The interaction of descriptive and injunctive social norms in promoting energy conservation

Behavioural interventions that leverage social norms are widely used to foster energy conservation. For instance, home energy reports combine information on others’ behaviour (descriptive feedback) and approval for norm compliant behaviour (injunctive feedback). In a randomized controlled trial, we investigated how descriptive and injunctive feedbacks interact to affect electricity use, and evaluate the effects of additional normative feedback presented in the form of descriptive or injunctive energy conservation norm primes. We found that consistent descriptive and injunctive feedback boosts the effectiveness of social information in inducing energy conservation. When descriptive and injunctive feedback are in conflict, conservation behaviour is a function of the relative strength of the two types of feedback. Additional normative feedback produces smaller gains when it reinforces existing information of the same type. These results suggest complementarities between different types of normative messages rather than superiority of any one kind of feedback.

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