Can One Make a Difference? Exploring the Differential Effects of Norm Salience and the Self-Monitoring Trait on the Norm Focus Theory's Application to Recycling Behavior

Dakin, S. A. Can one make a difference? Exploring the differential effects of norm salience and the self-monitoring trait on the Norm Focus Theory's application to recycling behavior. Vol. 56. 1998.

This study tested the Norm Focus Theory in the realm of recycling behavior. Results supported the theory's major tenet that making a social norm salient will produce behavior in accordance with that specific salient social norm. Two hundred and sixteen undergraduate participants were randomly assigned to one of five experimental conditions in which a specific social norm was made salient via a confederate's behavior. Participants had the highest recycling rates when the pro-recycle injunctive norm, the 'should norm' was made salient and the least recycling occurred when the anti-recycle descriptive norm, the 'popular norm', was made salient. A main effect of degree of salience was also found such that participants who were given two cans recycled at higher rates than those provided with one can, regardless of salient norm condition. In addition, it was discovered that the important component of recycling behavior was the decision to recycle and that the actual recycling behavior itself was secondary. Lower recycling rates were found when the environment where the descriptive norm was made salient was separated from the environment where the decision to act was made. Contrary to what was predicted, the self-monitoring trait did not serve as a moderator between the salient social norm and recycling behavior. However, personal recycling norm was a significant predictor of recycling behavior. Persons with stronger personal norms for recycling recycled at a higher rate than persons with weak personal norms for recycling. It was also shown that advertisements with descriptive and injunctive messages did not have a stronger influence on high self-monitors than low self monitors. However, the self-monitoring trait was correlated with ratings of image persuasiveness in advertisements, but only if the advertisements did not contain messages with descriptive or injunctive norms. These findings showed support for the Norm Focus theory. In addition, the results also suggest that further tests of the Norm Focus Theory utilizing other behaviors would be beneficial. The next step in this research would be to take these findings outside of the lab and replicate them in an applied setting where one can maximize their practical implications.

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