Changing behaviors can be easier when people see the change of norms

Summary: People are more likely to adjust their behavior if they believe their actions reflect how society is changing, reports a new study.

Source: Stanford.

Whether it's about the environment, someone's health, or other important causes, people's conviction to bring new or unusual behavior can be difficult. One of the reasons is that social norms strongly reinforce the status quo.

Stanford scholars suggest a slight change in messages can help. In the new research that appeared on September 29 in Psychological Science, they discover that focusing on how norms are changing can help people change their behaviors.

"A question we are psychologically interested," said Gregg Sparkman, a PhD student at Stanford psychology and author of the paper, "is how social change occurs. What makes people overthrow a status quo?"

He points out that although the change usually occurs slowly, this happens and perhaps more often than we notice. For example, the use of safety belts was once a concern, but is now standard practice. Smoking in restaurants and other public places was once common, but it has fallen.

The question for the seeker is what factors affect people in these changes.

Dynamic rates versus statics

Past research on how social norms affect behavior has focused on static static views of how most people behave, according to Greg Walton, associate professor of psychology and senior author of the study. Sparkman and Walton's research, however, tests how people behave when they think the norm is changing.

"By showing how the norms are changing, people can give a pattern of how they can change and lead to a situation where many people change," Walton said.

Researchers have conducted four experiments related to meat consumption, a rate Sparkman described as "rooted, very visible, and something you do every day in the presence of others". It is also a norm that has a major negative impact on the environment, livestock consumes large volumes of water and releases greenhouse gases.

In an experiment, participants from across the United States read two allegations about eating less meat. A (static) statement describes how some Americans are trying to eat less meat, while another (dynamic) statement describes how some Americans are changing and now they eat less meat.

Participants who read the dynamic statement reported more interest in reducing their meat consumption than those who read that static. Those participants announced that this change would continue in the future - bringing them in line with that future rate.

Another experiment proved the likelihood of people ordering a meat-based lunch. People standing in a row at a Stanford cafeteria read statements describing how some people "limit the amount of meat they eat" or "are beginning to limit the amount of meat they eat" (dynamic). Lunch listeners reading the dynamic statement were twice as likely to order a meat meal as they did in the static group (34 percent compared to 17 percent).

Less is sometimes more

An important aspect of these studies, the researchers said, is that participants have never been asked to change their behavior or even say the benefits of doing so.

"We did not ask people not to eat meat or eat less meat," Walton said. "Only information about change is provided".

Researchers also conduct an experiment involving water conservation during California's recent drought. They placed signs in the laundry at Stanford Stanford High School residences with static messages ("Most Stanford Conservation Water Users Use Stanford Conservation Water") or dynamic messages ("Stanford's residents are changing : Most use full loads / assistance Stanford Conserve Water.) While the number of laundry loads was not affected by unmarked buildings over the next three weeks, there was a 10 percent reduction among those who saw the message static and nearly a 30 percent discount for those who saw a dynamic message.

The other question, Sparkman said, is to see if it is possible to apply this method to other sustainability initiatives such as limiting the use of electricity and encouraging policy support for new laws, such as to reduce the gap gender on wages.

"Dynamic rates can play a major role in social change," Sparkman said. "Only learning that other people are changing can stimulate all these psychological processes that motivate further changes. People may begin to think that change is possible, this change is important and that in the future norms will be And then, if they obey and decide to change, it starts to become a reality. "

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