Steve’s research explores how leading by example with high-impact pro-environmental behaviour influences the attitudes and behaviour of others, and how such leadership contributes to climate change mitigation. His PhD revealed that visible leading by example from politicians, CEOs and celebrities significantly increases the willingness of members of the public to adopt the same low-carbon behaviours (flying less, eating less meat, driving electric cars, improving home energy efficiency, increased use of public transport and active travel). Furthermore, public perceptions of the leaders’ credibility, trustworthiness, competence and popularity are greatly increased when the leaders are observed leading by example. A corresponding negative effect is observed when leaders’ behaviour appears to contradict their climate message.
Underpinning Steve’s ongoing research is the idea that “action is communication”. His investigations aim to provide insights into how social influence and leadership can feed into the rapid transition to more sustainable lifestyles, by shifting social norms and contributing to social tipping points. His research also contributes to the ongoing debates about “individual action versus systems change”, highlighting how leaders’ individual actions have an effect on collectives and systems – i.e. they are not purely “individual”. He draws on theories of social influence, cultural evolution, leadership, and practice.
University webpage: https://profiles.cardiff.ac.uk/research-staff/westlakest