A “climate psychologist” sounds nice, but Jerdian de Vries (1975) has to constantly explain that it does not help people escape from climate depression. As an associate professor at TU Delft, she researches climate psychology. Psychological mechanisms involved in energy transition and climate adaptation. In a conversation that lasted more than an hour, a colorful procession of subjects comes in, which De Vries enthusiastically tells about. “Our research goes beyond noting that people don’t want a windmill in their backyard.”
From mid-January, TU Delft will celebrate its 180th anniversary, with energy transition as the subject of lustrum, and in particular the role Delft research plays in this. De Vries is one of the researchers who has served as an ambassador. On the day of our conversation, she gave a lecture on psychology and wind energy, and a few days later she gave a lecture to children.
A psychologist among the engineers at TU Delft, is that exceptional?
“There’s more, spread across colleges. But it’s different from Leiden, where I’ve got my PhD and where psychology is so big. I don’t know if it’s because this is a technical university, but here we’re looking at the application more. Psychologists often focus on A basic mechanism: What drives a particular behaviour? Here it is said next: Well, now we know, what are we going to do with it?”
And what will you do with it?
“It depends on what you’re looking for, of course. We’re trying to answer the question of what does this behavior mean to society, what does it do within the system of technology, policy, and behavior? When it comes to the energy transition, technology alone is not enough, and policy and behavior are just as important as the success of plans.”
“For example, we’re looking at the social response to kites that generate wind energy by extending the kite line. A fairly new technology. We really want to know what people think about this. What we’ve seen in the literature research is that a lot has already been said. About the perceptions and acceptance of kite energy, but these are mainly assumptions by engineers. They are optimists. It is more environmentally friendly because much less materials are needed, which makes it more pleasant to see. We find such an optimistic bias intriguing.
New technology is often associated with things people already know
We do not want to dampen this optimism. It is important for engineers to be passionate about their ideas, otherwise nothing good will be created. But we have to see if the assumptions are correct, is everyone so excited? If you involve the social sciences early on, you may be able to use them to advance technology. Perhaps, and this is a perfectly complete example, people think that it is very important that the kites are blue and not red. ”
How do you look for future technology?
New technology often also corresponds to things that people already know. Take kites, people already have experience with windmills and kites than kite surfers. We look at the matched variables and then you can still do a lot with questionnaires. About something like a hyperloop, which does not yet exist, you ask questions about how people think, she proposes a scenario. Imagine: you are in a taxi, there is no driver, it takes a long time.
“It’s hard not being able to properly estimate how people would react in a situation. You often find a gap between intent and action in climate behaviour. Tomorrow I’ll go to work by bike. But then I slept poorly or it was snowing and then took the car on any Whereas, if you ask me now, I am convinced that I will do the course. One Virtual RealityThe environment is already a lot, however, you can trick your mind a little more. I would like to do more with that.”
You regularly hear that people are facing the fait accompli
Is it important to make things quantitative?
“I think it helps in collaborating with engineers who know the numbers too. I love it myself too. One thing that bothers me is what I call the nuisance factor. I would like to provide insight into the extent to which hassle is an obstacle to sustainable behaviour. For example, I work On asking for a benefit at home. This is difficult, there are municipal benefits, state benefits, how and where do I do what? I would put a group of people behind the computer to find out the subsidy, with a pressure gauge on it.
We are also trying to involve psychology more in mathematical models. Individual behavior aggregates into collective behavior and through a model you can gain insight into the larger system. The question is, can we focus on behavior in a way that does justice to the breadth of our psychology, and its uniqueness? Of course you have to compromise, but it’s worth making the models more realistic.”
Does citizen psychology work differently from policy makers?
“With policy makers, it makes a big difference at any level. I do a lot with municipalities, which have government policy to implement and have to deal directly with citizens. They like to do participatory processes, but in that you organize your resistance. I am in favor of engaging people very early and setting frameworks Work clear about what people can and can’t influence. You regularly hear that people are facing the fait accompli, or that fake engagement has been orchestrated. This is very annoying, and then they go with their butts in the sand.”
You also see young people who really want to radiate wealth with Rolex watches and flights to Dubai
Many of the examples you mention come to communicate things to the audience.
Policy makers might look at it this way. They want to regulate social acceptance and come to us to hear what works. I’m trying to get away from that, I think the concept of social acceptance is really a biased term. I’m interested in how things work. In how people approach technology, how they want to use it, and yes, also what they think of it and why.
Policy makers are also concerned with how to get rid of undesirable behaviour. How do people get out of the car? In this context, interesting social tipping points are the moments when you see society accepting new standards. Take smoking, for example, is becoming more expensive and legislation has been enacted. Suddenly there was a moment when you were no longer just lighting a cigarette in people’s homes. What happened there?
“We may be close to climate-oriented behaviour, although there are no hard numbers for that. In certain circles, people are flying less, eating less meat and young people like working in sustainable companies. Although at the same time you see young people who really want Radiation of wealth with Rolex watches and flights to Dubai. In any case, the debate about more sustainable living is more current. Legislation and interest, that’s where it begins. Finally, reality begins. Yes, it was also strange to go by plane to Paris.”
A version of this article also appeared on NRC on the morning of March 14, 2022
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