UCM Capstone Assignment (Bachelor thesis)
Cognitive Clothes: Using cognitive psychology to promote sustainable clothing consumption
Helen’s bachelor thesis at University College Maastricht was supervised by Made2Measure. She used theories in cognitive psychology to develop a toolkit for designers and retailers who want to encourage their clients to buy sustainably. As local produced clothing and jewelry can often be classified as sustainable, these guidelines can directly be applied by Maastricht designers.
In light of the development of fast fashion, the need for consumption of sustainable clothing is growing in size. In her research, Helen explains fast fashion in a historical perspective and analyses the negative geological and social consequences of the current fast fashion system and hence the importance importance of sustainable alternatives. During this analysis she identifies the barriers consumers perceive to interact with these alternatives due to a lack of reliable information, availability, and economic resources. In response to this she argues that theories from cognitive psychology would be relevant in promoting sustainable clothing consumption. This is especially relevant as the effectiveness of this application has been proven in other domains but has until now remained undeveloped in the domain of clothing.
She highlights the key underlying ideas of cognitive psychology and emphasizes the importance of Dual-Process Theory. Here the importance of providing information was analysed, referring to the Elaboration-Likelihood Model and theory on Mindful Decision Making. Two specific properties of this information were deemed most effective in previous literature, namely the use of information which elicits positive emotions, as this has the ability to promote full use of cognitive capacities. Secondly, information which highlights the consumers sustainable behaviour in other domains, which has the potential effect of promoting sustainable behaviour in alternative domains through a Positive Spillover Effect.
An empirical study was designed to see if these types of information were indeed affective in promoting more sustainable clothing consumption. This resulted in mixed results which did not yield significant results for the effects of positive emotions or a positive spillover. Further research with a larger sample or considering more sophisticated variables would be beneficial to further investigate these effects in terms of sustainable clothing consumption. When considering additional motivational variables for sustainable clothing consumption it was found that perceiving oneself as sustainable is not related to subsequent sustainable clothing choices, which is arguably reflective of an attitude-behaviour gap. Alternatively, however it was found that sustainable clothing choices were related to sustainable motivations. Lastly, the
results indicated that higher average clothing consumption is related to more sustainable clothing choices. This could suggest that more engagement with clothing consumption can help to motivate more sustainable behaviour as these consumers have a higher feeling of involvement or potentially guilt.
Based on her findings, Helen created guidelines for sustainable designers and shop-owners, which can be found here: GUIDELINES
Helen’s full research paper is available here: REPORT