Normative Social Influence across Conservation Behaviors: Spillover, Plasticity, and Elasticity

Social norms approaches have emerged as promising intervention strategies in promoting individual-level conservation behavior. In order to maximize the effectiveness of these approaches, it is important to further understand what factors moderate normative influence and the extent to which social norms can change behavior. Of recent interest in conservation research is the potential for positive behavioral spillover to occur, where an intervention targeted toward one behavior may induce future conservation efforts in other behaviors. This study investigated the extent that a norms-based approach could produce positive behavioral spillover across three household behaviors: energy consumption, water consumption, and recycling. Three one-way ANCOVAs did not reveal significant main effects for each of the behaviors, and planned comparisons did not reveal significant spillover effects. Additional analyses explored the potential moderating effects of personal norms on the treatment, however no significant moderation was found. Plasticity, defined as the extent to which a behavior can be changed, was assessed for each behavior by comparing the effect sizes of each treatment and by comparing participant responses to two self-reported difficulty items. Participants indicated that, if they wanted to, they could most easily reduce their water use and least easily increase their recycling. Conversely, participants indicated that it would be most difficult to convince them to reduce their water use, and least difficult to convince them to increase their recycling. Elasticity, or the variability of each behavior, was calculated using a coefficient of variation. An ANOVA comparing the coefficient of variation of each behavior indicated that recycling was the most elastic behavior, while energy and water did not differ in elasticity.