Applied Social Psychology

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    • 00:10

      JOANNE SMITH: My name's Joanne Smith,and I'm an associate professor in psychologyat the University of Exeter.My research focuses on how our own thoughts, feelings,and actions are influenced by the groups that we belong to,and I'm interested in how we can harness the power of the groupsand identities that are important to us to changehealth and environmental behavior.

    • 00:32

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: In this case study, we'll be looking at one reasonthat many attempts to change our behavior through public healthcampaigns fail, and how we can use social norms to makethese campaigns more effective.[Are behavioral change campaigns successful?]Every day, we're the target of a lot of attempts

    • 00:52

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: to change our behavior.These attempts might range from the somewhat trivial,such as trying to get us to drink Coke rather than Pepsi,to the much more important, such as tryingto get us to eat more healthily or behave in a moreenvironmentally friendly way.In recent years, a range of programs funded by governmentshave tried to educate us on a number of health

    • 01:13

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: and environmental issues, hoping to bring about behavior change.However, despite substantial investment in behavior changecampaigns, many campaigns fail to have a positive impacton people's behavior.For example, despite government investment in the "five a day"message, some research shows that UK consumers

    • 01:33

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: only ate 1% more fruit in 2008 than the previous five yearperiod and actually ate 11% less vegetables.Indeed, as Melanie Wakefield and colleagues write in The Lancet,although the promise of mass media behavior change campaignslies in their ability to spread messagesto a wide audience repeatedly, over time, in a low cost way,

    • 01:56

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: this promise has not always been realized.Campaign messages can fall short or even backfire.Indeed, when Martin Fishbein and colleaguesexamined the perceived effectivenessof 30 anti-drug public service announcements,they founded that the rated effectivenessvaried considerably.Although 16 campaigns were rated as more effective

    • 02:17

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: than a control group, eight did notdiffer from the control group.And six were rated as less effectivethan the control program.But why are many behavior change campaigns ineffective?One likely reason is that many campaigns do nottarget the psychological factors thatinfluence the target behavior.Many campaigns simply provide consumers

    • 02:39

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: with information about the desired behavior in the hopethat increasing consumers' knowledge will makethem change their behavior.But for many issues, a lack of knowledge is not the problem.We all know that we should be eating healthfully, exercising,and saving energy.But we often fail to do so.Some researchers argue that campaigns

    • 02:60

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: will be more effective if they take accountof some of the social factors that influence our actions,such as social norms.[What are social norms?]But what are social norms?Social norms are the unwritten rules or standardsabout how to behave.

    • 03:20

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: Norms guide and direct our actionsand help us make sense of our social world.They help us know what to do and predict what others willdo in various social settings.One important point about norms wasmade by Robert Cialdini, who proposedthat norms consist of both injunctive and descriptiveelements.Injunctive norms refer to what we should or shouldn't

    • 03:43

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: do, that is, what behaviors do others approve or disapproveof?For example, most people think you shouldn'tsmoke around young children.Descriptive norms refer to what others actually do, that is,whether a behavior is commonly done or not.For example, most people stand on the right hand side

    • 04:04

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: rather than the left hand side of escalators on the LondonUnderground.[Using Social Norms in Behavior Change Campaigns]But can we use social norms to change people's behavior?The simple answer is, it's complicated.People often misperceive the levels of approvalfor a behavior or the extent to which other people engage

    • 04:27

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: in that behavior, so correcting these norm misperceptionscan change behavior.For example, students often overestimate how muchdrinking happens at university, and end updrinking more to fit in with this perceived norm.Studies in the US and in the UK havefound that campaigns that give students

    • 04:47

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: accurate information about the social normcan reduce students' alcohol consumption.As another example, when we stay in hotels,we're often asked to reuse our towels during our stayrather than using a fresh towel each day.Hotels highlight the environmental benefitsof towel reuse, in an effort to influence our behavior.

    • 05:10

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: But research by Robert Cialdini and his colleagueshave found that a simple message pointing outthat most hotel guests reuse their towels during their dayis more effective in getting peopleto reuse their towels than a message pointing outenvironmental benefits of towel reuse.However, using social norms messages in campaigns

    • 05:30

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: can sometimes backfire.Although it makes intuitive senseto highlight that too many people are engagingin the undesired behavior in the hopethat people will pull up their socks and change,research has shown that focusing attention on the factthat the undesired behavior is commonor that the desired behavior is uncommon

    • 05:50

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: can increase, rather than decrease,levels of the undesired behavior.So pointing out that only 20% of childreneat enough fruit and vegetables each daymay not prompt parents to increase their children'sconsumption.In fact, parents might think, why should Ibother getting my children to eatmore fruit and veg, because no one else is doing it?

    • 06:13

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: If used incorrectly, descriptive norm messages can backfire.But using injunctive norm messages insteadisn't an easy answer.Injunctive norm messages can backfire as well.With my colleague Winnifred Lewis,I found that telling students thatpeers disapprove of a behavior, such as excess drinking,

    • 06:35

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: can lead to stronger intentions to drink in the future.Why might this happen?We found that telling people, youshouldn't do this, led them to think that others mustbe engaging in that behavior.Otherwise, why would we be telling them to stop.And it was these misperceptions of the descriptive normthat undermined our attempts to change their behavior.

    • 06:58

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: So we need to consider how descriptive and injunctivenorms interact with each other, as wellas how they independently influence behavior.[When Norms Collide]Injunctive and descriptive norms are often in agreement.For example, a group of parents might disapprove

    • 07:19

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: of giving their children sugary drinksand don't give their children sugary drinks.Perhaps unsurprisingly, when peopleare exposed to messages that highlight that other peoplepractice what they preach, engagement in the targetbehavior is increased.Thus presenting aligned norm messagesis one simple way to use norms to promote behavior change.

    • 07:41

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: However, it's not always the casethat injunctive and descriptive norms align.For example, most British people, over 90%,approve of organ donation, only a minority of people, just 30%,are registered organ donors.In fact, most attempts to change behaviorare initiated precisely because injunctive and descriptive

    • 08:03

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: norms are not aligned, that is, because people'scurrent behavior is out of step with whatis socially sanctioned.So what happens when these norms collide?My own research has found that whenthe injunctive norm and descriptive normsare in conflict, that is, when you're told that others engagein a behavior even though it's disapproved,

    • 08:25

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: then behavior change is undermined.More specifically, perceptions of the descriptive normdetermine whether the injunctive norm influences behavior.For example, when university studentswere told that although most students approveof saving energy, their peers aren't actuallyengaging in energy saving behaviors,

    • 08:45

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: intentions to save energy in the future are reduced.So if the message communicated seems to say,do as we say, not as we do, the negative descriptive normundermines the power of the injunctive normto promote the desired behavior.[Using Social Norms in Behavior Change Campaigns--

    • 09:06

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: The Do's and Don'ts]At this point, you might be thinking,why bother to use social norms to change behavior at all?Descriptive norms backfire.Injunctive norms backfire.And using both norms can backfire as well,undermining attempts to promote positive behaviors.But we can make some recommendations

    • 09:26

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: based on research that has tested the effectsof social norms on behavior.Thus, if you're going to present informationabout the descriptive norm, don't focus attentionon the number of people doing the wrong thing.Highlighting that the undesired behavior is the normis unlikely to prompt people to change their own behavior,

    • 09:47

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: and may even make the undesired behavior even more common.For example, telling university studentsabout the high levels of binge drinking on campusis likely to lead students to drink more, rather than drinkless, in order to fit in with their peers.Second, if you're going to present information

    • 10:08

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: about the injunctive norm, it's important to evaluatethe effects of your message priorto launching a campaign using this type of norm.This is because we can't make any definitive recommendationsbased on past research about whether injunctive normmessages should focus on approvalof the desired behavior or disapproval

    • 10:29

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: of the undesired behavior.My own research has found that disapproval messages canbackfire and that approval messages are more effective.But other research has found that disapproval messagesare more effective than approval messages.Perhaps the effects of injunctive normsare more complicated because people make inferences

    • 10:50

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: about the descriptive norm based on the injunctive norm,so that it becomes more important to considerthe interplay between these two types of norms.Third, if you're going to present informationabout both types of norms, don't communicatethat these norms are in conflict with each other.Making salient the fact the others

    • 11:11

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: do not practice what they preach iscounterproductive in terms of tryingto promote behavior change.In reality, however, using such conflicting messagesis prevalent in behavior change campaigns.For example, organ donation campaignsoften point out that the majority of citizensapprove of organ donation, but that only a minority

    • 11:33

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: of citizens are registered organ donors.However, behavior change agents shouldn'tmake salient any conflict between what people doand what people approve of.This strategy undermines any potential benefits of norms,and can even backfire.Instead, behavior change agents mightbe advised to focus only on the fact

    • 11:55

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: that the desired behavior is approved of by others,the injunctive norm, or make surethat they communicate clearly that the desired behavior isbecoming more and more common.Finally, given the potential for a range of backlash effectswith norms, it is critical that behavior change agentsevaluate messages prior to launching a campaign

    • 12:17

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: to ensure that norms-based messages have the desiredeffects and are accepted by the group whose behavior needsto change.[Conclusion]In conclusion, social norms do have the potentialto promote positive behavior change,and the inclusion of messages telling people

    • 12:38

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: about the beliefs and behaviors of otherscan enhance the effectiveness of behavior change campaigns.However, it's clear that social normsneed to be used carefully in orderto avoid backfiring and producing undesirable effects.Having a clearer understanding of how norms shape and guidebehavior might allow us to unlock the full potential

    • 12:58

      JOANNE SMITH [continued]: of norms so that these become a positive force for behaviorchange.

Applied Social Psychology

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Unique ID: bd-psych-case-asp-AA03164


Dr. Joanne Smith discusses the influence of group belonging on individual behavior. Social norms can promote positive behavior change, but this approach can backfire, so it must be used carefully.

SAGE Video Cases
Applied Social Psychology

Dr. Joanne Smith discusses the influence of group belonging on individual behavior. Social norms can promote positive behavior change, but this approach can backfire, so it must be used carefully.

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