Innovative solutions are needed to address societal challenges related to climate change, energy and resource use, and food security. Members of the public can react emotionally to such innovations – for example, with anger, fear or excitement. Negative emotions can lead to fierce resistance, whereas positive emotions can contribute to a successful introduction of an innovation. Decision-makers often struggle to understand and predict people’s emotions, which prevents them from effectively incorporating people’s emotions in decision-making about innovations.

We propose that emotional responses to innovations are not random and irrational. Instead, our research shows that emotional responses are rooted in people’s values (i.e., desirable goals that people find important and that motivate behaviour). Psychological research has identified four important values that can underlie emotional responses to sustainable innovations. Most people hold all of these values to a degree, but there is considerable variation in the relative importance that people place on each value.

Sustainable innovations can have different implications for people who prioritize different values. Emotional responses to an innovation can be triggered by what the specific characteristics of the innovation imply for people’s core values (e.g. the innovation’s characteristics, such as its financial cost or environmental impact, may support or threaten the things that people value strongly). People may thus feel negatively about innovations that have characteristics that threaten their core values, whereas they may feel positively about innovations that have characteristics that support their core values. They may also feel mixed emotions towards innovations that have characteristics that both support and threaten their core values.

The four values

(Bouman et al., 2018)


Valuing nature and
the environment

  • To prevent pollution.
  • To protect the environment
  • To respect nature.


Valuing the wellbeing
of other people

  • That every person has
    equal opportunities.
  • To take care of those who are worse off.
  • That every person is treated justly.
  • That there is no war or conflict.
  • To be helpful to others.


Valuing wealth,
power, and

  • To have control over
    others’ actions.
  • To have authority over others.
  • To be influential.
  • To have money and possessions.
  • To work hard and be ambitious.


Valuing personal
pleasure and comfort

  • To have fun.
  • To enjoy life’s pleasures.
  • To do things [he/she] enjoys