Walk in my shoes: Nudging for empathy conservation

Natalia V. Czap, Hans J. Czap, Gary D. Lynne, Mark E. Burbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


The traditional policy approaches to encourage conservation, including offering monetary incentives and direct regulation, may lead to unintended consequences which may undermine their effectiveness. In this paper we experimentally test the effectiveness of complementing financial nudging/incentives with nudging for empathy. Our framed experiment models a situation in which an upstream farmer influences the water quality downstream by choosing the level of conservation. Financial nudging is represented by a crop insurance subsidy conditional on conservation compliance (consistent with the 2014 Farm Bill policy). Empathy nudging is represented by a downstream water user sending a message to the upstream farmer encouraging the latter to "walk-in-the-shoes"/take the perspective of the former. We found that empathy nudging can counteract the elimination of financial incentives. However, it is less effective than financial nudging. Empathy nudging coupled with financial incentives has a synergic effect and conservation increased significantly compared to using one of the nudges alone. Furthermore, the combination of empathy and financial nudging was particularly effective in low (initial) conservation cases. We argue that policy makers and the public should encourage empathy conservation and that the environmental policy narrative should appeal to empathy and call for farmers to "join the cause" for conservation and environmental protection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)147-158
Number of pages12
JournalEcological Economics
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015


  • Conservation
  • Conservation compliance
  • Downstream water pollution
  • Dual-interest theory
  • Empathy
  • Environmental policy
  • Nudge

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


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