By David Lee on March 15, 2011 · tagged as , , ,

From reusing towels to preventing sexual violence

An article in last Sunday’s New York Times highlighted an apparent contradictions: in communities typically considered progress, people actual opposed measures that improve the environment, such as people in New York’s Park Slope opposing bike lanes in their neighborhood. What I found very interesting was the explanation that “[h]umans hew to the ‘normative’ behaviors of their community “ from Robert Cialdini, , an emeritus professor at Arizona State University who studies environmental behaviors.  New York times’ Elizbeth Rosenthal writes:

Test yourself: When a sign in a hotel bathroom exhorts you to reuse your towel for the sake of the planet, do you nonetheless tend to throw it on the floor to get a new one? (Me: Guilty.)

…Professor Cialdini’s research has found that the best way to get a guest to reuse towels is to inform him that a majority of the previous guests in that room did not switch towels daily. Likewise, in a study to determine how to get people to reduce home energy use, conducted with Wesley Schultz, Professor Cialdini found that people were most likely to comply if told that all the neighbors were doing it — rather than informed that saving energy would save money or was good for the planet.

“People need to be in alignment with their contemporaries,” he said. “It validates them. It becomes something they should do and can do.”

This is very similar to the social norms approach to sexual violence prevention. (see Alan Berkowitz’s articles.) Perhaps providing information on what to do is not as effective as providing information on what peers are doing is more likely to promote change.

People are less likely to change by getting information; they are more likely to change when they believe this is aligned with expected behavior.  At, least, Professor Cialdini believes this regarding environmental action.

Do you think it applies to sexual violence and domestic violence prevention?  I think so.

David Lee

More Posts by David Lee

David S. Lee, MPH, is the Director of Prevention Services at the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault where he provides training and technical assistance on prevention. David manages the national project PreventConnect, an online community of violence against women prevention practitioners, funders, researchers and activists. For over 27 years David has worked in efforts to end domestic violence and sexual assault.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ashley Maier March 15, 2011 at 5:37 pm

YES, I think so. This is why I watch CW shows – I want to know what everyone thinks everyone else is doing. It’s the science of cool, as Rescue Social Change Group says (http://rescuescg.com/). Did I just admit that I watch CW shows? Market research…

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