Jiaying Zhao

Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Sustainability

Tier 2 - 2017-11-01
The University of British Columbia
Social Sciences and Humanities


Coming to Canada From

Princeton University, United States of America

Research involves

Developing a psychological theory of resource scarcity.

Research relevance

This research could lead to policy changes on issues like poverty, environmental sustainability and resource inequality.

The Psychology of Resource Scarcity

Scarcity is an urgent and pervasive problem in the world: globally, some 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty; 1.2 billion live without electricity; and more than 780 million lack access to clean water. Even in developed countries, there is scarcity. For example, many communities in Canada face water or food shortages, and one in four children in the United States lives in poverty. More generally, almost everyone has experienced a lack of time at some point.

According to research by Dr. Jiaying Zhao, Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Sustainability, scarcity does not only signify a lack of resources—it also presents challenging psychological demands on a person. Zhao’s research has shown that scarcity can hinder cognitive function, which in itself may worsen the condition of scarcity.

Zhao and her research team are identifying how scarcity leads to neglect; what consequences arise from scarcity of environmental resources, such as food or water; how scarcity can result in failure to engage in environmental action; and how resource inequality induces the experience of scarcity.

This research will lay new theoretical, empirical and methodological ground for a science of scarcity. It will not only further our understanding of scarcity and its resulting cognitive and behavioural consequences, but also provide fundamental insights on human behaviour and decision-making that emerge from the psychology of scarcity.

More importantly, Zhao’s research could lead to policy changes on social issues like poverty, sustainability and inequality.