Jiaying Zhao

Portrait photo of Jiaying Zhao

Jiaying Zhao

Associate Professor, IRES
Associate Professor, Psychology
Canada Research Chair (T2, Behavioral Sustainability)
UBC Sauder Distinguished Scholar

Contact Details

AERL 437


Website: http://zhaolab.psych.ubc.ca
Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.ca/citations?user=w6d1YTgAAAAJ&hl=en

Research Interests

Behavioral change, Policy and Decision-making, Resource scarcity, Sustainability


What is psychology good for? How can psychology contribute to sustainability? To answer these questions, Dr. Zhao aims to use psychological principles to design behavioral solutions to address sustainability challenges. This approach offers insights on how cognitive mechanisms govern human behavior, and how behavioral interventions can inform the design and the implementation of public policy. Dr. Zhao is currently examining the cognitive causes and consequences of scarcity, what behavioral interventions improve the performance in low-income individuals, how to promote recycling and composting behavior, water and energy conservation, what cognitive, motivational, and sociocultural factors shape the perception of climate change, and how to engage the public on biodiversity conservation.

Pronouns: she/her/hers


Resource scarcity

A hallmark of sustainability is the balance between demand (i.e., how much is needed) and capacity (i.e., how much is available). In this line of work, Zhao and her group examine the cognitive and behavioral consequences of resource scarcity where demand exceeds capacity, with the goal of explaining why low-income individuals engage in counter-productive behaviors that perpetuate the condition of scarcity.

Zhao’s work with the Foundations for Social Change showed the impacts of an unconditional cash transfer of CAD $7,500 to individuals experiencing homelessness: recipients spent 99 fewer days homeless, increased their savings, and saved society an average of $777 each by spending less time in shelters.

Relevant Papers

Dwyer, R., Palepu, A., Williams, C., Daly-Grafstein, D., & Zhao, J. (2023). Unconditional cash transfers reduce homelessness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 120, e2222103120.

Dwyer, R., Stewart K., & Zhao, J. (2023). A comparison of cash transfer programs in the Global North and South. Cash Transfers for Inclusive Societies: A Behavioral Lens. University of Toronto Press.

Zhao, J., Datta, S., & Soman, D. (2023). Cash Transfers for Inclusive Societies: A Behavioral Lens. University of Toronto Press.

Larsen, V. J.*, Carriaga, R.*, Wething, H., Zhao, J.* & Hall, C. C.* (2023). Behavioral consequences of income and expense shocks. Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics, 106, 102067. (joint first or senior authors)

Drouin, O., Perez, T., Barnett, T.A., Ducharme, F., Fleegler, E.W., Garg, A., Lavoie, K.L., Li, P., Métras, M., Sultan, S., Tse, S.M., & Zhao, J. (2023). Impact of unmet social needs, scarcity and future discounting on adherence to treatment in children with asthma: Protocol for a prospective cohort study. JMIR Research Protocols, 12, e37318

Hay, H., Dyce, A., & Zhao, J.(2023). Giving money to unhoused people is good, actually. The Georgia Straight. (Editor reviewed)

Zhao, J., Woo, Y. P. & Whitehead, L. (2023). Artificial intelligence + Basic income = Canadian innovation. Policy Options. (Editor reviewed)

Zhao, J. & Whitehead, L. (2022). A guaranteed basic income could end poverty, so why isn’t it happening? The Conversation. (Editor reviewed)

Environmental behavior

A challenge for conservation is that people are often unaware of the amount of resources being used. To address this issue, Zhao’s group uses real-time visual feedback to reduce water and electricity consumption in residential and office buildings. In addition, they examine how preferences, attitudes, and messaging determine public actions to conserve biodiversity. To increase recycling and composting rates, Zhao’s group is currently conducting a series of field experiments that examine the role of convenience, signage, and knowledge in sorting behaviors.

Relevant Papers

Luo, Y. & Zhao, J. (2023). Using behavioral interventions to reduce single-use produce bags. Resources, Conservation & Recycling, 193, 106942

Luo, Y., Douglas, J., Pahl, S., & Zhao, J. (2022). Reducing plastic waste by visualizing marine consequences. Environment & Behavior, 54, 809-832.

Habib, R., White, K., Hardisty, D., Zhao, J. (2021). Shifting consumer behavior to address climate change. Current Opinion in Psychology, 42, 108-113.

Wu, D., Lenkic, P., DiGiacomo, A., Cech, P., Zhao, J., & Kingstone, A. (2018). How does the design of waste disposal signage influence waste disposal behavior? Journal of Environmental Psychology, 58, 77-85.

Zelenika, I., Moreau, T., & Zhao, J. (2018). Toward zero waste events: Reducing contamination in waste streams with volunteer assistance. Waste Management, 76, 39-45.

Environmental cognition

Environmental actions can be driven by how people perceive their impact on the environment. In this line of work, Zhao’s group examines how people perceive their carbon footprint and how the carbon price tag of individual behaviors influences climate actions. They are developing a motivated attention framework to examine how people with different ideologies perceive climate change evidence, and what cognitive, motivational, and sociocultural factors shape the prioritization and the interpretation of climate evidence. This helps inform the communication of climate science.

Relevant Papers

Sörqvist, P., Volna, I., Zhao, J., & Marsh, J. (2022). Irregular stimulus distribution increases the negative footprint illusion. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 63, 530-535.

Wu, J., Hauert, C., Kremen, C., & Zhao, J. (2022). A framework on polarization, cognitive inflexibility, and rigid cognitive specialization. Frontiers in Psychology, 13:776891.

Wynes, S., Zhao, J., & Donner, S. (2020). How well do people understand the climate impact of individual actions? Climatic Change, 162, 1521-1534.


PSYC 421 Environmental Psychology