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4.4.4.1 Messages Emphasizing Normative Beliefs, Altruism, Gain vs. Loss, and Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Appeals

Normative Beliefs

Normative beliefs appear in most of the models and theories previously identified. When you invoke norms, you indicate which behaviors are commonly approved or disapproved of by a specific group or culture. People use their perceptions of peer norms as a standard to which they compare their own behaviors. Social-norms marketing campaigns have emerged as an alternative to more traditional approaches (e.g., information campaigns, moral exhortation, fear-inducing messages) (Schultz et al. 2007). Coming from a background in psychology and marketing, Cialdini (2003) discussed how persuasive messages need to invoke two kinds of norms shown to motivate human action: injunctive norms and descriptive norms. Injunctive norms help the message receiver identify which behaviors people typically approve or disapprove of. Descriptive norms influence perceptions of which behaviors are typically performed. People tend to do what is popular and socially approved. For example, descriptive norms are evoked by the seals appearing on the windows of organizations participating in the Strive toward Sustainability programs in Missoula, MT, and Lincoln, NE (see Sect. 3.3.2.3). The more businesses showing these seals, the more sustainable operations become seen as the norm within that community. However, in situations where many people are engaging in socially censured conduct (i.e., littering), Cialdini recommends that audiences be reminded of the injunctive norm (i.e., littering is bad) and not the descriptive norms. When the prevalent behavior is environmentally beneficial, messages should include descriptive norms along with injunctive norms (assuming most people approve of the proposed action). Although providing descriptive normative information may decrease an undesirable behavior among individuals who perform that behavior at a rate above the norm, the same message may actually increase the undesirable behavior among individuals who perform that behavior at a rate below the norm. People who do better than average may regress down to the mean (Schultz et al. 2007). People who are doing better than average should receive injunctive normative messages conveying social approval while those who are doing worse than average should receive messages of disapproval.

Altruism and Gain vs. Loss

A number of the theories and models we reviewed earlier focused on altruism, empathy, and prosocial behaviors. Some messages focus on the benefits or consequences experienced by the person performing the behavior; others include the effect of the behavior on significant others (e.g., friends, family, or the community at large). Loroz (2007) investigated the role reference point (self or self and other) and message frame (positive or negative) had on resulting attitudes and behavioral intentions. Framing research also investigates whether or not messages which discuss benefits gained (positive frame: “Think about what we will gain”) or consequences suffered from failure to act (negative frame: “Think about what we will lose”) might influence the persuasiveness of a message in a particular decision context. People more actively cognitively process messages that talk about the negative consequences they will face if action isn't taken unless the negative consequences exceed the individual's fear threshold as discussed in Witte's extended parallel process model. On the other hand, it is likely that people will respond more to messages which stress benefits experienced by both self and others (e.g., future generations, neighbors). In two small studies focusing on messages seeking to change health and recycling behaviors, the researcher found behavioral intentions were higher after reading the negative-self and positive-self and other messages than when reading negative-self and other or positive-self messages. Loroz suggested that if a communicator wants to design a message that centers on how pro-environmental behaviors can influence future generations, then he or she should stress the benefits experienced rather than the dire consequences of failing to act.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Appeals

Some message strategies used to motivate people can lead to pro-environmental behavior, but long-term maintenance of these behaviors is problematic. Often people's behaviors return to baseline once the external motivation is removed. Pelletier and Sharp (2008) argue that self-determined motivation can be increased by framing messages as a function of the intrinsic (i.e., health, personal growth) vs. extrinsic (i.e., financial incentives, fame) gains or losses as well as by accounting for the underlying processes of behavioral change. They provide an example of how using a car or using public transportation can be framed in four different ways:

(a) intrinsic gains (e.g., public transportation reduces carbon gas emissions (CGE) and improves your health), (b) extrinsic gains (e.g., public transportation reduces CGE and saves you money), (c) intrinsic risks (e.g., using your car increases CGE and worsens your health), and (d) extrinsic loss (e.g., using your car increases CGE and costs you money). Framing a goal as a function of extrinsic motivations should result in lower levels of self-determined motivation, less engagement in the activity, and less persistence in the new behavior. A focus on intrinsic motives should facilitate the development of autonomous motivation and behavioral maintenance.

Psychologists have identified three stages to the process: a detection phase, a decision phase, and an implementation phase. How a message is framed (intrinsic vs. extrinsic) during the detection phase will influence subsequent decisions made during the decision and implementation stage. For example, an emphasis on financial costs during the detection phase will lead to goals and solutions with financial implications in the decision phase and then the maintenance of financial incentives to initiate behavior during the implementation phase. During the detection phase people are more sensitive to messages that help them gather information to determine whether or not there is a problem. The messages should frame the problem as important and provide people with a rationale to act. People should be more open to messages which emphasize the costs—what is to be lost by failure to adopt the proposed behavior. But once someone is aware of the risk, additional risk information will have limited influence on their behavior. Indeed, people develop a defensive avoidance response to similar risk-focused messages. Once they are aware of a risk, people are more open to information about specific behavioral options and how they can effectively address the problem. If people see a problem as important, they are more sensitive to messages that help them decide if they should take action and, if so, what action to take. Messages need to provide information that helps people make decisions about the feasibility, desirability, and effectiveness of a behavior. At this point, gain-framed messages should resonate because they stress the benefits of adopting a specific behavior. The health literature suggests gain-framed messages influence the development of personal goals that are reflected in an individual's intentions to act. Finally, in the implementation phase, people are more open to messages that provide them with information about how to implement, maintain, and integrate the behavior into their lifestyle. This should include information about where, when, and how a behavior might be implemented. People also need to set personal goals and commit to specific ways to achieve these goals. Doing so helps create a bridge between intention and action. If people find the new behavior pleasant, their commitment strengthens, assuming they remember to engage in it as the correct time—hence the utility of behavioral cues until a habit is formed.

Abstract vs. Concrete Action

In three studies, White et al. (2011) investigated when lossversus gain-framed messages were most effective in influencing consumer recycling by examining the moderating role of whether a more concrete or abstract mind-set was activated by the message. They proposed the effect of message framing on conservation intentions, and behaviors will be moderated by whether a person considers recycling in terms of concrete actions (e.g., How will I go about recycling?) or more abstract purposes (e.g., Why will I recycle?). The researchers argued a loss-framed message would be most effective when paired with a mind-set that engages lower-level concrete thinking because when facing potential loss people seek immediate and concrete action strategies. On the other hand, a gain-framed message would be most effective when matched with a mind-set that engages high-level, abstract thinking. Gain frames activate more abstract, distal, and higher-level thinking. They found evidence for their matching hypothesis where a pairing of lossand gain-framed messages that activates more concrete (abstract) mind-sets leads to enhanced processing fluency, increased efficacy, and more positive recycling intentions.

 
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