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Is social pressure more powerful than financial incentives?

In this TED talk, Alex Laskey shows how a quirk of human behaviour can make us all better, wiser energy users, with lower bills to prove it. The trick is letting people know how they compare to their neighbours. Could this be used to improve recycling rates at home?

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Here's an edited transcript of a part of the talk. 

10 years ago, a behavioural science experiment was run in San Marcos California. Graduate students put signs on every door in a neighbourhood, asking people to turn off their air conditioning and turn on their fans. One quarter of the homes received a message that said,  did you know you could save 54 dollars a month this summer?Turn off your air conditioning, turn on your fans. Another group got an environmental message. And still a third group got a message about being good citizens, preventing blackouts.  Most people guessed that money-saving message would work best of all but, in fact, none of these messages worked. They had zero impact on energy consumption. It was as if the grad students hadn't shown up at all.

But there was a fourth message, and this message simply said,  "When surveyed, 77 percent of your neighbours said that they turned off their air conditioning and turned on their fans. Please join them. Turn off your air conditioning and turn on your fans." And wouldn't you know it, they did. The people who received this message showed a marked decrease in energy consumption simply by being told what their neighbours were doing.

So what does this tell us? Well, if something is inconvenient, even if we believe in it, moral suasion, financial incentives, don't do much to move us -- but social pressure, that's powerful stuff. And harnessed correctly, it can be a powerful force for good." 

How might we harness social pressure to increase recycling rates in communities? 

Would you behave differently, if you were able to compare your recycling efforts to those of your neighbours?


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Thank you for sharing the video and the idea, it is really useful. Looking forward to see what other people's thought.

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