Marketers know about this impulse, and a lot of marketing makes use of social norms. This is especially true of campaigns targeting some kind of public good: reducing smoking or binge drinking, for example, or encouraging recycling. The problem with these campaigns is that they often do not work. Indeed, they sometimes appear to have the opposite of their intended effect.
Why would this be? Psychologist Wesley Schultz of California State University, San Marcos believes that despite the fact that we want to be normal, most people are very bad at estimating what normal human behavior really looks like. For example, many people probably think it’s typical to spew 11 tons of carbon into the world every year, while others might think that a couple tons is probably closer to the mark. But, when Al Gore tells us that the national average is in fact 7.5 tons, he likely is sparking two very different reactions: Some feel guilty for being so gluttonous. But others probably react: whew, did something right for a change.
Some may adjust their thermostats out of guilt, but those feeling self-righteous are not going to do that. It would not make any sense. Indeed, Schultz and his colleagues suspect that people who are already performing better than the norm may also adjust—but in a socially undesirable way. That is, they also move toward the center, seeking out the average, but in their case by increasing their energy use. This boomerang effect could in theory offset any greening of behavior and account for the overall ineffectiveness of such marketing strategies.
Schultz decided to test this idea in the real world. He enlisted nearly 300 residents of San Marcos, California, who agreed to let him monitor their home energy consumption. He measured their energy use once to start, again soon after, and once again several weeks later. Throughout the experiment, he gave them information about their actual energy use and how it compared to the average energy use in San Marcos.
Schultz wanted to test one additional idea. With some of the households, he did not just deliver straight information. He attached an emoticon to the information sheet. If the homeowners were below the community average in energy use they got a smiley face; if they were consuming more than their neighbors were, they got a frowning face. He wanted to see if social approval or disapproval—conveyed by the emoticons—might moderate people’s behavior, for better or worse.
The results were clear. As reported in the May issue of the journal Psychological Science, the residents who got just straight information changed their behavior as predicted. That is, wastrels became more conservative, and the frugal became more licentious. There was a boomerang effect in other words. However, the greener consumers who also got praise, in the form of a smiley face, did not become more wasteful. The message they were getting was something like: "You’re doing better than most on the environmental front and society applauds you for this. Keep it up." And they did.
How about the frowning face, the stinging symbol of society’s disappointment with you? Well, people who earned a frown did moderate their consumption, but no more than those who simply learned of their excessive energy consumption.
Catherine West | EurekAlert!
Amazingly flexible: Learning to read in your thirties profoundly transforms the brain
26.05.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Kognitions- und Neurowissenschaften
Fixating on faces
26.01.2017 | California Institute of Technology
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
20.10.2017 | Information Technology
20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research