“Persuasive Normative Messages”

The Influence of Injunctive and Personal Norms on Using Free Plastic Bags Judith I.M. de Groot 1, *, Wokje Abrahamse 2 and Kayleigh Jones 1

Focusing on normative conduct in messaging:

“Pro-environmental behaviors, such as decreasing the use of plastic bags, can be defined as behaviors which benefit the environment by changing the availability of materials or energy from the environment or altering the structure and dynamics of ecosystems in a positive way [4,5]. Acting pro-environmentally entails that other people or the environment may benefit, whereas often, no direct individual benefits are received by engaging in these behaviors. Pro-environmental behavior often implies acting on a normative basis, that is, acting on considerations of what is the right or wrong thing to do for the community and the environment according to oneself and important others [6,7].”
“The focus theory of normative conduct [21,22] states that social norms can mobilize decision making processes, especially when they are made salient, or focal, in a specific situation (see also [23]). One way to increase the saliency of norms is by persuasive normative messages [24]. For example, Goldstein et al. [25] worked with a local hotel on a program to encourage guests to reuse towels to save on water and electricity. Different messages urging guests to reuse their towels were used. The findings indicated that an environmental message which made a descriptive social norm salient (i.e., ―Join your fellow citizens in helping to save the environment‖) was more successful in motivating guests to reuse their towels compared to a standard environmental message. This persuasive normative Sustainability 2013, 5 1831 message encouraged 44% of guests to reuse their towels, as opposed to only 31% when the cards used a generic environmental protection message (Study 1). Specifying that 75% of the guests who had stayed in the same room had reused their towels further increased towel reuse to 49%.”

Descriptive vs. Injunctive Social Norms:

“Cialdini et al. [21] state that there are two distinct types of social norms; that is, descriptive and injunctive social norms. Descriptive social norms refer to what is commonly done, for example: ―80% of people in the UK reuse their plastic bags on a regular basis‖. Injunctive social norms refer to what is commonly approved or disapproved of, such as ―80% of people in the UK believe (i.e., approve of) that reusing plastic bags is important‖.”
“The study of Jacobson et al. [30] showed that there was no significant difference between an injunctive or descriptive normative message on prosocial behavior. They showed that both the injunctive (―most students indicated that participants should be willing to stay for the full hour and complete extra surveys‖) and the descriptive (―most students have chosen to stay for the full hour and complete extra surveys‖) normative message were equally effective in terms of helping behavior among students.”
“For example, Cialdini et al. [26] showed that a strong injunctive normative message (―Please don‘t remove the petrified wood from the park‖) resulted in less theft of petrified wood in a nature reserve (1.67%) than a message emphasizing the descriptive norm about the severity of the problem (―Many visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, changing the state of the Petrified Forest‖) (7.92%).”

Tactic of using personal norms:

“An additional factor which may be used in persuasive normative messages to encourage pro-environmental behaviors is personal norms. Personal norms refer to an individual‘s belief about their moral obligation to engage in a specific behavior [36]. Thus, personal norms are specific standards for one‘s own behavior instead of one‘s beliefs about what other people think or do [37].”

Using the power of “you”:

“An example of how to activate someone‘s personal norms by persuasive normative messages is provided by the work of Bolderdijk et al. [45,46]. They made personal norms salient by explicitly linking personal pronouns to a moral message. It is assumed that all people have to some extent personal norms in favor of the environment. Personal pronouns allow people to link these beliefs about what would actually be ―the right thing to do‖ to their moral self-concept hereby activating these internalized norms, and, consequently, that person may act more in line with these norms. Bolderdijk and colleagues [46] showed in a field-experimental observational study on free tire checks at a gas station that a moral appeal on a sign placed at a gas station (―Do you care for the environment? Get a free tire check‖) resulted in significantly more coupon uptakes for free tire checks than the economic (―Do you care about your finances? Get a free tire check‖) or control appeal (―Get a free tire check‖) when personal pronouns were linked with the moral message (Study 3).”

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