Health and Environmental Protective Behavioral Intentions for Reducing Harm from Water Pollutants

Grace M. Little, Patrice A. Kohl, Chloe B. Wardropper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding what motivates people to adopt protective behaviors is important in developing effective risk messaging. Motivations may vary depending on the nature of the risk and whether it poses a personal or impersonal threat. Water pollution creates both personal (human health) and impersonal (environmental) threats, yet few studies have examined people’s motivations to protect both personal health and environmental health. Protection motivation theory (PMT) uses four key variables to predict what motivates individuals to protect themselves in relation to a perceived threat. Using data from an online survey (n = 621), we investigated the relationships between PMT variables related to health and environmental protective behavioral intentions related to toxic water pollutants among residents in Oregon, Idaho, and Washington, USA. Among PMT variables, high self-efficacy (belief in one’s own capacity to carry out certain behaviors) significantly predicted both health and environmental protective behavioral intentions for water pollutants, while perceived severity of the threat was only significant in the environmental behavioral intentions model. Perceived vulnerability and response efficacy (belief that a specific behavior will effectively mitigate the threat) were significant in both models. Education level, political affiliation, and subjective knowledge of pollutants were significant predictors of environmental protective behavioral intentions, but not health protective behavioral intentions. The results of this study suggest that when communicating environmental risks of water pollution, highlighting self-efficacy in messaging is particularly important to promote protective environmental and personal health behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)587-597
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2023


  • Coping appraisal
  • Environmental protective behavior
  • Health protective behavior
  • Protection motivation theory
  • Threat appraisal
  • Water pollution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology


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