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How a Global Identity Can Be Good for the Environment

Do you feel personal responsibility for the well-being of the world?

Source: CC0/Pixabay

One of globalization’s diverse consequences is the emergence of a global identity. With increased opportunities to travel, live and work across different cultures, many have come to recognize the interconnectedness of us all, and realize that despite the perceivable differences in our traditions and values, human beings face fundamentally similar challenges and needs as we share our one same home.

This growing sense of world citizenry could spell good news for mitigating some of the more adverse effects brought on by globalization’s toll on the environment. As recent research shows, having a strong global identity may lead people to behave in more environmentally friendly ways.

What is the mechanism linking a global identity with pro-environmental behavior? A sense of personal responsibility for the well-being of the world, according to the authors of the study. As a “psychological adhesive,” personal responsibility can connect people with various issues and spur them to take action. This becomes especially salient when people feel like the consequence of an issue will affect the way they define themselves or when they believe that their efforts will make a difference.

Thus, a strong global identity can foster a sense of personal obligation towards the world, which individuals can then convert to concrete action.

The researchers tested two hypotheses in three separate studies.

Hypothesis 1: People with a strong global identity will feel more personal responsibility towards the environment.

Hypothesis 2: Because of their sense of personal responsibility, people with a strong global identity will demonstrate more environmentally friendly intentions and behavior.

Study 1

World Values Survey data from 56 countries and 75,934 participants were analyzed to explore the relationship between a global identity and personal responsibility towards the environment. Participants were asked to indicate how much they agreed with statements such as I see myself as a world citizen on a 4-point scale. Furthermore, participants read various descriptions of others (ex. Looking after the environment is important to this person; to care for nature and save life resources) and indicated how much these descriptions resembled themselves.

The results showed that a global identity was positively related to a sense of personal responsibility towards the environment, even after controlling for factors such as collectivism, income, education, as well as country-level factors such as GDP.

Study 2

In the second study, 226 students from a university in Singapore were asked about their willingness to pay more money for course materials printed on recycled paper. Researchers also obtained global and local identity measures of the participants (ex. My heart mostly belongs to the whole world for global identity vs. I respect local traditions for local identity). Furthermore, the participants were asked to indicate how much personally responsible they felt towards the environment (ex. I think protecting the environment is my responsibility or I think environmental deterioration is a personally relevant issue for me).

The results showed that those with a stronger global identity had a greater preference for using recycled paper for their coursework. This effect was mediated by personal responsibility towards the environment.

Study 3

In the third study, 96 students from a university in Singapore were assigned to three conditions (global, local, control) and asked to unscramble 10 sentences. A sentence in the global identity condition, for example, would look like “I a citizen am global” and would unscramble to “I am a global citizen.” After being primed by different concepts related to global and local identity (the control condition had sentences unrelated to global/local concepts, such as “I love to drink coffee”), participants were asked to indicate the maximum price difference they would pay for course materials printed on regular or recycled paper. The researchers also obtained measures of how much the participants’ personal well-being was linked to the well-being of the world and how much world events were a reflection of them as a person. At the end of the study, the researchers asked the participants how much of the compensation they received for the study (5 S$) they were willing to donate to an environmental organization.

The results showed that those participants who were primed with the global identity condition were willing to donate more to the environmental organization than participants from the local and control groups.

Taken together, these studies demonstrate that a global identity can lead to an increased sense of personal responsibility towards the well-being of the world and as a result, translate into environmentally friendly behavior.

Source: CC0/Pixabay

As an important implication of the present research, one way for organizations and authorities to encourage sustainable behavior would be by “reminding individuals of their identity as part of the global world,” observes co-author of the study Sharon Ng. Consequently, an increase in the number of people who see themselves as global citizens could mean more support for sustainable initiatives and green consumption, according to Dr. Ng, and “lead to greater ownership of the current climate problems the world is facing.”


Ng, S., & Basu, S. (2019). Global identity and preference for environmentally friendly products: The role of personal responsibility. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 50(8), 919-936.

O’Brien, K. L., & Leichenko, R. M. (2000). Double exposure: Assessing the impacts of climate change within the context of economic globalization. Global Environmental Change, 10, 221-232.

Arnett, J. J. (2002). The psychology of globalization. American Psychologist, 57, 774-783.

Buchan, N. R., Brewer, M. B., Grimalda, G., Wilson, R. K., Fatas, E., & Foddy, M. (2011). Global social identity and global cooperation. Psychological Science, 22, 821-828.

Christopher, A. N., & Schlenker, B. R. (2005). The protestant work ethic and attributions of responsibility: Applications of the triangle model. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 35, 1502-1518.

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Schlenker, B. R., Britt, T. W., Pennington, J., Murphy, R., & Doherty, K. (1994). The triangle model of responsibility. Psychological Review, 101, 632-652.

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