Terre Dunivant San Luis Obispo July 25, 2006


Does anyone know how to get ahold of a copy of the USDA booklet for environmental managers about incorporating social science research into designing persuasive pro-environment messages? Or how to get in touch with its authors, Patricia Winter, PhD research social scientist for USDA and Shawn Burn, PhD, psychology professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo? I'm designing interpretive signs for hiking trails and bike paths and would love to know more about this subject.


Here's something from an article on American Psychological Assn's website: ...Patricia Winter, PhD, a research social scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), has tested such messages in California's Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park by evaluating the effectiveness of signs that encourage visitors to stay on established trails. Winter presented her findings during APA's 2005 Annual Convention in Washington, D.C., in August. The sign with an injunctive-proscriptive message--"Please don't go off the established paths and trails in order to protect the Sequoias and natural vegetation in this park"--was the most effective, preventing 95 percent of people from going off-trail. "'Don't do this' is the most direct route to gaining compliance," Winter says. The least effective sign tested, leading to 18.7 percent veering from the path, was a message that made off-trail hiking appear like the norm: "Many past visitors have gone off the established paths, changing the natural state of the Sequoias and vegetation in this park." The worst off-trail use--30.9 percent--occurred when no sign was posted. Cialdini reports similar results in a study in press: In the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, he found that fewer people stole petrified wood from the park when signs indicated the appropriate behavior in a situation and emphasized what others were not doing. The sign read: "Please don't remove the petrified wood from the park, in order to preserve the natural state of the Petrified Forest." "This cautions that slight variations in messages seem to be powerful in having an impact on behavior, and it's important to pay attention to content and signage," Winter says. Despite such findings, Winter found in a survey of environmental professionals that most believed positively framed messages encouraging the "do's" of behavior would be most effective. Sparking change Many psychologists are working to get their own messages out about how social psychology research can improve conservation communications. "The potential of psychology to help the environment often goes unrealized," says Shawn Burn, PhD, psychology and child development professor at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. She and Winter--in conjunction with the USDA--developed a handbook for environmental managers in local governments, national parks and the like to use in developing scientifically sound pro-environment interventions. In the booklet, Burn encourages resource managers and community leaders to incorporate findings from social science research to remove barriers to pro-environmental behavior and gear interventions that further promote those behaviors--known as a community-based social marketing strategy. For example, the handbook provides guidelines on the design of persuasive messages and commitment strategies so that resource managers can create their own effective environmental interventions. more... http://www.apa.org/monitor/oct05/persuasive.html

creative by nature Terre Dunivant

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