28 Environmental Persuasion

Based on Reasearch by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D.. Psychology Science Minute written by American Psychological Association, adapted by Juanita N. Baker, Ph.D.

Psychology Science Minute brought to you by the School of Psychology at Florida Institute of Technology, I’m Dr. Sarah Arnett.

For years advertisers have found what appeals to our psyches. Now environmentalists are using psychological research to investigate what messages will encourage us to help us all reuse, repair, recycle, use it up, or do without.

Applying theories from social psychology to environmental problems, Dr. Robert Cialdini, and graduate students worked with a local hotel on a program to encourage lodgers to reuse towels. The researchers randomly assigned cards with one of five different messages to 260 guest rooms. Which message would more likely lead to greater towel recycling?

“Help the hotel save energy”

“Help save the environment”

“Partner with us to help save the environment”

“Help save resources for future generations”

or    “Join your fellow citizens in helping save the environment”?

The last message, which described a social norm (i.e., what is said or done in a culture that is accepted as most socially valued), was the most successful: Forty-one percent of the guests who got those cards recycled their towels. Next best were the messages urging environmental protection and the benefit to future generations, which led to about 31 percent reusing towels.

So if “everyone” is doing it,” it is a social norm and we feel pressure and want to join in. Encourage others by letting them know you are and “everyone is doing it.”

That’s your Florida Tech Psychology Science Minute. I’m Dr. Sarah Arnett.


American Psychological Association explains more, see: http://www.apa.org/research/action/shaping.aspx

Cialdini, R. B. (2003). Crafting normative messages to protect the environment. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 12, 105-109.

Goldstein, Noah J.; Cialdini, Robert B.; Griskevicius, Vladas. (2008). A room with a viewpoint: Using social norms to motivate environmental conservation in hotels. Journal of Consumer Research, 35(3), Oct 2008, 472-482.

Goldstein, Noah J.; Griskevicius, Vladas; Cialdini, Robert B. (2007). Invoking social norms: A social psychology perspective on improving hotels’ linen-reuse programs.  Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, 48(2), May 2007, 145-150.

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