Gregg Sparkman

May 19: Gregg Sparkman, Princeton University

Progress on the "Wicked" Problem: Overcoming Behavioral and Decision Making Hurdles to Address Climate Change and Decarbonize Society

View a recording of this talk.



Gregg Sparkman
Gregg Sparkman

Gregg Sparkman is a postdoctoral research associate in the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University. His research is focused on understanding social change, including the causes and consequences of norms shifting over time. He completed his PhD at Stanford University in social psychology, where he investigated how people are influenced by witnessing social change and how this can be incorporated into interventions in social, environmental, and political domains. Collaborating with non-profit, public, and private organizations, he uses national surveys and field studies to develop and assess social psychological interventions to meet social and environmental goals.


Climate change has been aptly described as a "wicked" problem from a behavioral science standpoint as it thwarts key heuristics in our decision making and demands substantial change. One prominent challenge involves how to motivate people to adopt novel sustainable behaviors, technologies, and policy attitudes that go against current norms. In his talk, Dr. Sparkman will discuss a novel approach to this problem: shifting people's attention away from current norms and onto changes in norms over time ("dynamic norm information") can motivate people to abandon current norms and adopt more sustainable alternatives. He also investigates a second major challenge: how do we ensure people consistently act across important climate domains, including both behavior and policy support? Past research warns that sustainable behavior may "negatively spill over" and lead people to reduce support for important decarbonization policies. In this talk, Dr. Sparkman will discuss under what (limited) circumstances this occurs, and how achieve "positive spillover" instead so that sustainable actions actually increase decarbonization policy support.