The source is the message: the impact of institutional signals on climate change–related norm perceptions and behaviors

Sara M. Constantino, Silvia Pianta, Adrian Rinscheid, Renato Frey, Elke U. Weber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

With mandates and taxes to mitigate climate change proving politically challenging to implement, some scholars and policy makers have started looking to social norms as a vehicle for large-scale behavioral change. This raises the question of whether formal institutions or organizations are able to influence social norms and behavior. We designed a randomized experiment with a sample of 3627 American residents to investigate how social norm perceptions and behaviors change in response to institutional signals about climate change, and how this varies with signal source. We found that institutional signals, in particular when originating from science or business actors, shifted perceptions of descriptive social norms about climate action. Institutional signals also influenced intended pro-environmental behaviors, but did not increase personal contributions to environmental causes, suggesting that a shift in perceived norms may be insufficient to drive personal action, especially when it involves personal costs. Our study not only emphasizes the importance of institutional signals and messengers in changing perceptions of social norms, but also highlights the complexities involved in norm interventions ultimately aimed at influencing behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number35
JournalClimatic Change
Volume166
Issue number3-4
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Atmospheric Science

Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Environment
  • Institutions
  • Preregistered
  • Social influence
  • Social norms
  • policy

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