Peer Pressure And Social Norms

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The power of peer pressure to influence individual behavior is well documented in the social psychology literature. People's behavior, as it relates to environmental change, is influenced by the behavior of their peers and social norms—what they perceive to be acceptable to others (Black, Stern, & Elworth, 1985; Cialdini, Reno, & Kallgren, 1990; Darley, 1978; Jones, 1990; Kahle & Beatty, 1987; Stern, Dietz, & Black, 1986; Vining & Ebreo, 1990). Social approval and disapproval can play roles much like those of more tangible incentives and disincentives in shaping behavior (Cook & Berrenberg, 1981).

Given that people's behavior relative to specific environmental issues is influenced by what they know or believe the behavior of their peers relative to those issues to be, publicizing average or typical behavior with respect to such matters as electrical energy use, water use, and recycling activity might be expected to help, in some cases, bring atypical behavior more in line with the norm (Pallak, Cook, & Sullivan, 1980). As already noted, however, a risk in publicizing typical behavior is that it would influence those people who are doing better than average, as well as those who are doing worse, to modify their behavior in the direction of typicality. Perhaps what should be publicized are examples not of average behavior but of behavior that is atypical but worthy of emulation from an environmental point of view. How effective the publicizing of exemplary behavior would be in effecting environmentally desirable behavior change is a question for research.

Perhaps even more influential than what is perceived to be socially normative behavior is one's knowledge of the behavior of one's personal friends and acquaintances. With respect to energy conservation, for example, people tend to do what they see those who are close to them do (Darley & Beniger, 1981; Leonard-Barton, 1981). The fact that more people participate in community recycling efforts if recyclables are picked up at curbside than if they have to be deposited at collection centers has been attributed primarily to the greater convenience to participants of the curbside pickup arrangement; another possibly important difference between the two arrangements, however, is that whether one is recycling is more apparent to one's neighbors with curbside pickup than with collection centers, so peer pressure has a greater chance of being effective in the first case.

An approach to behavior change that utilizes peer pressure and social norms and that has shown some success is community-based social market ing (Geller, 1989; Kassirer & McKenzie-Mohr, 1998; McKenzie-Mohr, 2000). A noteworthy aspect of this approach is that it explicitly addresses the problem, emphasized by several investigators (Black, Stern, & Elworth, 1985; Guagnano, Stern, & Dietz, 1995), of the existence of barriers to desired activities. McKenzie-Mohr (2000) saw this aspect of the approach as critical: "It is difficult, if not impossible, to design an effective program to promote an activity without first knowing what inhibits the public from engaging in the activity to be promoted" (p. 533). Psychologists have an opportunity to make an important contribution to behavior-change efforts by identifying such barriers.

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