Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Power of Peer Pressure to be Green

Dr. Robert Cialdini, a well-known social psychologist, is an internationally respected expert in the fields of persuasion, compliance, and negotiation. His recent studies have investigated the reasons why individuals take environmentally friendly actions. Among these are saving money and doing the right thing for the environment, but he has found that “social proof” is a particularly compelling influence. Social proof, also known as informational social influence, is a psychological phenomenon that occurs in ambiguous social situations when people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior. Making the assumption that those surrounding them possess more knowledge about the situation, individuals deem the behavior of others as appropriate or better informed.

Positive Energy, a software company, is working with Dr. Cialdini to develop customized energy reports. The reports take utility information and send customers personalized energy use data through a regular newsletter. The newsletter provides customers detailed information about their own energy consumption, but also compares them to their neighbors and to “ideal” citizens in the neighborhood. By customizing utility reports that compare customers to people more like them, Positive Energy has been able to influence behavior that benefits the environment.

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