Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Study demonstrates remarkable power of social norms

10.04.2007
Most people want to be normal. So, when we are given information that underscores our deviancy, the natural impulse is to get ourselves as quickly as we can back toward the center.

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!
Further information:
http://www.psychologicalscience.org

More articles from Social Sciences:

nachricht Internet use in class tied to lower test scores
16.12.2016 | Michigan State University

nachricht Geographers provide new insight into commuter megaregions of the US
01.12.2016 | Dartmouth College

All articles from Social Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin

For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.

According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Tracking movement of immune cells identifies key first steps in inflammatory arthritis

23.01.2017 | Health and Medicine

Electrocatalysis can advance green transition

23.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

New technology for mass-production of complex molded composite components

23.01.2017 | Process Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>