According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, consumers are more likely to change their behavior if they voluntarily commit to changing rather than being told what to do. Likewise, rewarding that commitment with a prize or gesture will reinforce the commitment even more so.
“Commitment promotes consistent changes in behavior, especially if consumers pledge specific steps to promote the desired behavior. Consumers who publicly express a commitment to the environment will reinforce their commitment and increase sustainable behavior,” write authors Katie Baca-Motes, Amber Brown (both Disney Research), Ayelet Gneezy, Elizabeth A. Keenan (both University of California, San Diego), and Leif D. Nelson (University of California, Berkeley).
Wanting to observe levels of sustainable commitment in the real world, authors studied consumers staying at a California hotel. Upon check-in, guests were asked to either make a general commitment to be environmentally friendly or to make a specific commitment to reuse towels during their stay. Both commitments were completely voluntary and would not be enforced in any way.
To reinforce their commitments, some guests were given a ‘Friends of the Earth’ pin to wear. The result?
When checking in, if guests were asked to make a commitment to reuse their towels, they were more likely to do so than if they were simply informed that the majority of guests in a hotel reuse their towels. However, when guests made a specific commitment to practice sustainable behavior and received a pin to symbolize that commitment, their subsequent behavior was significantly more eco-friendly. They were more likely to reuse towels as well as turn off the lights when they left their rooms.
“Rather than telling consumers what they should be doing, companies, nonprofits, or government agencies wishing to influence behavior change should consider an alternative option—one that creates an appealing opportunity for consumers to start with a small step—a non-binding commitment that will likely nudge their behavior in the desired direction,” the authors conclude.
Source: Science Daily