iGreen : a social norms intervention to encourage pro-environmental behaviour

Patel, Kavita (2015) iGreen : a social norms intervention to encourage pro-environmental behaviour. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


Previous research indicates that social norms interventions provide a promising avenue to encourage behaviour change. This study examined the efficacy of a social norms intervention, with the inclusion of personalised individual feedback, to encourage pro-environmental behaviour change. A qualitative approach was used to gain an in-depth understanding of how people respond to social norms feedback and personalised individual feedback on environmental behaviours. Central to this research was an innovative Facebook app called iGreen, which was designed specifically by the author and a number of colleagues to provide a seven-week social norms intervention. This app comprised environmentally themed games, a quiz on aspects of everyday domestic behaviours that impact on the environment, and the ability to provide feedback on respondents’ previous quiz answers. Respondents were randomly allocated to either a no feedback group, a personalised individual feedback group, or a group in which feedback also included the average quiz answer of other iGreen users (social norms feedback group). A sample of fifty-one people who used iGreen completed all quizzes, forty-four of these respondents completed a post-intervention questionnaire, and thirty respondents were interviewed. Drawing on elements of a discourse analysis approach to analyse the interviews enabled an in-depth understanding of why a social norms intervention might, or might not encourage pro-environmental behaviour and how people respond to personalised individual feedback and social norms feedback. The major finding in this research is that the quiz encouraged behaviour change because the questions increased the salience of injunctive norms and personal norms. This supports the focus theory of normative conduct and norm activation theory, which both state that increasing the salience of norms influences behaviour. Another finding is that environmental behaviour change can be constrained due to people associating some behaviours with the stigmatisation of environmental activists. Lastly, respondents in all three intervention groups claimed to have changed some behaviour and there were no apparent differences between the groups. This suggests that increased salience (in this case induced by answering repeated quiz questions) encouraged behaviour change. This raises the question of whether increased salience, rather than feedback, may account for some of the behaviour change found in previous social norms research. This research identifies key elements of an intervention that can increase its potential to encourage pro-environmental behaviour which has potential practical application in the design of innovative social norms interventions. The main contribution of this research is the discovery that making people’s everyday behaviours more salient can encourage pro-environmental behaviour. A digital quiz is a simple, cost-effective and engaging method for increasing salience and encouraging behaviour change, and this should be explored in future research.

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