I Can Change the World? How Different Personality Types Respond to Environmental Concerns

There has never been more concern about the impact humans are having on the environment. Some people see this concern as misguided. They argue that the evidence is still out on whether humans are really responsible for issues like global climate change. Others may believe that humans are having a major impact on the environment, but they may not know to address the problem, or they may feel that the costs of taking action outweigh the benefits.

But some people believe that change begins at home. They believe that, even if one person’s actions can’t change the world, we still have an obligation to live the way we would like to see others live. After all, if everyone made even a few small life changes, the collective impact could be enormous.

We wondered whether our community’s behavior has been affected by worries over issues like climate change, so we asked them to agree or disagree with the statement “You have made major lifestyle changes because of environmental concerns.”

Overall, we found that about 40% of respondents have indeed made major changes to their lifestyles out of concern for the environment. Possessing the Intuitive (46% agreeing), Feeling (43%), and Turbulent (43%) traits made a person more likely to answer yes to this question. Let’s look at how this plays out among different personality types.

Roles

Explorers (32% agreeing)

Explorer personality types were the least likely Role to say they’ve changed their lives based on their concerns about the environment, with less than one-third (32%) of Explorers agreeing. This result shouldn’t be too surprising: changing habitual behaviors based on abstract beliefs is difficult for anyone, but for those who tend to get caught up in the moment by the specific task at hand, such a change would be particularly difficult. And Explorers’ resistance to planning too far ahead means any changes they do make are less likely to stick.

Virtuosos (ISTP) and Entrepreneurs (ESTP) were two of the personality types least likely to make a major life change due to environmental concerns, with 27% and 28% agreeing, respectively. There was a significant difference between these two Thinking-type Explorers and the Feeling-type Explorers, who process the world primarily through their emotions: Entertainers (ESFP) (36% agreeing) and Adventurers (ISFP) (32%) were slightly more inclined to change their lifestyles in order to help save the planet. While Thinking personalities are more likely to ask, “What difference do one person’s actions make?”, Feeling types tend to follow their ideals and view their actions through the lens of how they want others to behave as well.

Sentinels (34%)

Sentinels were only a little more likely than Explorers to change their lifestyles because of concerns about the environment (with 34% agreeing). This may be linked to Sentinels’ inherent conservatism, which often leads to skepticism regarding claims that the environment is being dramatically transformed due to reasons under human control.

Logisticians (ISTJ) were among the least likely to say they would make a major life change – with only 28% agreeing – probably because their natural conservatism is heightened by their rigorous practicality: as long as these personalities believe the scientific evidence to be inconclusive, they are going to hold off on making any commitments.

Analysts (41%)

Analyst personality types (41% agreeing) embrace revolutionary new theories and are likely to be open to the idea that humans are having a major impact on the environment. But as strategic thinkers, they may be more focused on identifying collective actions that meet the scale of the problem, rather than undertaking small-scale changes in their own lives.

Commanders (ENTJ) (50% agreeing) were more likely than most personality types to agree that they have made major life changes. This probably reflects their fearless leadership and long-term strategic thinking. As soon as they acknowledge a problem like climate change, Commanders feel it is their responsibility to act.

Logicians (INTP) (34% agreeing) were less likely than other Analyst personalities to say that they had made major changes to their lifestyles out of concern for the environment. This should come as no surprise, since Logicians can be notorious for throwing cold water (which they might call “rational doubts”) on idealists’ cherished plans to change the world.

Diplomats (49%)

Diplomats were the most likely to make major changes to their lifestyles and daily habits out of concern for the environment. These personality types recognize that their actions may influence others, and they believe that small steps can have major consequences.

Protagonists (ENFJ) (50% agreeing) embrace their identity as role models, and see their actions as having powerful consequences beyond their own lives. As leaders, the impacts of their choices are magnified by the many others whom they can influence. For Protagonists, these words, attributed to anthropologist Margaret Mead, ring especially true: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Advocates (INFJ) were the most likely personality type to say that they have made a major life change in response to environmental concerns, with 52% agreeing. Their attunement to nature, combined with their intense idealism, means that they cannot separate their personal lifestyle from the broader ecosystem they live in. Advocates feel compelled to integrate their lives and actions with the beneficial cycles of the natural world.

Strategies

Confident Individualism (34% agreeing)

Confident Individualists like to solve problems on their own. These personality types do not look to others for help, and do not expect help in return. For that reason, they may be skeptical that their actions can have any real impact on a global issue like the environment.

People Mastery (39%)

People Masters believe in the power of mass action, but they view it through the lens of the changes they can convince others to make. To the degree that their own actions can be models for others, People Masters may see the benefits of transforming their lives. But these personalities are more likely to act out their concerns for the environment in the public sphere rather than in their private lives.

Constant Improvement (43%)

Any Constant Improver who worries about the environment will probably feel some need to align his life with that belief. Every time he tosses a milk carton in the trash instead of recycling it, or hops in his gas guzzler when he could ride his bike, he’ll feel a sense of guilt. For some, that feeling will be enough to drive major lifestyle changes. People with a Turbulent personality tend to be more dynamic in their willingness to recognize problems in their lives and make changes in order to alter their course.

Social Engagement (44%)

Social Engagers’ willingness to change their lifestyle may reflect their desire to excel at every task, and their fear of being judged for falling short. With environmental awareness rising every year, Social Engagers may feel the need to keep up with others’ efforts to cut their carbon footprint, eat local, and “reduce, reuse, recycle.”

Conclusions

While certain Roles were more likely than others to make major life changes in response to environmental concerns, there was often more variation within each Role group than between the Roles. This may reflect the varied reasons people may have for not taking action: for Observant personality types, it may reflect a belief that environmental concerns are overblown; for Prospecting types, it may reflect a desire to change but an inability to follow through; and for Thinking types, it may reflect the rational calculation that one person’s lifestyle changes simply can’t have enough impact.

Of course, major changes aren’t the only way that people who are concerned about the environment can take action. There are still many less dramatic changes we can adopt, from eating locally-grown vegetables to riding the bus a little more often.

Have you changed your lifestyle or habits in order to help the planet? If so, what’s the most dramatic change you’ve made? Leave us a comment and let us know!

You can see the full set of data, including correlation coefficients, here. Please also consider participating in our Member Surveys!

1 year ago
Really interesting research, and great to read the results and your analysis. I am ENFP-T. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to help. To do good. I asked my friends not to spit out chewing gum on the ground, I got my parents to let me become a member of the WWF, and after reading about the wastefulness of excess packaging being used for regular consumer goods I took the tootpaste out of the box before I bought it. Now, admittedly this was me as a child, but I still have that same basic attitude, that feeling in my gut that we are all responsible for helping to take care of the world we have and the people in it. Now that I am an adult, I try my best to stay educated and live my life as responsibly as I can - being a vegetarian, choosing organic as much as I can (within reason), just basically thinking about my actions and being aware of the fact that there are consequences. I have only just finished university but wherever I end up working I will be bringing my values with me into my professional life.
11 months ago
I don't have a problem with you being vegetarian, and all the other things you do are great and all that, but I get really annoyed when vegetarians act as if being vegetarian makes them better or less negatively impactful. It just means you don't eat animals who's only purpose in life is to be slaughtered and eaten by a consumer (ie you), but instead of that, their meat is often left to rot. If consumers do not purchase meat, farmers will not breed animals, if farmers do not breed animals, there will be less animals to defecate (manure) (forgive me for how graphic this is), causing the soil to lose significant fertility, causing crops to struggle to grow, meaning less food altogether, and will lead to eventual mass starvation and the demise of millions, perhaps billions of people around the world. But maybe this is a good thing, as it will solve the problem of overpopulation, which wouldn't be a problem if people were more conservative of resources, which is where your other contributions come in. Overpopulation is the same reason I don't support the funding of curing diseases, as historically, disease is the most effective way of annihilating entire populations, which leads to a surplus of goods for the survivors, as with the outbreak of Bubonic Plague, otherwise known as the Black Death, in Europe in the 15th(? I can't remember off the top of my head) century. It is sad that so many die, but in the fight against disease, not only will there be overpopulation in it's successes, but in failure, many of the resources we need are depleted rapidly, resulting in the same eventual outcome: anarchy All of this from the not so humble mind of an INTP-A (Logician)
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