Total Pageviews

Monday, April 30, 2012

Identify barriers and constraints

To get people to act, you must be thoroughly aware of the kinds of restraints that your audience is operating under. When attempting to change behavior, contextual factors(“such as physical infrastructure, technical facilities, the availability of products, and product characteristics”) that inhibit the desired behavior must be found, taken into consideration, and hopefully circumvented or removed. For instance, if bus ridership is urged in a particular community, such a strategy does not make much sense if bus service is not available or it is heavily underfunded and very inconvenient to use. Another important detail to consider are the effects of the target population's social characteristics on their behavior. For instance, research shows that when decreasing energy use is the goal, low income households tend to make significant lifestyle changes to reduce consumption, whereas higher-income households tend to maintain their normal levels of consumption and simply upgrade to higher efficiency technologies in their home. Lower income acts as a restraint and must be kept in mind when constructing policies and messages aimed at promoting environmentally conscious behavior. When targeting higher-income areas, emphasis can be placed on new and efficient technologies. Conversely, in lower income areas, the focus can be behavioral changes that do not involve substantial monetary costs. Ultimately, the goal is to make messages as relevant to the target audience as possible, increasing the chances of genuine attitudinal and behavioral change.

Structural and institutional constraints must also be taken into consideration. For instance, if utility customers are urged to lower their energy consumption towards the average or are asked to lower their energy use during peak times, the utility company should first make sure that customers have easy access to information that shows their energy use in comparison to average levels and lists when “peak hours” actually are. A similar example deals with energy saving measures such as solar heating and insulation. Such methods are only relevant for homeowners, not renters. Such information about the audience must constantly be kept in mind when seeking behavioral change because people are much less likely to act if they feel that what they are being told is irrelevant or too much of a hassle to pursue.

Social and cultural factors can also be taken into account to increase the potency of a message. Interventions should address key questions before they are implemented. Questions such as: How salient is the behavior? Does it play a role in social interactions? Does it play a role in social norms? Research should seek to identify “linkages between energy use and proxies of broader cultural and social identities.” By understanding the kinds of social and cultural constraints people operate under, behavioral interventions can be much more potent.

A great example of removing barriers in action is what is being done by the government of Columbia County, Georgia.  Columbia County has recently implemented a program that substantially lowers the barriers for citizens getting involved with their government.  Here is the gist of the program:

Friday, April 13, 2012

Buying your way back in

It bothers me how easily humans can be manipulated without them consciously realizing it.  I feel this way every time I read a new study on human behavior.  Recently, I read a paper on how people (acting as consumers) react when they are socially excluded.

Here is the info on the study itself:

Social Exclusion Causes People to Spend and Consume Strategically in the Service of Affiliation
Author(s): Nicole L. Mead, Roy F. Baumeister, Tyler F. Stillman, Catherine D. Rawn, Kathleen D. Vohs
Source: Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 37, No. 5 (February 2011), pp. 902-919.

The authors' primary research focus is to test the hypothesis that social exclusion causes people to spend and consume in ways that they believe will allow them to gain acceptance back into the group they were initially excluded from.  The authors tested this by running 4 different experiments.  The method of each experiment was to make the participants feel socially excluded and then observe how they would change their behavior as a result.  The authors believed that socially excluded individuals would use money and their consumption patterns as a means to an end, the end being inclusion back into the group that excluded them.  As the experiments showed, this is exactly what happened.  For instance, in the first experiment, certain participants were told that the person they were meeting did not want to meet them after they found out about them while the rest of the participants were told their meeting was cancelled because the other person had an emergency to attend to.  In essence, some participants were rejected and felt excluded while others were not since their meeting was cancelled for understandable reasons that had nothing to do with them.  These participants were then given money to go shopping at a laboratory store and they were also told they would meet someone new since the first person did not want to meet them.  The authors informed all the participants that the new person they were meeting was from a specific university.  At the laboratory store, among other things, there were specific school pride items such as wrist bands.  These wrist bands were from the university of the new person they were going to meet.  The socially excluded participants were much more likely to purchase these school pride items in hopes of forging a social bond with the new participant, even if they themselves never attended that specific university.  These individuals bought a product that was symbolic of a group membership in hopes of forging a bond with the new person they were going to meet.

In another experiment, specific participants were once again treated in a way that made them feel socially excluded.  They took a personality test and the result essentially told them that they are most likely going to end up alone in the future and their relationships are going to fail.  The experimenters tested if these individuals would be willing to consume an unappealing food item in hopes of gaining the favor of person they were about to meet.  The food item was chicken feet and the experimenters informed the participant that the individual they were about to meet considered this food item a delicacy.  The participants who were made to feel socially excluded were once again much more likely to select this item than the participants who were not given back negative test results that made them feel socially excluded (i.e., the "control group").  The socially excluded individuals were much more willing to spend money on an unappealing food item in hopes of gaining acceptance.

When taken together, all the experiments clearly showed that socially excluded individuals strategically adjust their spending and consumption patterns to gain favor with a specific individual or group.  People in such a state often sacrifice their own preferences and well-being in hopes of increasing their social appeal.  This finding is perhaps a no-brainer but it's still interesting to see the experimental data line up with what we think should logically happen.  You or I might have behaved in such a manner in the past (or we still do) without even realizing it. It's important to consciously take note of our behavioral changes so we don't end up sacrificing our own preferences and well-being for the sake of fitting in.  If you feel the need to change the way you are to fit in then the group you are trying to be a part of was never worth it to begin with.

About Me