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INTRODUCTION At the request of the U.S. Department of Energy, in 1980 the National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences established the Committee on the Behavioral and Social Aspects of Energy Consumption and Production to undertake a broad review of literature in the behavioral and social sciences with potential relevance to understanding energy consumption and production in the United States. The committee was formed with the recognition that the basis for analysis of policies concerning energy production and consumption has consisted of economic paradigms as well as assessments of the potential contributions and environmental impacts of new and existing technologies. It was also recognized, however, that noneconomic factors had been given insufficient attention by energy policy makers. There was great concern, for example, about the possibility that the hostilities that broke out on gasoline lines during the 1979 oil shortfall were only a pale image of what would happen in a serious oil emergency. It was anticipated that the noneconomic behavioral and social sciences might make important contributions to energy policy and analysis in at least four ways: First, they might help increase the accuracy of predictions of behavioral responses to economic incentives affecting energy use. For example, analysis of social, psychological, and organizational factors mediating energy use might aid understanding of why economic incentives have not always bad the anticipated effects on the behavior of individuals and firms. Research in the noneconomic social sciences might also illuminate the processes of formation and change of consumer preferences, usually treated as exogenous in economic models. 1
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2 Second, an understanding of noneconomic social forces might increase our knowledge of ways to influence energy use independent of economic incentives. For example, behavior has often followed changes in social norms, such as those encoded in civil rights laws. And behavioral changes sometimes occur without either legal sanctions or economic incentives. For example, much research in social psychology has shown that when compliance is induced with minimum pressure, the resulting changes in behavior can be far stronger than those generated by applying strong sanctions. Such processes of social influence may be applicable to energy consumption. Third, the noneconomic behavioral and social sciences might improve the capacity of the public to make choices about energy technologies. Knowledge developed by psychologists, sociologists, and other researchers concerned with organizational behavior might be useful for improving communication systems, understanding the basis of public perceptions of risk from energy technologies, and understanding the responses of producers to changing consumer preferences. Fourth, the ultimate consequences of energy policies are mediated by behavioral and social processes. Energy policies may, for example, influence interregional migration, create needs for new types of skills and training among the work force, and alter housing and transportation patterns. Such changes in major social systems and processes may potentiate or undermine the intended effects of policies, or they may produce important secondary, unintended effects. Despite the significance of these potential contributions, the noneconomic behavioral and social sciences have been concerned with energy issues for only a short time. As a result their contributions to knowledge about national energy issues can at present only occasionally take the form of propositions derived from the empirical study of energy issues. More often the contributions will be of other kinds. Basic knowledge developed through the study of behavioral and social processes may suggest opportunities or problems that might otherwise be overlooked by energy policy makers. Such knowledge may suggest ideas that could be applied in implementing policy or developing new policy initiatives. It may suggest ways to acquire knowledge that might reduce the likelihood of major policy mistakes. It may complement existing models of analysis and thus increase the understanding of policy makers
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3 concerning the energy system they attempt to predict or influence. With these opportunities and limitations in mind, the committee developed the following strategy: We would first identify areas in which knowledge developed in the behavioral and social sciences might be relevant to the energy policy concerns that prompted establishment of the committee. We would then select a subset of topics for more detailed analysis in the second year. Because it became obvious early in our deliberations that an analysis of the behavior of energy consumers would become one of these topics, work began on that subject fairly early in the first year. In the work on the behavior of energy consumers, the committee quickly encountered an important issue that has not yet been completely resolved: the problem of communi- cating insights developed in noneconomic disciplines to those readers, including many policy makers, who think in economic terms. It was the perceived need of policy makers for access to these insights that led to the creation of the committee, so the communication issue is critical. We have been considering two general approaches. The first is to attempt to translate the committee's insights into language that may be understood without great difficulty within the dominant neoclassical economic paradigm. For example, we might discuss information about energy and energy costs in terms of its properties as a signal of changing economic events or in terms of the ways consumers process incomplete or uncertain information. This sort of approach would make some insights from the noneconomic behavioral and social sciences easily accessible to policy makers and others not trained in these disciplines. Such a translation might therefore increase the immediate usefulness to the policy community of any insights the committee might produce. A major risk of this approach is that insights that are not readily translatable may be given insufficient attention. The other approach is to present the committee's insights in relatively jargon-free English, without making any specific accommodation to economic paradigms. This approach would make it easier to determine the weight to give to the various insights, uninfluenced by the process of translation. For example, it is relatively easy to discuss, in a manner comprehensible to people trained in economics, recent behavioral research on the judgment and action of individuals faced with
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4 information that is uncertain, incomplete, or available only at a high cost of money or effort. It is more difficult to discuss in similar terms the research relevant to consumer responses when information is conflicting or seen as untrustworthy. Because of the problem of translation, an attempt to discuss noneconomic views of information in economic terms might produce a mistaken overemphasis on the issues of uncertain and incomplete information and an underemphasis on problems of conflicting and mistrusted information. The committee may therefore be able to express its analyses more accurately in discipline-neutral, ordinary English. There are risks to this approach as well. Readers unfamiliar with the noneconomic disciplines may use the committee's contributions selectively, making sense of what easily translates into familiar terms, and passing over other points. Worse, some readers may translate the committee's language into familiar terms inaccurately, distorting the concepts and misunderstanding the committee's intentions. Discussion among committee members continues over the most effective language to use in conveying our contribu- tions. This discussion will probably continue until the final report is complete, and the solutions eventually reached may not be entirely consistent with either of the general approaches mentioned here. That is, we may choose to relate our analyses to economic concepts in some places and not in others. At the present state of its work, the committee does not accept the notion that translation into economic language is the appropriate general strategy. There is too much concern that such translation would dilute or distort important points that we plan to emphasize. In this report, when it has been possible to anticipate that the lack of translation might cause confusion or misunderstanding, we have tried to be particularly clear about the way we are using terms. The remainder of this report is divided into two sections and an appendix. The first section describes possible areas of contribution from the social and behavioral sciences and the three topics chosen for further study: the behavior of energy consumers, energy activity at the local level, and preparation for and response to energy emergencies. The second section presents the committee's first-year work on one of these topics, the behavior of energy consumers. The appendix is a paper by committee member Robert Axelrod that forms part of the basis for the committee's work on another of these topics, energy emergencies.
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