Academic journal article The Spanish Journal of Psychology

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

Academic journal article The Spanish Journal of Psychology

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

Article excerpt

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.

Keywords: focus theory, descriptive norm, injunctive norm, ecological behavior, vividness-congruency.

En este trabajo se comprueba si los mensajes de tipo ecológico pierden efectividad cuando entran en conflicto con la norma descriptiva; es decir, la percepción sobre cómo se comportan las personas en una situación concreta. En dos estudios se observó la conducta de dejar las luces apagadas o encendidas al salir de un espacio público. En dos contextos diferentes (i.e., los servicios de una universidad y de un restaurante) los resultados del Estudio 1 mostraron como el comportamiento se ajusta a la norma descriptiva saliente. Los resultados del Estudio 2 mostraron que los mensajes ecológicos no son efectivos cuando la información contenida en dichos mensajes entra en conflicto con la norma descriptiva saliente. Además, los resultados de dos estudios complementarios mostraron que la influencia de la norma descriptiva era independiente de la norma prescriptiva, y que la efectividad del mensaje ecológico puede incrementarse si despierta una imagen clara y coherente con el comportamiento que se pretende provocar (i.e., vividness-congruency).

Palabras clave: teoría focal, norma descriptiva, norma prescriptiva, conducta ecológica.

According to Cialdini, Kallgren and Reno (1991) there is no current consensus within social psychology about the explanatory and predictive value of social norms (for a review, see Cialdini & Trost, 1998). They thus propose the Focus Theory of Normative Conduct, in which it is argued that the impact of social norms on behavior could be clarified by applying two theoretical refinements. First, this model establishes the distinction between two kinds of norm: descriptive and injunctive. Following the definition proposed by Cialdini et al., "the first of these, descriptive norms, specify what most people do in a particular situation, and they motivate action by informing people of what is generally seen as effective or adaptive behavior there. Injunctive norms, on the other hand, specify what people approve and disapprove of within the culture, and motivate action by promising social sanctions for normative and counter-normative conduct" (Reno, Cialdini, & Kallgren, 1993, p. 104). Thus, descriptive norms refer to what most people do in a given situation, with no necessary implication of whether it is right or wrong. For example, the majority of Spaniards may prefer to eat fish than vegetables, whereas the majority of North Americans may prefer to eat meat than vegetables, but there would be nothing immoral about either a Spaniard or a North American who decided to become a vegetarian. On the other hand, an injunctive norm is a social expectation about what people should do in a particular situation. For instance, not stealing food is usually considered right and proper, regardless of how many other people do or do not behave in that way.

As to the second theoretical refinement, Cialdini et al. …

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