Disentangling Causal Direction: Environmental Attitude and Travel Behavior

TitleDisentangling Causal Direction: Environmental Attitude and Travel Behavior
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsCindy Tse, Jinhua Zhao
Conference Name13th World Conference on Transport Research
PublisherWorld Conference on Transport Research Society
Conference LocationRio de Janeiro
KeywordsEnvironmental Attitudes Travel Behavior, Structural Equation Model, Youth

Studying the attitudes of young people towards the environment is important given they will be the ones affected by environmental issues arising from our current actions and consequently will be the individuals who will ultimately have to come up with resolutions. In preparation to address future transportation issues, it is critical to conduct researches with a focus on young people as attitudes toward the environment begin to develop in childhood. The relationships between environmental attitudes and travel behavior have long been recognized in prior studies. However, there are competing hypotheses regarding the relationship between attitudes and behavior. Attitudes are formed through experiences as a result of behavior, and attitudes prompt certain types of behavior. To tease out the exact causal direction between attitude and behavior remains difficult. This paper reports an opportunity which may enable us to disentangle one direction of the mutual causalities.

This study surveyed over 1000 students from 11 secondary schools in Richmond, Canada and Vancouver, Canada. The survey measures students’ environmental knowledge, environmental attitudes and travel behavior. In addition, we explicitly asked students about the decision making of their commuting mode choices: whether the students made their commuting decisions themselves or their parents made for them. For those whose parents make the travel decisions for the students, the causality from student’s attitudes to their behavior cannot be realized, and therefore we can be more certain in assuming that it is their behavior that influences attitudes and not the other way around. Given the defined causal direction, we can then quantify the strength of such influence based on the survey data using structural equation models after controlling for the demographics and socioeconomic variables. The results indicate that 1) Students who have better knowledge on environmental issues hold higher levels of pro-environmental attitudes; 2) Students who use active transportation, public transit and school buses to/from school have stronger pro- environmental attitudes than students who travel to/from school by car.