Tag Archive 'Cialdini'

Apr 09 2009

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Why “Help save the environment” appeals often fail to change behaviors

By Ed Cohen

Robert Cialdini

Robert Cialdini

Here’s an example of how social factors can influence our decision making:

If a restaurant prints “This is our most popular dessert” next to an item on its dessert menu, it will instantly become the most popular dessert.

That was one of the research findings mentioned by famous psychologist and author Robert Cialdini during a talk Tuesday morning at the Joe Crowley Student Union.

Cialdini, a professor of psychology and marketing at Arizona State, is the author of the best-seller Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, which I read in one of my classes last year at USC, part of the master’s program on management of online communities. It’s a great book, very readable and compelling.

At UNR he was talking about research into how to influence people to act more responsibly in regard to the environment. He talked about a study that tried different kinds of appeals to get people to reuse their towels and linens in hotel rooms. We’ve all seen those signs asking us to reuse our towels to save on water and detergent and lessen the impact on the environment.

Cialdini’s study found that such appeals have almost no effect. The same was true of a message in which the hotel promised to make a donation to an environmental group on behalf of the guest if the guest complied in reusing towels.

He described two other kinds of appeals that worked much better.

One asked the guest to cooperate and help cover the cost that the hotel had incurred in donating to an environmental group on the guest’s behalf. Cialdini speculated that the success of this appeal was due to our innate sense of obligation to reciprocate when someone has given us something or done something on our behalf.

Even more successful was a sign in the bathroom that explained that the majority of people who had stayed in that very same room in the past had chosen to reuse their towels. Cialdini said people have a strong compulsion to act as people similar to them act, conform to the norm.

This last example reminded me of the recent public-service message campaign in which teens ask their peers if they know that 80 percent of teens in rural Nevada do NOT use tobacco products.

We should consider using this technique in marketing programs like Taking Charge and Medication Therapy Management. If we can show that the majority of elders are making, or want to make, smart choices about their care, more of them will probably conform to that norm.

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