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EPE TIG Week: Understanding Emotions and Behavior: Implications for Evaluation Design by Matthew Ballew and Kara Crohn

My name is Matthew Ballew. I am finishing my doctoral degree at Claremont Graduate University in Social Psychology, and I intern with Kara Crohn of EMI Consulting, an evaluation and consulting firm that focuses on energy efficiency and clean energy programs and policies. Understanding how a program connects with its participants on an emotional level is important to assessing program success including outcomes such as well-being and even behavior change. There is a long history of theorizing on the role of emotions in guiding people’s actions and, increasingly, recent research documents the powerful effects of different emotions on behavior. In this post, we offer a definition of “emotions,” three ways to understand their impact on energy saving behaviors, and hot tips for evaluations of behavioral programs and communications.

In comparison to general affect or mood (i.e., overall good or bad feelings), emotions are specific feeling states that are clearly recognized and consciously linked to an object or event; they motivate people to act in certain ways. In the psychological literature, three ways to understand emotions include: (1) whether they are positive or negative, such as feeling happy for taking action or upset for not taking action; (2) whether they are considered moral emotions like pride or guilt; and (3) by their degree of behavioral specificity, e.g., emotions can be tied to specific actions like feeling positively about saving energy or to more general things like worrying about the environment.

emotions diagram


Lesson Learned: In my dissertation, I assessed the extent to which these different categories of emotions influenced household energy conservation and broader environmental engagement, such as intentions to invest in energy efficient technologies. Supporting previous research, both feeling positive emotions for saving energy and negative emotions for not saving energy were strong drivers of energy conservation behavior and other pro-environmental actions. Moreover, persuasive communications focusing on positive emotions (e.g., “Save Energy. Feel Proud.”) had a stronger effect than negative emotions (e.g., “Save Energy. Don’t Be Guilty.”) on intentions to save energy and invest in energy efficiency.

Hot Tips: Emotions are a hot topic in behavioral interventions. Incorporating strategies that leverage emotions—as well as measures of emotions—specifically tied to action (and inaction) strengthens the evaluation of behavioral programs and communications. When evaluating behavioral programs and communications, consider:

  1. Measuring emotions related to performing/not performing actions to indicate behavior change (e.g., expecting to feel positive emotions for volunteering)
  2. Including strategies to connect positive behaviors (e.g., purchasing efficient vehicles) to positive emotions like pride and, conversely, negative behaviors (e.g., wasting electricity) to negative emotions like guilt to foster behavior change
  3. Focusing strategies on positive emotions related to taking action; they seem to be especially promotive of behavioral persistence, leading to a virtuous and recursive cycle of positivity (i.e., “feeling good by doing the right thing”)

Rad Resource:

rare logofocuses on collective pride to promote sustainability



Continue the conversation with us! Matthew mballew@emiconsulting.com and Kara kcrohn@emiconsulting.com

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Environmental Program Evaluation TIG Week with our colleagues in the Environmental Program Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our EPE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


2 thoughts on “EPE TIG Week: Understanding Emotions and Behavior: Implications for Evaluation Design by Matthew Ballew and Kara Crohn”

  1. Hi Matthew,

    Your blog post stands out for me as a Behaviour Analyst. It is fascinating to hear about the theory of behaviour from a social psychology lens. If I was to build on your thinking around the experience of ‘negative’ or ‘positive’ emotions as a motivator for behaviour, I would perhaps look at the emotions as internal events that act as positive or negative reinforcement or punishment.

    For example, perhaps when someone experiences the internal emotional state if guilt after failing to conserve energy, that feeling serves as negative reinforcement. Meaning, the increasing (reinforcement) of energy conservation/desired behaviours is established by someone wanting to avoid/remove (negative) the internal emotion of guilt. In line with this, you could also suggest that the emotion of guilt serves as positive punishment where something such an uncomfortable emotional state is added (positive) which reduces (punishment) the wasteful/undesired behaviour.

    Interesting read – thank you for sharing.

  2. Ricardo Wilson-Grau

    Dear Matthew and Kara,

    Thank you for your AEA365 post. I would like to accept your invitation to continue the conversation. So, I am writing to you personally but will also post as a comment to your post on AEA365.

    I work with Outcome Harvesting, an approach to evaluation that generates evidence of outcomes understood as observable, demonstrable changes in behaviour of societal actors. They can be individuals, groups, communities, organisations, institutions. Similarly, the types of changes in behaviour are broad: actions, activities, relationships, policies, practices. Outcome Harvesting is especially appropriate for social change interventions since they are essentially about influencing societal actors to do things differently. Many of the interventions work to influence outcomes so defined through building capacity — i.e., providing knowledge, changing attitudes (including what you define as “emotions”) and building skills. A major challenge is that these interventions understandably want to link changes in emotions with changes in behaviour.

    Over the last 15 years, colleagues and I developed Outcome Harvesting through fifty evaluative exercise in 143 countries on all six continents. We collect data on demonstrated, observable behavioural changes but not on the motivations or reasons for change that lie behind the outcomes. Why? In these international development circles it is customary to talk about changes in “attitudes and behaviour” as if the two terms were parallel concepts. They are not. This is especially problematic because a key strategy to influence social change is capacity-building as a means to influence beliefs, sensitivities, feelings, perceptions, opinions, as well as impart new knowledge and skills, with the rationale that these changes will lead to changes in behaviour. Also, changes in attitudes, as well as in knowledge or skills, are not necessarily predictors of behavioural change. Maybe yes, maybe no.

    The behaviour of individuals can be influenced by a whole range of personal, professional, vocational and social influences beyond the triad knowledge, attitudes and skills (KAS). Similarly, changes in behaviour may be influenced by a myriad of economic, political, cultural, environmental and other factors beyond attitudinal change. Therefore, only a trained behavioural psychologist or sociologist can determine the motivating factors — e.g., increased knowledge, heightened skills, enhanced awareness, strengthened commitment, emotions — of outcomes. That is my position today but of course I am always re-thinking it. Consequently, I am intrigued when you write that “emotions are specific feeling states that are clearly recognized and consciously linked to an object or event; they motivate people to act in certain ways.” I went to the Rare website but it appears that they assume rather than demonstrate the link through their “scientific approach”. It occurs to me that you may know of ways to more readily identify the causal relationship between a change in behaviour and the emotion that motivated it. Any advice?

    Since a good number of the interventions I have evaluated are environmental, including one currently on WWF’s work influencing European Union policy, this conversation may generate something of special interest to you and your work.

    Many thanks,


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