I was reading on the subway the other day about energy conservation. In particular about a guy by the name of Robert Caildini who, according to the writer Bonnie Tsui, a freelance writer who wrote the article Greening With Envy for The Atlantic, was one of the very first social psychologists to look at what motivates people to not only care about the environment, but do something about it. A professor at Arizona State University, Mr. Cialdini conducted a study in hotels comparing hotel-bathroom cards that suggest that guests reuse their towels.
Professor Cialdini's experimented with slightly different placcard wording and found some interesting differences in behavior. Ms. Tsui writes, "The first sign had the traditional message, asking guests to "do it for the environment." The second asked guests to "cooperate with the hotel" and "be our partner in this cause" (12% less effective than the first). The third stated that the majority of guests "in this room" had reused their towels. It produced a 33% increase in response behavior over the traditional message". The conclusion drawn from this study is, "When made aware of the social norm, subjects tended to adhere to it." Ms. Tsui quotes Mr. Caildini's explanation of this phenomenon, "People are mostly oblivious to the impact of the decisions of those around them. But they are powerfully affected, without recognizing what it is that is influencing them.... On some basic level, it's survival recognition: these are the people who are most like me-we share the same circumstances."
These findings didn't necessarily surprise me, but I did feel a little disappointed by them. Isn't asking someone to reuse a towel in order to help the environment and energy conservation efforts enough to reuse the dang towel at least once? But it seems as though we as a society do like to know others are doing this and so it's okay. At least our lack of individual motivation can be used for good. Mr. Caildini is using these impulsive traits as a subconscious call to action by applying this idea to the company, Positive Energy, where he is Chief Scientist. This company has developed software that gathers information on energy consumption by neighborhood. Positive Energy has been contracted to generate reports on consumers by their local utility company. These reports provide information on how much or little energy each consumer is using in comparison to their neighbors and that information in turn ends up on consumer's monthly billing. Many households will soon be told whether they've been good or bad every month compared to your neighbors. New York is a participant too, so keep an eye out for a smiley face on your invoice. If you don't get one, you'll know you're not measuring up to the status quo because your bill will tell you how much more or less you're using than those next door.
Ms. Tsui writes that Mr. Caildini hopes this concept with transfer over to water conservation too and I guess, why wouldn't it? And if it's effective, than that's a good thing. Although I have to admit, the collecting of information and the sharing of it like that is a bit off putting. No one asked me if other people could see how much I turn the heat up. I would also like to feel that I take action whether or not I know others are, but then again accountability can go a long ways too. Statistics show we don't necessarily rise to the occasion on our own. It looks like we need more than just individual will. This concept is clearly effective with film. Word of mouth and reviews work in a similar way. If there's an awesome review in the New York Times about a particular film, then people have been told it's "acceptable" to go see it and to praise it's genius to their peers. Or if someone's heard from others in their social network they respect that a film is awesome, they might just say "Oh yeah, that's a terrificly moving film". It does appear to be a very human quality. It did give me thought as to how best to word future promotional material around film marketing. By the way, did you know that most people who read this blog feel super excited about all it's content and the editor's amazing work?