statistical status. Rather, the single event often has a decisive impact far beyond its logical status.

Changes in energy use are affected by the role of friends and acquaintances in spreading new ideas in an uncertain environment. New energy ideas may be held back at first because the fact that they have not been tried is taken as evidence that they do not work. But on the positive side, once a new method of saving energy has been tried, it can spread easily along predictable channels. Word of mouth is a particularly important medium of communication for social groups that either do not trust information from established institutions, or do not receive the information transmitted in other media due to lack of access or to language problems.

The Momentum of Past Behavior

Behavior once undertaken often requires additional bolstering and justification that in turn leads to a shift in values. People who have recently made an important decision seek to justify that decision after the fact—convincing themselves and others that the decision was a wise one. This behavior is predicted, explained, and researched under the rubric of the theory of cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957; Festinger and Aronson, 1960; Aronson, 1969, 1980; Wicklund and Brehm, 1976).9

A few general findings and principles with potential relevance to energy use have come from this research. One, people tend to rationalize the choice they have made in a difficult decision. They tend to emphasize the positive aspects of the chosen alternative and the negative aspects of the unchosen alternative. As a result, as time goes by, the individual comes increasingly to view the selected option as clearly superior to the unselected one (Brehm, 1956; Darley and Berscheid, 1967). Two, the greater the commitment in terms of effort, cost, or irrevocability, the stronger and more permanent the effect (Aronson and Mills, 1959; Axsom and Cooper, 1980; Gerard and Mathewson, 1966; Knox and Inkster, 1968). Three, people tend to remember the plausible arguments favoring their own position and the implausible arguments opposing their position (Jones and Kohler, 1958); this serves the need for self-justification rather than that of objective fact-seeking. Four, once someone makes a small commitment in a given direction, that person is much more likely to make a large commitment than someone who is uninvolved (e.g., Freedman and Fraser, 1966).

Applied to energy consumption, these principles describe an inertia in behavior: people resist change because they are committed to what they have been doing, and they justify that inertia by downgrading information that implies that change is essential. This partly explains the failure of many energy users to take economically justifiable action to save energy. But these principles also suggest that change may be brought about by a



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement