Eilers' Graduate Defense Seminar

Apr 9, 2014, 1:00pm - 2:00pm


Ellen Eilers, MS student in Environmental Social Science, will present Exploring the Association Between Norm Conflict and Pro-Environmental Behavior at 1:00 p.m. in 333 Kottman Hall.

The effects of overconsumption on environmental health and ecological process has become clear. Despite concerns about the degree to which human activities impact the environment, obstacles to the more wide-spread adoption of pro-environmental behaviors remain. A number of theories have emerged from economics, psychology, sociology and anthropology to explain human behavior. Many of these theories recognize the effect that social forces, such as social norms, can have on behavior and decision-making. However, not all behaviors are equally influenced by norms, and few theories and even fewer empirical studies have explicitly examined the effects of norm conflict on behavior. Norm conflict can be defined as cases in which different normative messages about appropriate behavior emanate from the social groups with which individuals associate (McDonald 2013).  Using a survey distributed to a random sample of 10,000 OSU undergraduates, this research addresses two questions about the effect of social norms on engagement in three behaviors that vary in their level of difficulty (turning off lights, using a reusable water bottle, buying second-hand clothes).  To what degree do the perceived descriptive norms of different groups (friends, family, OSU student body) conflict and how does this conflict impact engagement in environmentally-friendly behaviors? I find that while norm conflict is low for each of the three behaviors examined, it is significantly associated with the easy and moderately difficult behaviors we assessed. However, the global norm (average descriptive norm) and the dominant norm (descriptive norm associated with a group with which the respondent strongly identifies) both have a bigger effect on behavior than norm conflict. In addition, there is evidence that norm conflict moderates the effect of the average overall norm and the dominant norm. These results align with previous studies on norm conflict and suggest that norm conflict should be incorporated into future studies of behavior. In addition, the results suggest that it is important to consider behaviors independently because norm conflict, and social norms in general, can have different effects on different kinds of behavior.  ​