Putting Text in Context: The Conflict Between Pro-Ecological Messages and Anti-Ecological Descriptive Norms

Oceja, L., & Berenguer, J. (2009). Putting text in context: The conflict between pro-ecological messages and anti-ecological descriptive norms. The Spanish Journal of Psychology, 12(2), 657-666.

In the present work we test whether the effectiveness of ecological messages may be canceled out when they conflict with the descriptive norm that is salient in the situation. In two studies, participants were unobtrusively observed while performing an ecologically relevant behavior: leaving lights on or off when exiting a public space. The results of Study 1 showed in two different settings (i.e., public washrooms of a university and of a restaurant) the powerful influence of focusing a descriptive norm that refers to such behavior, even when this descriptive norm is not sustained by the injunctive norm. The results of Study 2 showed the overall ineffectiveness of ecological messages when the information in the message was in conflict with the descriptive norm made salient by the context. Additionally, the results of a Follow-up Study suggested that vividness-congruency may increase the effectiveness of the message. Both the theoretical and practical implications of these results are discussed.

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