Application of Social Influence Strategies to Convert Concern into Relevant Action: The Case of Global Warming


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Virginia Tech


This research studied the efficacy of enhancing information-based appeals with social influence strategies in order to encourage environmental activism and efficiency behaviors in response to global warming. A secondary goal was to study the relationship between pro-environment attitudes as measured by the New Ecological Paradigm (NEP) and the activism/efficiency behaviors. After hearing a 15-minute presentation about the threat of global warming, 270 participants were encouraged to take relevant action by (a) signing web-based petitions asking automakers to build more environmentally friendly cars, (b) sending web-based letters to their state senators asking them to pass legislation to curb global warming, and (c) replacing their own inefficient incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs).

The primary independent variable was the intervention technique used to encourage the three behaviors. The Information Only condition received a standard informational presentation, and a Social Influence condition received a presentation enhanced by the social psychological principles of authority, social validation, and consistency. A third group—Social Influence and Commitment—received the social influence manipulations and also signed a commitment statement.

Overall compliance was relatively low, with 30.7% of participants across all conditions completing one or more activism/efficiency behavior. Statistical comparisons of the compliance rates of the three groups were insignificant, and thus failed to support the efficacy of the social influence approach. Participants who held stronger pro-environment attitudes were more likely to complete the tasks. Those who completed at least one of the environmental actions scored significantly higher on a pre-presentation NEP (m = 54.9) than those who completed none (m = 50.3). In addition, political conservatism was negatively related to the NEP and task compliance. Finally, individuals who completed at least one of the requested behaviors showed a significant increase in pro-environment attitude on a second (post intervention) NEP, while the NEP scores of non-compliers remained unchanged.



social influence, global warming, behavior, environmental activism, environment