We chatted with Florian Lange about his recently accepted paper at EJP, titled, "Cognitive Flexibility and Pro‐environmental Behaviour: A Multimethod Approach". Florian is a postdoctoral researcher at KU Leuven, Belgium.
Read more about the study and Florian below!
Q: Hi there Florian! Can you tell us a little about who you are and what got you interested in personality psychology?
When choosing a subject for my undergraduate studies, I already knew that I wanted to become a researcher (while only having a very vague idea about what this would entail). So the critical question was: “What would be the most interesting research topic?” My answer at that point was “human behavior” – and I am happy to say that this answer hasn’t changed in the meantime.
One of the many things that I didn’t anticipate was how many different approaches can be taken to examine this very same topic. I was lucky enough to gain first-hand research experiences within many of these approaches. Among others, I sat at intersections counting pedestrians crossing at red traffic lights, observed food-sharing birds, recorded EEGs, and conducted field experiments in a supermarket. I continue to be amazed by the multiplicity of behavioral science research and I believe that it taught me a lot.
After my doctoral studies, I started to apply insights from multiple disciplines to the study of pro-environmental behavior. As a postdoctoral researcher in the Behavioral Engineering Group at KU Leuven I examine what drives people to reduce the ecological footprint of their behavior. As I believe that many of the questions in this field can best be answered under controlled conditions, I have focused on the development of a laboratory task for the assessment of actual pro-environmental behavior. On this task, participants repeatedly choose between two transportation options. When they choose the bicycle option, they have to wait longer for the next trial than when they choose the car option. However, choosing the car option also turns on a number of lights in the laboratory, which wastes a small amount energy. Hence, participants can choose between one option that minimizes the time they spend in the laboratory and another option that minimizes the environmental impact of their choices. This task has also been a core feature of our current paper on the personality correlates of pro-environmental behavior (see below).
Q: What do you like to do outside of work?
I am a passionate cyclist and, in this respect, coming to Belgium for my postdoctoral studies has had a couple of very pleasant side effects. Not only do I have a front seat to some of the most exciting races in the world, I’ve also had plenty of opportunities to explore the routes in the area myself. I especially enjoy (don’t know why yet) showing other riders “that new hill I recently discovered”. Another very socially accepted hobby of mine is helping people move households. =)
Q: What is your study about?
Our studies examined the personality correlates of pro-environmental behavior. We particularly focused on the contribution of cognitive flexibility, a construct that I worked on during my PhD studies in neuropsychology. Cognitive flexibility can broadly be defined as the ability to switch perspectives, thoughts, thinking styles, and strategies. When planning this research project, we faced a special challenge: There are many ways to assess both cognitive flexibility and pro-environmental behavior. We did not know how these assessment approaches relate to each other and we did not find convincing reasons to prefer one approach over the other. So we decided for a two-step strategy: We first conducted an exploratory study involving many measures of both constructs (including our laboratory task of pro-environmental behavior) to identify the most promising relationships.
Then we conducted a second, preregistered study to check whether the relationships we found were robust. The maybe unsurprising answer was: Well, some of them are, others are not. This might not be the most spectacular of all findings and it certainly does not allow for definitive conclusions about the relationship between cognitive flexibility and pro-environmental behavior, but I also believe that it might be unrealistic to expect such conclusions from individual research projects. I think that many research questions can only be answered collectively, with the collection of numerous high-quality data sets. During the review process, I got the impression that the European Journal of Personality shares this vision. I do not think that our work was published for having produced groundbreaking findings (which, again, it probably didn’t), but for the generation and transparent reporting of valuable data and for our efforts to ensure the robustness of our results. As such, it might be a nice illustration of how open science practices can help to sift the signal from the noise and to build a reliable research literature.
Q: Where do you see yourself in the (near) future?
Well, I hope to find myself in the research lab, producing more high-quality datasets on the determinants of pro-environmental behavior. =) It is my vision to establish a long-term research program that systematically addresses the small details in this field. I think that, due to a lack of appropriate research tools, research on pro-environmental behavior traditionally focused on very broad research questions (e.g., “Do incentives promote pro-environmental behavior?”). In expensive field studies, these might be the only addressable questions. In the laboratory, you can zoom in and ask “At which rate/delay/intensity are incentives most effective in promoting (which kind of) pro-environmental behavior?” or you can study complex interactions between multiple parameters. By this means, I hope to generate novel insights into the mechanisms underlying pro-environmental behavior and possibly even new ways to reduce the ecological footprint of human behavior.
Q: Do you have any tips or advice for young researchers?
As alluded to before, I worked in quite a number of different research fields and disciplines. These disciplines varied considerably in their research cultures and quality standards. I often had the impression that within a particular field, particular approaches to doing research were considered as being without any alternative. After having encountered the second or third of these approaches, you start doubting the validity of this perspective. =) So, I guess my advice would be to soak up as many divergent influences as possible. That way, many principles that seem absolute or universal at first sight may turn out to be little more than a field-specific convention. Knowing how different disciplines conceptualize behavior, which methods they endorse, which quality dimensions they prioritize (and which they ignore) can be very helpful in developing your own independent research vision.
And then there is the thing about open science. As its many advantages have been mentioned in previous interviews in this blog already, I will not elaborate on them again, but only stress how liberating it is to confidently reject a hypothesis when you do so according to preregistered rules. And these colorful open-science badges on top of your paper are a nice bonus!
Q: Thank you for the interview, Florian!
To learn more about Florian and for contact details, please visit his KU Leuven website here.