“Green to be seen” and “brown to keep down”: Visibility moderates the effect of identity on pro-environmental behavior

Cameron Brick, David K. Sherman, Heejung S. Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

160 Scopus citations


Social identities predict pro-environmental behavior, but the strength may depend on whether the behavior is visible to others. When an environmentalist considers a pro-environmental behavior such as carrying reusable grocery bags, being observed by others may motivate signaling the valued group membership and may increase behavior (“green to be seen”). When an anti-environmentalist considers a pro-environmental behavior that signals an unwanted social identity, being observed may lead to less behavior (“brown to keep down”). United States residents completed three correlational surveys (total N = 1126) of identity, visibility, and self-reported behavior frequency using the Recurring Pro-environmental Behavior Scale. Three multilevel studies revealed that environmentalist identity predicted pro-environmental behavior more strongly for high-visibility behaviors, controlling for confounds at the person level (attitudes, political identity) and the behavior level (difficulty, effectiveness). This research helps uncover the key social identities and contextual factors that lead individuals to embrace or reject pro-environmental behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)226-238
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Environmental Psychology
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Ltd


  • Conspicuous conservation
  • Environmentalism
  • Identity signaling
  • Pro-environmental behavior
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Social identity


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