Sustaining large-scale public goods requires individuals to make environmentally friendly decisions today to benefit future generations. Recent research suggests that second-order normative beliefs are more powerful predictors of behaviour than first-order personal beliefs. We explored the role that second-order normative beliefs — the belief that community members think that saving energy helps the environment — play in curbing energy use. We first analysed a data set of 211 independent, randomized controlled trials conducted in 27 US states by Opower, a company that uses comparative information about energy consumption to reduce household energy usage (pooled N=16,198,595). Building off the finding that the energy savings varied between 0.81% and 2.55% across states, we matched this energy use data with a survey that we conducted of over 2,000 individuals in those same states on their first-order personal and second-order normative beliefs. We found that second-order normative beliefs predicted energy savings but first-order personal beliefs did not. A subsequent pre-registered experiment provides causal evidence for the role of second-order normative beliefs in predicting energy conservation above first-order personal beliefs. Our results suggest that second-order normative beliefs play a critical role in promoting energy conservation and have important implications for policymakers concerned with curbing the detrimental consequences of climate change.

J.M. Jachimowicz, Oliver Hauser, Julia D. O'Brien, E. Sherman, and Adam Galinsky
Journal Article
Publication Date
Nature Human Behavior

Full Citation

Jachimowicz, J.M., Oliver Hauser, Julia D. O'Brien, E. Sherman, and Adam Galinsky
. “The critical role of second-order normative beliefs in predicating energy conservation.”
Nature Human Behavior
, (January 01, 2018):