i2S: Interdisciplinary Sustainability Sciences Research Group

Addressing society’s grand challenge of sustainability requires a multi-faceted approach. With a focus on the human-centered approaches, i2s integrates tools and perspectives spanning multiple disciplines to understand and intervene with human decision-making in order to promote sustainability.


Today’s most pressing environmental problems are ultimately the products of human decision-making and behavior. Changing behavior is therefore an essential element in creating a sustainable future for humankind. Blending perspectives and methodologies that span multiple disciplines, our approach to addressing society’s grand challenge of sustainability draws heavily upon psychology, environmental science, political science, and human-computer interaction. Our research focuses on:

  1. Understanding and modeling decision-making that impacts environmental quality
  2. Developing and evaluating intervention approaches to modify decision-making and encourage pro-environmental behavior change

Currently we investigate these phenomena as they pertain to residential energy use and wildlife conservation.


Care to Elaborate? Enhancing motivation to elaborate using moral priming
Information on the causes and consequences of climate change is widely accessible to the general public. This should be good news given that the power to mitigate climate change largely lies in the public’s hands, through personal behavior and lifestyle changes as well as political influence. However, most people lack a thorough understanding of climate change, and even those who say they’re greatly worried about it don’t behave in ways that reflect that fear. We hypothesize that one of the reasons for this apparent gap is that people are not always motivated to apply their own critical thinking and mental elaboration skills to messages they hear about climate change. Looking to the Elaboration Likelihood Model of how people receive and respond to persuasive communications, unmotivated message recipients undergo shallow cognitive processing of messaging, which rarely leads to enduring attitude or behavior change. Perhaps we can foster motivation for understanding climate change and ultimately bring about public action by appealing to morals. More specifically, our study aims to test moral priming as a tool for increasing motivation to cognitively elaborate on climate science arguments.

You are what you drive: The role of self-identity in electric vehicle adoption
This study builds on previous work investigating factors that influence the adoption of sustainable technologies beyond practical considerations such as cost and convenience. We identified that the ability of electric vehicles to reflect aspects of a person’s identity are central to adoption. Specifically, we disaggregated a cluster of symbolic attributes into three distinct “identity badges” representing the extent to which EVs signal different aspects of self-identity: environmentalist, technology trendsetter, and social altruist. We also quantified the relative influence of these badges on EV adoption intentions alongside instrumental (e.g., fuel costs), demographic (e.g., income), and attitudinal (e.g., concern about climate change) factors. Results indicate that people are more willing to adopt electric vehicles if they see these vehicles as reflecting on them as an environmentally conscientious person and a technological trendsetter. These findings have the potential to inform future policy interventions and marketing efforts to encourage adoption of electric vehicles.

Identifying Protective Factors in Poaching Decision-Making
The destabilizing impacts associated with global climate change may give rise to additional societal challenges. In fact, instabilities (e.g., poverty, natural disaster sensitivity and resiliency, disease risk) due to climate change and resource scarcity are predicted to be key factors that will threaten global security. Hence, work is urgently needed to develop security strategies to protect humans, natural resources, and other important assets from these impacts. This project is conducted in close collaboration with the USC Teamcore Research group, and focuses on modeling adversary decision-making in security domains including but not limited to illegal wildlife poaching. To date, wildlife protection software based on this work has been used in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park and in Malaysia.

Whereas enforcement represents a top-down approach to wildlife protection, bottom-up approaches that foster conservation support have also been successful. However, work on protective factors that may deter poaching is scarce. In collaboration with researchers at USC Teamcore, Cal Poly Pomona, and Texas Tech University’s Social Identity Theory and Health Lab, in this project we examine the influence of individual-level psychological factors on poaching decision-making. Based on these results, we also aim to develop approaches to foster protective factors that can deter poaching.

ADOPT: Applications Designed tO Promote Technology
Similar to smart grid technologies, the technical aspects of new technologies to enhance security practices in wildlife protection have not been the only barriers to their adoption and use. Human security experts’ perceptions surrounding technology utility and impacts to their day-to-day operations must also be considered. To examine this topic of technology acceptance and deployment, in collaboration with researchers from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the USC Teamcore Research group, and Cal Poly Pomona, i2s is developing an educational partnership program intended to promote security technology adoption among wildlife security staff. Our objectives are to: (1) assess the impacts of our program on technology acceptance; and (2) identify motivators and barriers of technology adoption in the context of the Technology Acceptance Model.


Sintov, N.D., Orosz, M.D., & Schultz, P.W. (2015). Personalized Energy Reduction Cyber-Physical System (PERCS): A gamified end-user platform for energy efficiency and demand response. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 9189, 602-613.

Sintov, N.D., Dux, E., Tran, A., & Orosz, M. (in press). What goes on behind closed doors? How college dormitory residents change to save energy during a competition-based energy reduction intervention. International Journal for Sustainability in Higher Education for special issue on campus sustainability and social sciences, xx, xx-xx.

Konis, K., Orosz, M., & Sintov, N. (revise and resubmit under review). Opening a window to occupant-driven energy outcomes: leveraging sub-metering infrastructure to examine factors driving long-term outcomes of short-term competition-based energy reduction interventions. Energy & Buildings.


Sintov, N.D., Dux, E., Tran, A., & Orosz, M. (2015, November). Behavioral Science in the Smart Grid. Presented at the Tsingua University – Hertie School of Governance – USC Energy Policy Exchange Forum. Beijing, China.

White, L., & Sintov, N. (2015, November). What I want my EV to say about me:  The role of identity “badges” in predicting EV adoption. Presented at the Tsingua University – Hertie School of Governance – USC Energy Policy Exchange Forum. Beijing, China.

Mazmanian, D. (2015, November). The Political Economy of California’s Decarbonization Strategy and Prospects for National and International Replication. Presented at the Tsingua University – Hertie School of Governance – USC Energy Policy Exchange Forum. Beijing, China.

Sintov, N.D., Orosz., M.D., & Schultz, P.W. (2015, August). Personalized Energy Reduction Cyber-Physical System (PERCS): A gamified end-user platform for energy efficiency and demand response. Presented at the 17th annual International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, Los Angeles, CA.

White, L., Zadeh, A., & Sintov, N.D. (2015, August). What drives EV Adoption: The Power of Image. Presented at the Psychological Dimensions of “Green” Decision Making Panel of the American Psychological Association (APA) Division of Engineering Psychology and Society for Environmental Psychology at 2015 APA convention, Toronto, Canada.