TIGHTENING THE LINKS
FROM ATTITUDES TO BEHAVIOR
Table 4-2 shows that even in the presence of favorable attitudes, knowledge does not lead directly or automatically to pro-environmental behavior. People do not always do what they are predisposed to do, even if they know how and there are no external barriers. An example is people who save recyclables for a long period but never "get around to" taking them to the recycling center. Another example: Homeowners who want to use the city's collection service for compostable yard wastes but forget to put the wastes near the curb on the proper day. Or shoppers who prefer environmentally friendly products but feel too preoccupied with getting through their shopping lists to fully attend to their environmental concerns. We are referring here to level 2 of the table—"attention, commitment, etc." In order for people to express their pro-environmental attitudes in actual behavior, they must pay attention to environmental issues in their everyday lives, overcome the laziness or "behavioral inertia" that tends to oppose any new behavior, make a commitment to act even in the face of competing demands on their time, and remember to take action at the proper moment. In this section, we discuss ways of promoting pro-environmental behavior that remove these internal barriers to action. These methods remind people to do what they are predisposed to do or encourage them in various ways to act on pro-environmental attitudes or information they already have. Such methods can help get the most out of the educational strategy.
Reminders and Prompts. The simplest way to get people to act out their attitudes is to ask them. All of us are familiar with environmental slogans and reminders, such as "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires," "Keep America Beautiful," "Every Litter Bit Helps" (on a trash can), and the like. These messages are designed neither to change attitudes nor to give information, but simply to remind readers and listeners to do things that they presumably are already predisposed and knowledgeable enough to do. These messages are intended to overcome internal barriers to action such as laziness or forgetting.
Research indicates that nonspecific reminders like these generally have very little effect on actual behavior. But timely and specific reminders can be effective. For example, Scott Geller and his colleagues (1971) handed out one-page flyers outside grocery stores asking customers to purchase their soft drinks in returnable bottles and giving reasons for the request. They counted the proportion of customers purchasing most of their soft drinks in returnable’s when they were or were not distributing the flyers. At the two large supermarkets that were leafleted, the request—what behavioral psychologists call a prompt—had no effect; but at the one small convenience store, the percentage of returnable-bottle customers increased 32 percent when leaflets were handed out. A likely inference, which is supported by other studies, is that to be effective, a request must be very close in space and time to the behavior people are being asked to perform. If you want people to turn out lights on leaving a room, it is most effective to put the message near the door; if you want people to invest in insulating their homes, it makes sense to have posters or flyers available in offices where people apply for home-improvement loans. Similarly, in the convenience store, people bought their soft drinks soon after receiving the flyer, whereas in the supermarket, they did so, on the average, only after many other purchases.
In another experiment on resource recovery, Harvey Jacobs used reminders to improve participation in a residential recycling program in Tallahassee, Florida (reported in Geller et al., 1982). Four neighborhoods of different socioeconomic levels were monitored after the residents had been initially informed of a weekly curbside pickup of newspapers and cans. The level of participation correlated strongly with socioeconomic level. It was 3 percent in the lowest social class neighborhood and 25 percent in the highest. After four to six weeks, all the residents were given a flyer reminding them of the program, to see if this would increase their participation. This prompt added no new information, but only reminded people of past information. In the middle and upper-middle income neighborhoods, where participation was already higher, participation immediately increased by ten to twelve percentage points—but there was no change in the lower and lower-middle class neighborhoods. This finding again demonstrates that a request—or, for that matter information such as the initial notice about the recycling program—can help, but it also suggests that messages must be designed to fit the audience. A message that is delivered in the wrong way or by the wrong messenger is likely to be ignored or even mistrusted. Numerous studies on energy conservation as well as recycling show that written communications tend to be ineffective with U.S. audiences of lower socioeconomic status.
Public Commitment. It is also possible to increase pro-environmental behavior by getting people to make a public or quasi-public commitment to taking an action. A public commitment appears to strengthen people's private, personal commitment to the action. Recall that in the framework in Table 4-2, a personal commitment to take action despite competing demands on one's time is part of level 2—a main link between attitude and behavior; therefore, a publicly made commitment, freely given, should make a pro-environmental attitude lead more reliably to action by creating a personal commitment. The principle, derived from cognitive dissonance theory (Festinger, 1957), is that when people undertake an action in the absence of any obvious external force or reward, they see that action as something they have chosen themselves. People who see their behavior as based on their own internal motives are likely to persist in the behavior even after the commitment has lapsed.
A simple experiment by Anton Pardini and Richard Katzev (1984) on recycling behavior shows the power of public commitment. Pardini and Katzev asked twenty-seven households in a middle-class neighborhood of Portland, Oregon, to participate in a feasibility study of neighborhood recycling. Nine households were asked impersonally: Informational brochures were left at their doors to explain how the program worked and give the dates of the first two weekly pickups. Another nine were asked in person to make a minimal public (or quasi-public) commitment. They were approached by one of the researchers, who explained the program, gave them a piece of paper listing the two pickup dates, and asked, "Will you commit your household to participating in this recycling project for two weeks?" All agreed. Nine were asked to make a "strong commitment." Instead of the oral commitment, they were asked to sign this statement: "In the interest of conservation, I commit my household to participating in this newspaper recycling program for two weeks." Again, all agreed. After two weeks, all households were recontacted, and urged to participate for two more weeks. As Table 4-4 shows, public commitment was more effective than mere information, and stronger commitments led to more recycling than weaker commitments. Over the first two weeks, e two commitment groups recycled about three tim s as often, providing about three times as much paper s the households receiving only information. For the strong-commitment households, but not the weak-commitment households, the effect continued for two more weeks, after the commitment had ended.
Personal commitment—besides being a link between attitude and behavior—is also a link between knowledge and behavior (see Table 4-2). Therefore a stronger personal commitment caused by public commitment should make information more effective as well. An experiment on energy-use feedback by Lawrence Becker (1978) demonstrates this kind of effect. Becker asked participants in the experiment to make a quasi-public commitment to saving a specific amount of energy—either 2 percent of what they had been using, or 20 percent. In this experiment, what was stronger about the commitment was not the way it was made (e.g., on a signed document, or orally), but the difficulty of the behavior people were committing themselves to. When people received feedback, those who made the stronger (20 percent) commitment used 9 percent less energy than those who made the weak (2 percent) commitment. When they did not receive energy-use feedback, commitment had essentially no effect. (For more detailed review of research on prompts, reminders, and commitment effects, see Katzev and Johnson, 1987).
Highlighting Attitudes and Norms. Yet another way to break down internal barriers to action is to call people's attention to attitudes and beliefs that they already have, but that they may not connect to the situation they are in. The following experiments show that people sometimes need to be reminded that they are in situations in which it is appropriate to exercise their pro-environmental attitudes or in which other people expect them to do so.
Robert Cialdini and his colleagues at Arizona State University (Cialdini, Kallgren, and Reno, 1991) conducted a series of experiments demonstrating that subtly calling people's attention to the social norm against littering decreased their littering behavior. In one study, visitors to a municipal library, on their way back to the parking lot, saw a passerby (who was in reality working for the researchers) do one of three things: )put a fast-food restaurant bag in the trash can, ick up a littered bag and put it in the trash can, or simply walk by. On returning to their cars, they found a handbill on automotive safety attached to their windshields, and the researchers watched to see if they littered it.
Shaded bars signify different environments for littering and evocation of the norm; white bars signify the same environment.
internal, personal motives so as to promote behavioral change. Hopper and Nielsen present some evidence that supports this interpretation. Participants in the experiment completed questionnaires both before and after the seven-month experimental period. Two sets of questions concerned norms. One set, about what Cialdini calls injunctive social norms (see above), asked whether people's friends and neighbors expected them to recycle and whether they expected their friends and neighbors to recycle. The other set concerned personal, internalized norms, that is, people's expectations for their own behavior. Hopper and Nielsen asked how much it bothered the respondent to throw away recyclables and how much personal obligation they felt to recycle. Over the course of the experiment, both types of norm became stronger in households living where there were block leaders, but not on other blocks in the neighborhood. The survey results thus suggest that talking with block leaders actually changed both social and personal norms. Going one step further, if this were true, one would expect groups with block leaders to continue recycling at a high level even after information and
prompts are withdrawn. Although Hopper and Nielsen did not follow the experimental groups beyond seven months, they do report on four blocks in the neighborhood that had had block leaders for two years before the experiment began. People on those blocks were already recycling 21 percent of the time when the experiment started and over the next seven months, without experimental intervention, their recycling rate increased to 34 percent. It appears that information given in the right social context at the community level can change behavior more effectively, and maybe also more permanently, than information given to individuals without supporting social interaction. We examine this possibility in more detail in Chapter 6.
WHEN DOES INFORMATION WORK?
What makes some informational programs succeed where others fail? Successful programs are not necessarily ones that offer more or better information. Richard Winett' s videotapes on energy conservation presented essentially the same information that the participants could get from the meeting they attended, and daily energy-use feedback presents exactly the same information that people could get if they read their own utility meters. Similarly, when information programs use prompts or try to raise participants' commitment levels, they become more effective without adding new information. The success of information programs depends less on getting information presented than on getting it used. This section discusses what is critical for getting information used. The main keys are attracting people's attention, making the information credible to the audience, and increasing the participants' involvement.
Getting People's Attention. People are inundated with information. They deal with this by ignoring most of what confronts them—by separating what is important to them from all the cognitive junk mail. This process may explain why some New York apartment dwellers ignored flyers on how to save electricity in the summer, while others cut their use of air-conditioning by 17 percent. The flyers that were ignored came from Consolidated Edison, the local electric utility. All these people had received mail from Con Edison before, so they knew what to expect. Most often, that mail contains a bill—sometimes along with other written material that most people ignore. They probably learned to operate under the rule that with mail from Con Edison, if it's not a bill, you can throw it out. But New Yorkers have much less experience getting letters from the state Public Service Commission. Most people probably opened these and many probably read them. The information worked only when it could get from the flyer into people's awareness.
There are many techniques to attract people's attention. One is with a personal approach, such as Pardini and Katzev used when they asked people to commit themselves to a recycling program and Hopper and Nielsen used with block leaders for recycling. Word of mouth has often proved the best form of advertising for energy conservation programs. Making the invisible visible also attracts attention, as shown by energy-use feedback programs, which convert electricity or gas use into a daily message. A compelling medium of presentation also helps—for example, Winett's use of television. Video presentations, in addition to being inherently attention-getting, can use demonstrations, which present information more vividly than verbal descriptions can.
Careful message design can also help get people's attention. For example, energy-use feedback programs try to get attention by putting feedback devices in a prominent place in the home and by presenting the information in units people understand, such as dollars of saving per month, rather than in more abstract units such as kilowatt-hours. Also, the same information can become more effective if it is stated in compelling terms, as Suzanne Yates demonstrated by promoting water heater insulation as a way to stop wasting money.
As the studies of prompting show, it is important to place the message close in space and time to the behavior; otherwise, it may not be remembered when it would make a difference. This is part of the logic of attaching miles-per-gallon stickers to the windows of cars in dealers' showrooms and bright yellow labels to major household appliances to tell prospective buyers what energy costs to expect when operating them.
And as we have already noted, what gets people's attention depends on the audience. It may depend on socioeconomic differences, as Jacobs found with the Tallahassee recycling program, but there are many other variables. Evaluations of home insulation programs typically conclude that working with local groups—churches, neighborhood associations, and the like—is the best way to promote a program (Stern et al., 1986). As one example, when utility companies in Minnesota used their own personnel to conduct home energy audits, they reached 4 percent of the eligible homes; other utilities, which hired community groups to do the job, reached 15 percent of homes—and did it for one-third the cost (Polich, 1984)! The community groups were locally known and trusted, so messages from them got serious attention. Moreover, because of their commitment to helping their neighbors, they probably worked harder at marketing the program than the utility companies' employees did.
Credibility. Information must be credible to be effective. Part of credibility lies in the source of information. This may be why a message from the New York State Public Service Commission was more effective than one from the electric utility, and why community groups were more successful than utility representatives at encouraging people to have energy audits. Electric utilities may be highly credible for some purposes, but people may not take them seriously when they offer advice on how to use less of their product. By far the most important factor affecting the purchase of solar-powered equipment in a study of California homeowners in the late 1970s was the number of people they knew who already owned solar equipment (Leonard-Barton, 1980). This fact and other information from the study clearly suggest that the word of trusted friends and neighbors was more important in the decisions than the word of solar energy experts.
Credibility also depends on people's ability to validate the information they are given. With energy use, which is generally invisible, this can be a serious problem. It is nearly impossible to tell whether a home insulation contractor has done a thorough job inside one's attic or walls, so people are understandably suspicious. One or two horror stories in a community can kill a program, because people are more likely to trust a neighbor's experience than the word of someone who is promoting a product. For this reason, energy conservation programs have often provided independent inspections of contractors' work or even performance guarantees as a way to become more credible.
Involvement. Information becomes more effective with people who have made a commitment to act on it. This has been demonstrated experimentally by studies of commitment such as those of Pardini and Katzev, Becker, and others. The block-leader approach also seems to depend on getting people involved by talking with their neighbors about recycling, and Cialdini's efforts to call people's attention to social or personal norms can also be considered a way of increasing involvement. Crisis can also increase involvement. For example, in periods of severe drought, people have made major efforts to conserve water simply on the basis of requests from local authorities and concern for the community (Agras, Jacob, and Lebedeck,
1980). Of course, it helps if the requests are made credible by photos of low water levels in the local reservoir.
These examples suggest some general rules about how to make information more effective; however, the specifics depend on the kind of behavior one intends to change. For informational approaches to reach their potential, they need to be designed creatively to maximize their credibility and the audience's attention and involvement. To do these things, it is important to make a concerted effort at the outset to understand the audience's perspective. This may be done either by systematically surveying the audience group or, what is often better, by involving representatives of the audience group in designing the program. The latter approach, one of community involvement, is suggested by the use of block leaders, and has been used successfully on a larger scale in a number of cities and towns, as we show in Chapter 6.
Using Social Networks to Diffuse Information. One of the most effective strategies for spreading information is to take advantage of existing networks of communication. The tendency of California homeowners to buy solar collectors if they knew other people who had it is an example of a broader principle, that innovations diffuse through a population along the lines of social influence. Agricultural extension programs have used this principle for generations to spread new and improved farming practices in farm communities. They identify individuals who are well known and respected in the community, and focus their efforts on getting a few such "opinion leaders" to adopt the new technology. Once they have benefited from it, the technology tends to spread with little additional effort.
It is easy to see why information coming from individuals someone knows and trusts is particularly effective. Such information automatically gets attention and has high credibility because of its source. And it tends to increase involvement as well, because whatever someone does with information from a trusted friend or neighbor is likely to be of subsequent interest to that person, and may affect the future relationship between the giver and receiver of the information. The experience of community energy conservation programs has repeatedly validated the diffusion-of-innovation approach, which relies on sending information through existing social networks (Darley and Beniger, 1981; Stern et al., 1986). And as we will see in Chapter 6, diffusion of information is not the only important function that existing social networks can serve in promoting pro-environmental behavior.
Gardner & Stern. (1996). Environmental Problems and Human Behavior. Boston: Allyn and Bacon