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"The concept of the tragedy of the commons can be used to explain the effects of human behaviour on the natural environment." Discuss this statement, using relevant research and theories from social psychology.

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"The concept of the tragedy of the commons can be used to explain the effects of human behaviour on the natural environment." Discuss this statement, using relevant research and theories from social psychology. The behaviour of the individual often tends to be selfishly orientated. He or she would pursue their own interests in order to increase their selfish gains in the short run. However in the long run, it is their own actions which will ultimately lead to their own detriment, along with the rest of the community. When this behavioural characteristic is considered in an environmental context, we realise that many of the problems which threaten the state of the natural environment, and therefore of future human existence, arise from this simple but malignant social trap. By the time the costs of self interest behaviours become salient, it is almost always too late to reverse the damage done. "The Tragedy of the Commons" (sometimes referred to as the "commons dilemma" in a broader sense) was a concept introduced by ecologist Garett Hardin (1968)i to illustrate the resource dilemma, and also the conflict between self-interest and collective interest. The name was derived from centrally located public pastures in old English villages called the "commons", where villagers could freely graze their cows, or other livestock. Imagine one hundred villagers sharing a common pasture which is sufficient enough for the grazing of 100 cows. ...read more.


To explain this, the elements of the commons dilemma have been isolated in laboratory games by social psychologists. The games expose how anybody, benevolent or not, can become socially trapped in mutually destructive behaviourv. In Edney J.'s Nuts game (1979)vi American participants where sat around a bowl with 10 metal nuts. The goal of the game is to accumulate as many nuts as possible. They were allowed to take as many as they want any time they want, and the number of nuts remaining in the bowl would double every 10 seconds. Ideally, the nuts should be left in the bowl to double over and over, in order to produce a larger sum of nuts to be shared among all the participants. But unless the participants where given time to discuss cooperation, each were more likely to grab as many nuts as they can within the first 10 seconds, for fear of competition from others. Thus, the nuts in the bowls where never given the chance to replenish. This is the case with renewable resources in the environment: renewable resources are only renewable if they are given the chance to regenerate. Such individualism is not unique to the individualistic culture of America. Edney's findings are supported in other cross cultural studies. In Japan, a collectivistic culture, Kaori Sato (1987)vii gave participants opportunities to plant and harvest trees from a simulated forest for money. ...read more.


the one confessing would either have a lighter sentence than the other, or the same sentence as the other - no loss. Again, cooperation and communication are the key factors in achieving a desirable mutual - and individual - goal. So how can these social traps and dilemmas be resolved, so as to protect our natural environment? In the case of the commons dilemma, one solution is the organisation of group action, and putting in place regulations and other external controls. When reflecting on the tragedy of the Commons, Hardin wrote: Ruin is the destination to which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all. (1968) Studies and history shows that when faced with an overused resource, people tend to elect a leader and restrict individual choices for the good of the collective group. Example: The International Whaling Commission sets an agreed-upon "harvest" that enables whales to regenerate. Another solution is to educate people about the future consequences of their actions upon the natural environment, but this has limited effectiveness, depending on the media of information and the way education is delivered. Also, subdivision of the commons, or resource pool is proven to be effective, as it decreases the diffusion of responsibility. Communication is also a key factor in changing the people's attitudes to environment. Is there is sufficient communication, they would have trust in one another so they feel like they are competing for resources. ...read more.

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