Faced with the depletion of natural resources and climate change, individuals making the choice to behave in a more environmentally conscious way is increasingly necessary. Rational choice theory suggests that individuals will only behave in pro-environmental ways if they perceive those actions to align with their own self-interests. Others, however, have highlighted instances where individuals act pro-socially or altruistically, deviating from their own self-interests for the benefit of others. The present study examines whether individuals’ social preferences are associated with engagement in pro-environmental behaviors. Specifically, drawing on a methodology from behavioral economics, we use dictator and ultimatum game behavior to measure social preferences, and we then evaluate whether heterogeneity in social preferences is associated with self-reported pro-environmental behaviors and observed recycling behavior. The results indicate that individual differences in social preferences have a modest association with self-reported pro-environmental behaviors but no association with observed recycling behavior. Self-reported pro-environmental behavior was not associated with observed recycling behavior. We also find that recycling bin proximity to classroom doors increased participation in recycling. This finding demonstrates that individuals are receptive to the proximate opportunity to recycle. This suggests increasing the ease with which people can engage in pro-environmental behaviors, such as recycling, will promote participation in these practices. Overall, our research indicates that social preferences do not seem to drive individuals to act in environmentally friendly ways. This work also provides new opportunities for future research to integrate economic games into the study of pro-environmental behaviors.
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