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Energy Use: The Human Dimension
process that begins with small commitments to energy-saving action and then moves under its own momentum toward more significant efforts.
These principles have been demonstrated in controlled field experiments. Pallak, Cook, and Sullivan (1980) applied principles of commitment and self-justification directly to energy conservation. They reasoned that even when people are convinced that a particular course of action is desirable for themselves or the community, they still need a little help in overcoming inertia. “I really want to…[donate blood, get flu shots, give up smoking, go on a diet, conserve energy,] but…[I can’t find the time, I’ll start next week, etc.]” The researchers started with a group of homeowners who volunteered to try to save energy by turning down their thermostats, wearing sweaters, taking shorter showers, and so forth. The experimenters randomly assigned the volunteers to one of two groups. Both groups were given the same information about energy conservation strategies, but one group was informed that the researchers hoped to list participants’ names in an article about the experiment—thereby creating a high-commitment situation—while the other group was explicitly assured of anonymity. There was an immediate effect: people in the high-commitment group used about 15 percent less natural gas than people in the low-commitment group. In an identical experiment with electricity use, the difference between the two groups was close to 20 percent. More importantly, there was a lasting effect. After one month of observations, the volunteers were informed that the project had been successful in saving energy. But the homeowners in the high-commitment condition were told it would not be possible to use their names. The researchers continued to read the meters for the next eleven months and found that the homeowners in the high-commitment condition continued to use less energy than those in the control groups, although there was some decline in the magnitude of the difference as time passed. These findings have been confirmed in a similar, more recent study (Katzev and Johnson, 1982). The results of these studies are extremely provocative: they suggest that once a person believes he or she is publicly committed to saving energy, he or she adopts behaviors that can last much longer than the public commitment itself.
A recent study by Bruce Hutton (1982) evaluated the effectiveness of three advertising campaigns aimed at motivating energy users to adopt conservation measures and purchase energy-efficient products. Two of the campaigns emphasized television, radio, and magazine advertising in attempts to get householders to give more consideration to energy efficiency in their appliance purchases. These campaigns increased awareness, but they were ineffective at changing behavior. Furthermore, the response to the campaigns did not follow the usual expectation that “more is better”: that is, more frequent exposure to a message did not mean greater impact. The only one of the three campaigns that produced a significant impact on behavior did not involve repeated exposure. Instead, an informational