Subjective Reasons for Littering: A Self-serving Attribution Bias as Justification Process in an Environmental Behaviour Model

Ralph Hansmann, Nora Steimer


Subjective causal explanations for littering of waste are investigated through a questionnaire-based survey (N = 147). Participants were asked if they littered waste in the past, and if so why, and they were also asked why they think some other people litter. 71% of the participants admitted having littered in the past. An analysis of the perceived reasons for littering showed significant differences between the reasons provided for own as compared to other people’s littering. The differences found were in line with previous research demonstrating a self-serving bias in intrapersonal as compared to interpersonal attributions. Own littering is often “justified” by external causes for example shortcomings in the infrastructure, such as missing or filled garbage cans, whereas negative personal attributions such as ignorance, naivety, and convenience are most commonly considered to cause littering by others. Findings are discussed with reference to the integrative Model of Justified Behaviour (MJB) (Hansmann and Steimer 2015) which covers a broad range of factors including attitudes, norms, knowledge, restrictions and options, habit formation, and evaluative processes of justification as determinants of behavioural decision-making. Implications for environmental management and for the design of anti-littering campaigns and environmental education are discussed.



littering, self-serving bias, attribution, justification, habit, behaviour model

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Print ISSN: 1392-1649
Online ISSN: 2029-2139