Press release - Reducing energy consumption: the inconsistent intentions of the Swiss population

Press release - Reducing energy consumption: the inconsistent intentions of the Swiss population

While consumption of fossil fuels is increasing and global awareness of global warming is growing, the intentions of households to reduce their own consumption are not keeping pace. The new issue of the journal Social Change in Switzerland shows with the help of a survey of 5,000 households that only one third of individuals say they want to reduce their carbon footprint. Moreover, among the latter, this intention is hardly translated into concrete intentions in terms of car use, electricity or heating.

In this new study, researchers Mehdi Farsi, Laurent Ott and Sylvain Weber from the University of Neuchâtel analyse the annual energy demand surveys 2016-2019. They show that only 25% of respondents say they are in favour of reducing the use of their cars, while 33% say they want to reduce their carbon footprint. Women, young people and urban dwellers are generally more willing to reduce their carbon footprint and energy consumption through reduced car use, heating and electricity. Young women are also more supportive of the climate strike.

Knowledge does not rhyme with intent

These surveys also show that men and people over 55 years of age have a better understanding of energy and its climate impact. But a good level of knowledge is not accompanied by more favourable intentions to reduce energy consumption. Indeed, groups of people with better knowledge about energy seem less willing to change their behaviour. Informing the population is therefore not enough to reduce energy consumption.

A fuzzy but well-accepted CO2 tax

By asking people about the CO2 tax, the survey shows that it is often misunderstood or even ignored. While the CO2 tax amounts to more than 25% of the price of fuel (oil and gas), a significant minority of respondents do not realize that they actually pay it. However, if large sections of the population are unaware of a tax, there is no point in expecting it to change their behaviour in terms of energy use. Nevertheless, the three researchers highlight that the Swiss, with the exception of young people living in rural areas, would support the tax in a popular vote.

>> M. Farsi, L. Ott & S. Weber (2020). Les intentions contradictoires des Suisses vis-à-vis de leur consommation d'énergieSocial Change in Switzerland N° 21, 
www.socialchangeswitzerland.ch

Contact : Sylvain Weber, +41 32 718 14 42, sylvain.weber@unine.ch

The series Social Change in Switzerland continuously documents the evolution of the social structure in Switzerland. It is published jointly by the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences FORS, the Centre for Research on Life Course and Inequality (Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, University of Lausanne) LINES and the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES - Overcoming Vulnerability: Life Course Perspective (NCCR LIVES). The aim is to trace changes in employment, family, income, mobility, voting and gender in Switzerland. Based on state-of-the-art empirical research, they are aimed at a wider audience than just specialists.

Press release - Brain or muscles, what do we lose first?

Press release - Brain or muscles, what do we lose first?

Researchers from NCCR LIVES and the Swiss Centre for Affectives Sciences (CISA, UNIGE) have shown that the decline in cognitive abilities after 50 years of age results in
a decline in physical activity, and that – contrary to what has been suggested by the literature to date – the inverse relationship is much weaker.

Someone dies somewhere in the world every 10 seconds owing to physical inactivity – 3.2 million people a year according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). From the age of 50, there is a gradual decline not just in physical activity but also in cognitive abilities since the two are correlated. But which of them influences the other? Does physical activity impact on the brain or is it the other way around? To answer this question, researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, and the NCCR LIVES used a database of over 100,000 people aged 50-90 whose physical and cognitive abilities were measured every two years for 12 years. The findings, which are published in the journal Health Psychology, show that – contrary to what was previously thought – cognitive abilities ward off inactivity much more than physical activity prevents the decline in cognitive abilities. All of which means we need to prioritise exercising our brains.

The literature in this area has been looking at the impact of physical activity on cognitive skills for a number of years. “Correlations have been established between these two factors, particularly in terms of memory, but also regarding the growth and survival of new neurons,” begins Boris Cheval, a researcher at UNIGE’s Swiss Centre for Affective Sciences (CISA). “But we have never yet formally tested which comes first: does physical activity prevent a decline in cognitive skills or vice versa? That’s what we wanted to verify.”

What came first: the chicken or the egg? 

Earlier studies based on the correlation between physical activity and cognitive skills postulated that the former prevent the decline of the latter. “But what if this research only told half the story? That’s what recent studies suggest, since they demonstrate that our brain is involved when it comes to engaging in physical activity,” continues the Geneva-based researcher.

The UNIGE researchers tested the two possible options formally using data from the SHARE survey (Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe), a European-wide socio-economic database covering over 25 countries. “The cognitive abilities and level of physical activity of 105,206 adults aged 50 to 90 were tested every two years over a 12-year period,” explains Matthieu Boisgontier, a researcher at the LIVES Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR LIVES). Cognitive abilities were measured using a verbal fluency test (naming as many animals as possible in 60 seconds) and a memory test (memorising 10 words and reciting them afterwards). Physical activity was measured on a scale of 1 (“Never”) to 4 (“More than once a week”).

The Geneva researchers employed this data in three separate statistical models. In the first, they looked at whether physical activity predicted the change in cognitive skills over time; in the second, whether cognitive skills predicted the change in physical activity; and in the third, they tested the two possibilities bidirectionally. “Thanks to a statistical index, we found that the second model adjusted the most precisely to the data of the participants,” says Cheval. The study demonstrates, therefore, that cognitive capacities mainly influence physical activity and not vice versa, as the literature to date had postulated. “Obviously, it’s a virtuous cycle, since physical activity also influences our cognitive capacities. But, in light of these new findings, it does so to a lesser extent,” points out Boisgontier.

Slowing down an inevitable decline

From the age of 50, the decline in physical and cognitive abilities is inevitable. However, these results indicate that, contrary to what was once thought, if we act first on our cognitive skills, we can slow the decline of this virtuous circle. “This study backs up our theory that the brain has to make a real effort to get out of a sedentary lifestyle and that by working on cognitive capacities, physical activity will follow”, says Cheval by way of conclusion. 

>> Full scientific article - Cheval, B., Orsholits, D., Sieber, S., Courvoisier, D., Cullati, S., & Boisgontier, M. P. (2020). Relationship between decline in cognitive resources and physical activityHealth Psychology.