It's the Neighbors
I watched the neighbors picking up these new bulbs,and decided to give them a try. What the heck; everyone's doing it. Idropped a package in my cart (they're really not that expensive), wenthome, and screwed them in. I turned them on and looked up. Then Iwaited for The Lovely Marianne to get home.
"What do you think of these?" I said, flipping the switch in our kitchen on and off.
"What do I think of what?" she said.
"The new bulbs," I said, pointing up.
"Oh, I read about them," she said. "They seem to put out the same amount of light. I think they're cute."
Andthat was that. I changed every light bulb in the house, and felt I wasdoing my bit to save the planet. That's the way people like to feelnowadays – like they're saving the planet.
And the funnything was, I didn't change the bulbs to save money on our electricbill. I can afford the incandescent bulbs. I've been affording them allmy married life. No, I switched to the compact florescent bulbs becausethere was this big display in Target, and all my neighbors seemed to bebuying them. So I bought them. Simple as that. I often take my leadfrom what others are doing. Don't you? Most people do. I mean I gave upwearing bell-bottom trousers and Nehru suits long ago. Didn't you?
Recently,a couple of men testified before the House Science and TechnologySubcommittee on Research and Science Education (did you know there wassuch a thing?). These men are psychologist, and they were there to talkabout the contribution of the social sciences to our nation's energychallenge.
The first, Robert B. Cialdini, PhD, is aregents' professor of psychology and marketing at Arizona StateUniversity. He's also the author of a very popular business book,Influence: Science and Practice. He told the subcommittee about severalstudies he has conducted in home energy conservation, householdrecycling, and hotel conservation efforts.
"Our surveyof nearly 2,500 Californians showed that those who thought theirneighbors were conserving were more likely to conserve energythemselves,' he said."
How about that? It's just like withthe light bulbs. It's all about the neighbors. How many times have youheard someone claim that the average American isn't interested in theirheating system because they can't show it off to their neighbors? It'snot like a new car, or that snazzy landscaping, or the new kitchen.
Well,thanks to all this talk about global warming, rising fuel prices, ozonelayers, and whatnot, that may be changing. The neighbors seem to begetting more interested in what the heating industry does, and thetiming couldn't be better because we have so much neat stuff to shownowadays.
Doing some follow-up research, Dr. Cialdini'steam placed door hangers on the doors of San Diego-area residents oncea week for a month. The hangers carried one of four messages, informingthe residents that:
1. They could save money by conserving energy
2. They could save the earth's resources by conserving energy
3. They could be socially responsible citizens by conserving energy, or
4. The majority of their neighbors tried regularly to conserve energy.
The researchers also included a control group of residents whose doorhanger simply urged energy conservation, but with no reasoning behindit. You have to keep the science pure, right?
Okay, now listen to what happened.
"Eventhough our prior survey indicated that residents felt that they wouldbe least influenced by information regarding their neighbors' energyusage," Dr. Cialdini said, "this was the only type of door hangerinformation that led to significantly decreased energy consumption,almost two kilowatt hours per day."
Hanger Number 4 won by a landslide! How come? It's the neighbors. We do what they're doing, and they do what we're doing.
Inanother study, the researchers looked at how guests in an upscalePhoenix-area hotel reacted to message cards that asked them to reusetheir towels. If you've stayed in a hotel lately, you've probably seenthe sort of card they're talking about. It's the one with the spottedowl and the message that you should keep using your mildewed towels,day after day because it's good for the owl. Ugh.
ButDr. Cialdini and his colleagues mixed up the cards. They used one offour different cards in the guestrooms, and here's what was on them:
1. Help save the environment.
2. Help save resources for future generations.
3. Partner with us to save the environment.
4.Join your fellow citizens in helping to save the environment. (This onewas followed by information that the majority of hotel guests do reusetheir towels when asked.)
So what do you thinkhappened? Compared to the first three messages, the final one, Number4, caused 34 percent of the people to reuse their towels. And thatcaused Dr. Cialdini to say, "This points out the need to call on socialscientific research in a systematic fashion to help advanceenvironmental policy."
You bet it does. It also points outthe need to start talking to people about what the neighbors are doing.Hey, everyone's getting new heating equipment! It's the thing to donowadays. We're all in the same boat and it's good for the planet.Don't be left out. It's cool to save energy!
Duane T.Wegener, PhD, professor of psychological sciences at Purdue University,was the other fellow presenting information to the subcommittee thatday, and here's some of what he had to say.
'When seekingto influence the use of energy by consumers or the purchase ofenergy-efficient products, it would be important not only to createattitudes favorable toward those behaviors, but to create attitudesstrong enough to influence those behaviors. One way to create thesestrong attitudes is to get people to think carefully aboutattitude-related information."
In other words, we shouldtry to stop people from being so wishy-washy. Dr. Wegener and hiscolleagues have studied how mixed feelings influence attitudes towardnuclear power and the taxing of junk food (great mix of studies, eh?).When people are ambivalent, they think a lot about information thatagrees with their existing attitudes, but they avoid thinking aboutinformation with which they disagree. This is because thinking aboutagreeable information can remove the ambivalence. But thinking aboutdisagreeable information (information that's not consistent with yourattitude) can increase ambivalence.
Ever feelwishy-washy about something? You've got an old car and it's runningokay, but now and then you start thinking that you should get rid ofthe old clunker because it's probably going to break down soon, andthen you'll be stuck on the road. But on the other hand, it's runningokay right now, and maybe it won't break down. And who needs anothercar payment? So maybe you'll just wait and see. And, oh, let's notforget about Old Uncle Fred. He's had that car of his for how manyyears now? It's still running okay, isn't it? So let's not think aboutthe car breaking down. You'll cross that bridge when you come to it.Let's just keep things the way they are.
Now substitute Old Uncle Fred's car for that old heating equipment that's in so many American basements.
Ambivalenceis what we've been dealing with for years, but it's time to startmoving people off the center of the seesaw and toward a positivedecision about that old heating equipment. "The challenge is to changepeople's attitudes," Dr. Wegener says. "That can provide one of thebest mechanisms for influencing energy-use behavior."
And how do you do change people's attitudes?
Why you tell them about what the neighbors are doing!