My publications


Cowen Laura, Gatersleben Birgitta (2017) Testing for the size heuristic in householders' perceptions of energy consumption, Journal of Environmental Psychology 54 pp. 103-115 Elsevier
Few householders have the time or motivation to systematically weigh up all the facts
when judging the energy consumption of their household appliances. It is likely that
they instead rely on simple heuristics such as the size heuristic, which has been reported
in a small number of previous studies. The studies showed that people?s perceptions of
the size and energy consumption of appliances were positively correlated but the studies
differed in their methods and effect sizes. The present study re-tests the use of the size
heuristic using two methods of data collection (between-participants and
within-participants) and three methods of correlation. On average, correlations between
size and energy estimates were moderately strong but they (and the accuracy of the
energy estimates) varied greatly between individual participants. Understanding
householders? perceptions of energy is vital to designing more effective energy-saving
policies. The findings highlight the importance of choosing and clearly reporting
This thesis explored householders' perceptions of energy consumption and saving using novel methods and drawing on cognitive theories of categorisation and heuristics.

Judging the energy consumption of household appliances is difficult; judging the effectiveness of energy-saving measures even more so. The research in this thesis proposed, and found support for, a model in which householders try to simplify energy judgements using heuristics. In heuristic energy judgements, people substitute energy consumption or savings with easier-to-access features of appliances and measures. For example, inferring high energy consumption from appliances that produce heat, and high energy savings from measures that reduce heat production.

Part I: A systematic literature review of the small amount of existing heuristic energy judgements research identified a common assumption that heuristic feature substitution underlies energy judgements, but there were gaps in how the theory explains energy judgements. A novel theoretical model was constructed using established cognitive theories of categorisation and heuristic judgement making.

Mixed methods were used to identify existing and novel heuristic cues used in energy consumption judgements, including the size and heat production of appliances. The heuristic elicitation design and other correlational methods were compared. The difference in coefficients from different methods underlined the importance of selecting appropriate methods for the research question and clear reporting.

Part II: Mixed methods were used in a novel exploration of the heuristic cues used in energy savings judgements, including heat reduction, appliance consumption, usage reduction, and measure frequency. A paired comparisons study design enabled a novel multidimensional analysis of heuristic energy savings cues and how they are used.

Part III: Householders intuitively try to simplify their energy judgements using heuristics. Giving them more information is unlikely to help. Interventions to help people save more energy need to be designed to work with, not against, the heuristic cues they intuitively use.

Murtagh Niamh, Gatersleben Birgitta, Cowen Laura, Uzzell David (2015) Does perception of automation undermine pro-environmental
behaviour? Findings from three everyday settings,
Journal of Environmental Psychology 42 pp. 139-148 Elsevier
The global deployment of technology to aid mitigation of climate change has great potential but the realisation of much of this potential depends on behavioural response. A culturally pervasive reliance on and belief in technology raises the risk that dependence on technology will hamper human actions of mitigation. Theory suggests that ?green? behaviour may be undermined by automated technology but empirical investigation has been lacking. We examined the effect of automation on three everyday behaviours with environmental impact. Based on evidence from observational and experimental studies, we demonstrated that the prospect of automation can undermine even simple actions for sustainability. Further, we examined the process by which automated technology influences behaviour and found that automation may impair personal responsibility for action.

Additional publications