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Scientific paper


Towards a Theory of Psychological Rebound Effects

Tilman Santarius

Entry type:
Scientific paper

Year of publication:

Degrowth Conference Leipzig 2014


Abstract: Research on rebound effects at the consumer level until today has been almost exclusively limited to the realm of economic sciences. Accordingly explanations of how rebound effects arise are restricted to economic theories, namely to income and substitution effects. This article analyzes rebound effects through the lenses of various social and behavioral science theories. The article applies the Theory of Planned Behavior (Ajzen, 1991), the Norm Activiation Model (Schwartz, 1977), the Moral Balance Model (Nisan, 1991) as well as Festinger’s (1957) theory on cognitive dissonance to generate several hypothesis how energy efficiency improvements may change consumer preferences, and thus lead to positive or negative rebound effects. The article substantiates these hypotheses with qualitative evidence from focus groups that have been performed in the general public in Germany by Peters et al. (2012) as well as with quantitative data from studies that look at correlated cases. It presents a ‘typology of psychological rebound effects’, highlights limitations of this approach, and develops main research questions how to further explore the issue.

This media entry was a contribution to the special session "Rebound Effect I: Energy, efficiency, and growth" and to the special session "Rebound Effect II: Energy, efficiency, and growth" at the 4th International Degrowth Conference in Leipzig in 2014.

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