Most of the literature on the causes of tropical deforestation has focused on the proximate and distal causes. However, research exploring the psychological drivers of deforestation, i.e., motivations, is still scant despite being crucial to understand the processes of land-use change and individual decision making within social-ecological systems. We studied the combined effect of structural and individual causes of deforestation, with particular emphasis on motivations, for a sample of rural households in Colombia’s foremost tropical deforestation frontier. We implemented a new instrument based on self-determination theory to measure five different types of motivations to protect the forests: intrinsic, guilt/regret, social, extrinsic motivations, and amotivation (lack of motivation). Our findings show that, controlling for the structural and household drivers widely identified in the deforestation literature, intrinsic motivations positively correlate with less self-reported deforestation. Also, amotivated people and those with extrinsic motives, such as expected payments for conservation, are more likely to deforest. Our results show that motivations can explain variation in land-use decisions and thus should be considered when designing, implementing, and evaluating conservation policies aiming to halt deforestation.
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