Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Kent D. Van Liere

Committee Members

Thomas Hood, Donald Clelland, William Lyons


This dissertation examines the nature and extent of residential energy conservation behavior as well as consumers' view of the energy problem. The primary policy question raised by this research has been to clarify the link between energy attitudes, beliefs and conservation actions performed in the home context as a basis for furthering energy policies directed at encouraging residential energy conservation. Despite a plethora of such studies, research findings have failed to provide an unequivocal understanding of the role of consumer energy attitudes and beliefs in guiding behavior.

Theoretical basis for this research is drawn from attitude theory, particularly recent discussions of the attitude-behavior problem in social psychology. Two recent attitude-behavior models are examined in detail: (1) Fishbein and Ajzen's theory of "reasoned action" based upon an informational processing model of behavior, and (2) Triandis's multicomponent model which assumes the latter perspectives well as elements of both symbolic interactionist and behaviorist traditions. Although the models are similar in how they conceptualize social behavior, they differ considerably with respect to the actor's degree of volitional control over behavior they assume. Predicting conservation behaviors, which manifest marked differences in term of such control, time and resources required of the individual, provided an appropriate test case to examine the validity of either model's approach. To clarify the analysis, three general classes of conservation behavior were constructed: (1) curtailment activities--which involve a limitation of energy services, (2) efficiency behaviors--which make better use of energy services, and (3) efficiency improvements--which involve home retrofit and appliance change.

Utilizing data from a mail survey of Knoxville area residents (N=286), the results indicate that the majority of individuals have made at least moderate efforts to conserve energy. Such efforts usually entailed some curtailment of energy use (primarily turning the thermostat down), more efficient use of appliances and additional insulation and weatherstripping. Overall the relationship to consumer energy attitudes and beliefs is moderate although consistent. The best cognitive predictors of behavior tend to be attitudes toward specific actions as well as beliefs about the outcomes of those behaviors; i.e., their expected utility. While this finding suggests that definitions of the energy problem are not strongly linked to behavior, such general beliefs are instrumental in shaping more proximate attitudinal and belief determinants.

A comparison of the two models suggests that their predictive power is equivalent when the behavior requires only consumer motivation to perform (e.g., turning down the thermostat). As the behavior becomes more constrained by resource and opportunity factors, the utility of either model diminishes. The Triandis model is clearly superior under such circumstances as it includes measures of "facilitation" factors--such as perceived difficulty of the behavior and behavior relevant knowledge, constraining behavioral choices. By incorporating resource and opportunity factors affecting behavior, the Triandis model provides a broader based theoretical model for understanding behaviors of sociological interest.

Several policy implications are discussed. Programs endeavoring to promote conservation should first encourage a broader based view of the energy problem. A more integrated view of energy issues could be instrumental in providing a receptivity to specific appeals to conserve. Second, programs should target specific behaviors for change as well as normative beliefs and attitudes toward those behaviors. Third, providing practical knowledge for saving energy in the individual's residential context could encourage behavior, at least for some types of conservation activity.

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