A more dynamic understanding of human behaviour for the Anthropocene

Caroline Schill, John M. Anderies, Therese Lindahl, Carl Folke, Stephen Polasky, Juan Camilo Cárdenas, Anne Sophie Crépin, Marco A. Janssen, Jon Norberg, Maja Schlüter

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

116 Scopus citations


Human behaviour is of profound significance in shaping pathways towards sustainability. Yet, the approach to understanding human behaviour in many fields remains reliant on overly simplistic models. For a better understanding of the interface between human behaviour and sustainability, we take work in behavioural economics and cognitive psychology as a starting point, but argue for an expansion of this work by adopting a more dynamic and systemic understanding of human behaviour, that is, as part of complex adaptive systems. A complex adaptive systems approach allows us to capture behaviour as ‘enculturated’ and ‘enearthed’, co-evolving with socio–cultural and biophysical contexts. Connecting human behaviour and context through a complex adaptive systems lens is critical to inform environmental governance and management for sustainability, and ultimately to better understand the dynamics of the Anthropocene itself.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1075-1082
Number of pages8
JournalNature Sustainability
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This Perspective is a product of a series of Behaviour, Economics and Nature (BEN) workshops hosted by the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The work has been funded by the Kjell and Märta Beijer Foundation, and the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation. We would like to thank S. West and D. Ospina for insightful comments and suggestions on previous drafts.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, Springer Nature Limited.


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