The Inertia of Affluence

John A. Nevin


Behavior is highly resistant to change in situations with large and frequent reinforcers but weak contingencies relating reinforcers to behavior. This empirical result may help us to understand why patterns of behavior are so difficult to change in the affluent society of the USA, despite the likelihood that their continuation will destroy the environment on which we depend. The argument is illustrated by fossil fuel consumption, especially by driving cars for personal transportation, where many costs are deferred or hidden but reinforcers are immediate and are experienced in a situation of general affluence. The behavioral momentum metaphor accounts for the resistance to change of driving, and of social policies that subsidize driving. Using wind power as an example, the metaphor suggests why local action on behalf of the future may be successful and how support for future-oriented projects may be gained.

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Published by the University of Illinois at Chicago Library

And Behaviorists for Social Responsibility