Human Behavior & Sustainable Development

The theme of human behavior holds many possibilities for teachers to develop interdisciplinary learning opportunities. Many themes in the curricula of subject areas deal with human behavior explicitly or implicitly. Many objectives of education in general, and of education for sustainable development in particular, aim to promote in students the ability to act responsibly, to take the perspectives of others, and to develop social-emotional competencies. At the same time, many social problems, from xenophobia to mental health, to problems of sustainable resource use, have in common that they are causes and consequences of human behavior. Furthermore, we humans, across cultures, generally have a great interest in human behavior – intuitively and almost every second we perceive human behavior in everyday life.

In this module, we therefore explore how we can convey the diverse concepts, research methods, and insights of the interdisciplinary behavioral sciences (including behavioral ecology and biology, behavioral economics, evolutionary anthropology, psychology, sociology) within individual subject areas, as well as for interdisciplinary teaching.

Teaching Materials

“Fair” does not always mean the same thing

These lesson materials introduce students to issues of fairness and various interpretations of it. Reflecting on results of a cross-cultural experiment with children, students discuss how we can use our understandings to create a more fair world.

Analyzing social-ecological systems

In this lesson, students analyze a select real-world social-ecological system by looking at factors of the resource(s) and ecosystem, resource user behaviors, and governance, to develop recommendations for improving the sustainable management of the resource.

Backwards Brain Bicycle

This video is about a bicycle that works differently than normal bicycles, and how challenging it is for our minds to learn how to ride this new bicycle.

Causes of our moral intuitions

In this lesson students explore the causes of our moral intuitions with the help of a sorting activity and reflection questions.

Climate Change Game

A cooperation game that lets students experience some of the challenges of cooperation in addressing global climate change

Collective Action Puzzle Game

A group game that lets students experience the dilemma between self-interest and collective interest when groups have to work together to achieve shared goals.

Commons game

In a classroom simulation game with changing conditions students develop strategies for the use of a common resource so that the profit for the entire group is maximized.

Cultural evolution (lesson plan)

Students explore the concept of cultural evolution by comparing it to genetic evolution based on a number of concepts, and explore why cultural evolution is so important in our species.

Exploring values

This lesson is about exploring the concept of values with students and having them identify and reflect on what they personally value, or what makes their life meaningful.

Fast thinking or slow thinking

In this lesson students sort their own experience of thinking into fast and slow processes. Based on this, they come to understand that our thinking is shaped through experience such that things we do often and regularly become easier over time. 

Function of cognitive biases

In this lesson students learn about the concept of cognitive biases as well as a number of important cognitive biases that may affect our well-being and social interactions, identify their causes in evolutionary history, their functions, and reflect on how to cope with cognitive biases.

Honeybee Democracy

Students explore how a honeybee swarm makes a decision about their future nesting site, and explore the similarities and differences to how human groups make decisions.

Lost wallet study

A behavioral experiment across 40 countries that explored human motivations to return lost wallets to their owner

Mismatch? (lesson plan)

Students learn about the concept of evolutionary mismatch and apply it to various problems of sustainable development.

Moral taste buds

In this lesson students explore the causes and functions of, as well as ways to flexibly relate to our moral intuitions by engaging the analogy to our taste buds.

NetLogo: Two communities

This NetLogo computer model extends the model Two Foresters and introduces a bigger and more complex population structure

NetLogo: Two Foresters

An interactive introduction into concepts of ecology, behavioral ecology, and sustainability with a computer simulation of a simple social-ecological system.

OpenEvo Guide to Using AI Tools for Lesson Development

This document is intended to give you some ideas on how you can use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to design a lesson or unit that integrates competencies in Education for Sustainable Development, concepts of human behavior and behavioral science, and topics of sustainable development.

Public Goods Game

With these teaching materials, students can be introduced to game theory in general, as well as a concrete method, the public goods game. The conditions and rules of the public goods game reflect the challenge of a group to maintain common resources.

Stone Age Hunting Game

A cooperation game that simulates the challenge of our stone age ancestors to acquire food in the African savanna

Three Mexican fisheries

Students compare the stories of three Mexican fishing villages to understand the factors that enabled some villages to sustainably manage their fishing resources, while others failed.

True stories of people who left radical movements

In this unit students explore stories of people who have left a radical movement, or deliberately discuss with representatives of the “other side” and build respectful relationships. These let us explore the circumstances, experiences and insights about why prejudice, hatred and violence against other people or a group can arise and how they can dissolve again.

Two stories of capitalism

Students explore two contrasting stories about the benefits and failures of capitalism, identify the moral intuitions behind each story, and write a third story about capitalism that integrates aspects of both stories.

What is behavior?

In this lesson students explore the concept of (human) behavior, its causes, and its relation to well-being and sustainable development.

What motivates people to save energy

A set of behavioral experiments to find out what motivates people to save electricity, exploring the roles of monetary incentives, social norms, appeals to the environment or to citizenship.