Nadja Contzen, PhD

Nadja Contzen, PhD

Postdoctoral researcher
+31 50 3636188

Grote Kruisstraat 2/1
9712 TS Groningen
the Netherlands

Room 454

Summary of work:

I am interested in factors influencing the acceptability of (energy) innovations and policies, the impact of social identity on pro-environmental behavior, and social-cognitive mechanisms of behavior change. My research, although having a clear aim for theory development, is highly practice-orientated and aims to help understanding as well as tackling societal challenges.

Research Projects

I am interested in factors influencing the acceptability of (energy) innovations and policies, the impact of social identity on pro-environmental behavior, and social-cognitive mechanisms of behavior change. My research, although having a clear aim for theory development, is highly practice-orientated and aims to help understanding as well as tackling societal challenges.


Current projects

Developing socially responsible innovations: The role of values and moral emotions

This project studies the role of emotions and underlying values and moral considerations in public responses towards innovations. The project aims to develop an innovative emotion-based design perspective for socially responsible innovations that are acceptable and justifiable on ethical grounds.

For more information please refer to:

Responsible decision-making on gas

The use and production of natural gas is causing controversies, as reflected in debates about the earthquakes in the province of Groningen in the Netherlands, gas production activities at vulnerable locations, shale gas, imports from Russia, and its fossil nature. At the same time, it is advocated that gas can play an important role in the sustainable energy transition and new developments are being introduced in the gas sector, such as green gas and power-to-gas. It is a societal and ethical challenge to determine what role, if any, gas can play in the (future) energy system. Environemntal psychologists at the RUG and political scientists and philosophers at the Delft University of Technology work together in this project. The project will provide insights for responsible decisions about what role, if any, different gas concepts should play in future energy systems.

For more information please refer to: 

Social dilemmas in environmental protection: The impact of collective identity on cooperation

Many of today’s most pressing problems in environmental protection can be characterized as a social dilemma, a situation in which individual interests are in conflict with collective interests. To solve social dilemmas, widespread cooperation is necessary. Environmental campaigns that target the psychological determinants of cooperation can be used to promote cooperation, meaning ecological behavior. Collective identity, the emotional attachment to one’s collective or group, is a factor that has been found to increase cooperation in social dilemma situations. While the identity-cooperation relation has been widely studied, there are several important research gaps left to be addressed. For example, the underlying mechanisms of the identity-cooperation relation have not been conclusively investigated and the critical level of collective identification (e.g. local, national or global collective) to promote ecological behavior has not conclusively been established. This project aims to address these research gaps. The results of the project will be highly relevant to improve the understanding of the identity-cooperation relation. What is more, the results will provide knowledge about ways to promote collective identity in environmental campaigns, which in turn will help to mitigate current societal problems in environmental protection.


Previous projects

2014 - 2015: Explaining the use of safe water kiosks in Kenya

Access to safe water is still limited in most sub-Saharan countries, including Kenya. Safe water kiosks are an important alternative to piped supply to increase access. However, adoption rates are low, especially in rural areas. The present study investigated sociodemographic, contextual, and social-cognitive factors explaining the use of three water kiosks in Kenya. Kiosk use depended on the prevalence of rainwater harvesting, the kiosks’ actual service performance, and, related to that, the population’s service satisfaction. Furthermore, the actual and perceived costs of the kiosk, self-efficacy beliefs, perceived social norms and pressures, and self-regulatory behaviour appeared to affect kiosk adoption. The results suggest that standard health promotions, affecting perceived risks and health knowledge, might be ineffective to increase use of safe water kiosks. Instead, safe water kiosks might be successfully promoted through increasing social norms, perceived ease of behavior, action control and commitment and by lowering perceived costs and efforts.

In cooperation with Siemens Foundation and the Department Sandec at Eawag.

For more information please refer to: 

2012 - 2013: Changing handwashing behaviour in southern Ethiopia

Regular handwashing is the single most effective prevention against diarrheal disease. However, handwashing rates are low in many developing countries, including Ethiopia. This handwashing promotion project in the Borena Zone of southern Ethiopia aimed to increase handwashing rates in rural communities through theory- and evidence-based population-tailored interventions. The interventions applied, especially the tippy tap* promotion, proved to be more effective than a standard educational approach: 95% of intervention households were successfully motivated to construct a tippy tap. Three months after the intervention had ended, water and soap were present at the tippy tap in 50% to 80% of the households. The results suggests not only to apply theory and evidence to improve handwashing interventions’ effectiveness, but also emphasizes the relevance of tailoring interventions to the target population. * A tippy tap is a handwashing station constucted out of locally available materials.

In cooperation with Oxfam America and Gayo Pastoral Development Initiative.

For more information please refer to: 

2011: Handwashing behaviour in an emergency context: Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake

Regular handwashing is especially vital during disasters, when the risk of diarrheal disease is elevated. This project, situated in refugee camps and poor neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince and communities in the Département de l’Ouest in post-earthquake Haiti, aimed to evaluate the impact of public health promotions and cholera response on handwashing rates. The impact of the applied promotional channels proved to be divergent: some were positively associated, some were not associated and others were even negatively associated with handwashing rates. The results underline the importance of rigorous evaluations of hygiene promotions to eliminate unwanted effects such as behaviour impairment.

In cooperation with Oxfam America, Oxfam Great Britain, Oxfam Québec, and Intermón Oxfam.

For more information please refer to: 

Supervision of theses

  • Master theses


Individual courses

Summer School Social Aspects of Sustainability, Honours College

What motivates people to use sustainable technologies and products? Which interventions are successful in promoting them? During this Summer School students will develop a research proposal addressing a real life sustainability problem from a social perspective. On the first day of the Summer School we will visit Nest, a Swiss research and innovation building in which new technologies, materials and systems are tested and demonstrated in realistic conditions – people live and work in the building’s research units. After the visit, Nest-researchers will introduce two of the sustainable technologies in more detail: treatment and reuse of greywater and a fertilizer produced out of urine. The following days of the Summer School students will work on a proposal to address societal and psychological issues the researchers are facing. The Summer School will take place in Zurich, where students will work in small groups on this topic. Students will learn how to define the social aspects of the problem, how to develop strategies to solve the problem, supervised and guided by experienced researchers from the Netherlands and Switzerland. During the week lectures will be given by experts in the field. At the final day of the Summer School the groups will present their proposal to the Nest-researchers and fellow students.


Guest lectures

  • Consumer and Economic Psychology, Bachelors program Psychology

Scientific Publications

Contzen, N., & Marks, S. J. (2018). Increasing the regular use of safe water kiosk through collective psychological ownership: A mediation analysis. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 57, 45–52. DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2018.06.008

Contzen, N., De Pasquale, S., & Mosler, H. J. (2015). Over-reporting in handwashing self-reports: Potential explanatory factors and alternative measurements. PLoS ONE, 10(8). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0136445

Contzen, N., & Hans-Joachim, M. (2015). Identifying the psychological determinants of handwashing: Results from two cross-sectional questionnaire studies in Haiti and Ethiopia. American Journal of Infection Control, 43(8), 826–832. DOI: 10.1016/j.ajic.2015.04.186

Contzen, N., & Inauen, J. (2015). Social-cognitive factors mediating intervention effects on handwashing: a longitudinal study. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 38(6), 956–969. DOI: 10.1007/s10865-015-9661-2

Contzen, N., Meili, I. H., & Mosler, H. J. (2015). Changing handwashing behaviour in southern ethiopia: A longitudinal study on infrastructural and commitment interventions. Social Science and Medicine, 124, 103–114. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.11.006

Contzen, N., & Mosler, H. J. (2013). Impact of different promotional channels on handwashing behaviour in an emergency context: Haiti post-earthquake public health promotions and cholera response. Journal of Public Health, 21(6), 559–573. DOI: 10.1007/s10389-013-0577-4

Other Publications