Gifford, R. (2010). The relations between natural and civic place attachment and pro-environmental behavior. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30(3), 289–297.
  49. Stern, M. J., Powell, R. B., & Hill, D. (2014). Environmental education program evaluation in the new millennium: What do we measure and what have we learned? Environmental Education Research, 20(5), 581–611.
  50. Stern, P. C. (2000). New environmental theories: Toward a coherent theory of environmentally significant behavior. Journal of Social Issues, 56(3), 407–424.
  51. Stern, P. C., Dietz, T., Abel, T., Guagnano, G. A., & Kalof, L. (1999). A value-belief-norm theory of support for social movements: The case of environmentalism. Human Ecology Review, 6(2), 81-97.
  52. Summers, R., & Abd-El-Khalick, F. (2018). Development and validation of an instrument to assess student attitudes toward science across grades 5 through 10. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 55(2), 172-205.
  53. Sutter, A. M., Dauer, J. M., & Forbes, C. T. (2018). Application of construal level and value-belief norm theories to undergraduate decision-making on a wildlife socio-scientific issue. International Journal of Science Education, 40(9), 1058–1075.
  54. Tal, T., & Kedmi, Y. (2006). Teaching socioscientific issues: Classroom culture and students’ performances. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 1(4), 615-644.
  55. Van Voorhis, C. R. W., & Morgan, B. L. (2007). Understanding power and rules of thumb for determining sample sizes. Tutorials in Quantitative Methods for Psychology, 3(2), 43-50.
  56. Whitley, C. T., Takahashi, B., Zwickle, A., Besley, J. C., & Lertpratchya, A. P. (2018). Sustainability behaviors among college students: An application of the VBN theory. Environmental Education Research, 24(2), 245-262.
  57. Wynveen, C. J., Kyle, G. T., & Tarrant, M. A. (2012). Study abroad experiences and global citizenship: Fostering proenvironmental behavior. Journal of Studies in International Education, 16(4), 334-352.
  58. Zangori, L., Peel, A., Kinslow, A., Friedrichsen, P., & Sadler, T. D. (2017). Student development of model-based reasoning about carbon cycling and climate change in a socio-scientific issues unit. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 54(10), 1249-1273.
  59. Zeidler, D. L., Sadler, T. D., Simmons, M. L., & Howes, E. V. (2005). Beyond STS: A research-based framework for socioscientific issues education. Science Education, 89(3), 357-377.


Creative Commons License
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.