30 SES 11 B, Attitudes and mindsets in ESE
In the light of growing social and environmental challenges, the need for educational approaches that enable individuals to make lasting contributions toward a sustainability transformation might be higher then ever before. At the same time, doubt is rising that the established educational practices can indeed (or are sufficient to) satisfy this need. Looking at individual consumer behavior, for example, current research points out that affective-motivational competencies are crucial for cultivating sustainable consumer patterns (Frank, 2017; Power, Beattie & McGuire, 2017), yet such competencies are barely addressed within Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) (Shephard, 2008). In search of learning activities carrying the potential to fill this gap, some scholars have brought mindfulness practice, defined as “bringing awareness to current experience – observing and attending to the changing field of thoughts, emotions and sensations from moment to moment – by regulating the focus of attention” (Bischop, 2004, p.232).
The concept of mindfulness has received continuously growing attention over the last decades. It is associated with a series of effects such as increased health and well-being (Goyal et al., 2014), emotional regulation (Hill & Updegraff, 2012), attention and cognition (Eberth & Sedlmeier, 2012), cognitive performance (Zenner et al., 2014), social skills (Zoogman et al., 2005) etc. More recently, mindfulness has also been linked to sustainable consumption (e.g. Rosenberg, 2004; Armstrong & Jackson, 2015). In a systematic literature review, Fischer et al. (2017) have laid out the four mechanisms of mindfulness that might support the development of sustainable consumption behavior:
1) Enhancing concordance between attitudes and behaviors (closing the so-called attitude-behavior-gap)
2) Increasing well-being and decreasing the extent of materialistic orientation
3) Fostering compassion and pro-social behavior
4) Disrupting unsustainable habitual behavior
However, despite promising theoretical connections and increased research activity in the field, the potential of mindfulness for Education for sustainable consumption (ESC) remains a scarcely researched area, even less so when it comes to intervention studies (Fischer et al., 2017).
Addressing this gap, the research project BiNKA set out to empirically explore whether a mindfulness training can stimulate the acquisition of consumption-related competencies in individuals. At the heart of the project laid a consumer-specific mindfulness intervention, inspired by the well-researched Mindfulness-Bases-Stress-Reduction (MBSR, Kabat-Zinn, 1991) and enriched by selected ESC elements (Stanszus et al., 2017). The effects of the intervention were analyzed based upon a Mixed-Methods design. The quantitative part aimed at empirically testing the aforementioned mechanisms of mindfulness on participants’ consumer behavior. Course participants were surveyed with a quantitative questionnaire shortly before and shortly after the intervention, as well as six months after completion of the training (Geiger et al. 2018). The qualitative inquiry was integrated in the research project for four reasons: Firstly, quantitative measures of mindfulness have come under attack more recently (Grossman, 2008). Enriching the quantitative with qualitative data could yield a broader picture of the training effects. Secondly, a qualitative approach could seemingly allow to reconstruct the subjective experience associated with participating in a specific consumer-focused mindfulness intervention in detail and provide insights into the relation between mindfulness and consumption that go beyond the pre-determined hypotheses as they were derived from the systematic literature review (Fischer et al., 2017). Thirdly, the relation between mindfulness and (sustainable) consumption behavior has scarcely been empirically investigated. An explorative approach toward this relation was hence also needed, given the pioneering character of the BiNKA study. Fourthly, we thought that a qualitative perspective could provide a more critical glance at mindfulness training, a viewpoint that is often neglected given the current hype on the phenomenon (van Dam et al. 2018).
This paper will focus on the qualitative part of the BiNKA study.
The training was delivered to two target groups, namely university students and employees of three small and medium-sized enterprises that declared their participation in the research project beforehand (one engineering office, one market research institute, one university). In total, six training groups were implemented for each target group, resulting in a total number of 12 training groups with a maximum group size of 12 participants. Individuals were excluded from participation when they showed serious indications of psychological difficulties. Out of n = 137 participants, 25 were selected after the course-attendance for semi-structured interviews, and 24 were included in the analysis. While 13 participants of the sample were chosen randomly, the other 12 were selected due to the greatest extremes in values of changes scores of the theoretically relevant quantitative scales (e.g. those who showed greatest vs. least improvement on scores putatively indexing facets of mindfulness). In addition to the interviews, course participants wrote diaries reporting and reflecting on their daily mindfulness practice experiences as well as their informal mindfulness practice “homeworks”. A combined qualitative methods approach (Frost, 2011) was chosen for data analysis. We developed a four-pronged research analysis specifically designed to address the four previously mentioned epistemic interests of the project, consisting of Qualitative Content Analysis (CA, Kuckartz, 2012), Interpretative-Phenomenological Analysis (IPA; Pietkiewicz and Smith, 2012), Grounded Theory (GT, Strauss and Corbin, 1997) and a discourse analytical perspective after Keller’s ‘Sociology of Knowledge Approach to Discourse’ (SKAD, 2011). The different methods were each applied to the raw data (see Frank et al., submitted, for a detailed description). CA, GT and IPA were mainly conducted by the qualitative core research team. Their provisional results were regularly made subject to larger interpretation meetings that included other members of the research team and in numerous occasions external researchers specialized in the applied qualitative methods. During these meetings, the two senior research fellows presented their analytical approaches based on the data material. In case of mutual agreement, these approaches were further pursued and otherwise either revised or rejected. In addition, we ran a research laboratory at Leuphana University in which undergraduate students applied CA and IPA on BiNKA interviews in order to obtain a more independent perspective on the matter. DA was applied as an undergraduate thesis project supervised by the qualitative research team. Data analysis started in January 2017 and was completed in September 2018.
Looking at the potential of the BiNKA intervention for cultivating consumption-related competencies and fostering more sustainable consumer behaviors, our findings can be roughly summarized as follows: As it is the case for any educational approach, mindfulness practice is neither a pill nor a panacea. instead representing an activity that is perceived very differently from one individual to another and whose effectiveness is sensible to a variety of conditions. Examples for such conditions are the relation with the teacher and the other course participants, previous experience with the practice or the time and duration of the training. The sensibility notwithstanding, we could clearly identify a tendency among course participants toward more sustainable consumer patterns due to the intervention: four out of 25 participants demonstrated changes on the behavioral level, mainly due to a reduced impulse to consume (e.g. meat or sugar) eight attendees reported effects on prebehavioral stages, for example an increased importance of one’s own social and ecological values, a strengthened intention to put those values into action as well as an increase in appreciation and gratefulness for consumption goods. 23 participants experienced mindfulness-related effects, involving improved individual well-being, cultivated a sensitivity toward inner states and processes and stimulated the development of ethical virtues, such as (self-)compassion, equanimity or patience. Such qualities can also be considered relevant for fostering sustainable lifestyles. However, direct effects on actual consumer behaviors remain marginal, and we even found (even though rarely) evidence for adverse effects on individual consumer behavior due to course participation. Overall, we found a tendency of self-confirmation, meaning that the BiNKA training helped attendees to clarify and thereby stabilize previously existing values, intentions and subjective theories (Groeben et al. 1988).
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