What unsustainable behavior needs to change: Let’s go back a couple of thousand years in time. One of our hairy ancestors observes another gatherer picking some fruits from a bush and eating them. Some time later the fruit picker is still alive and well. This day she learned that eating those fruits won’t kill her or her family.
Evolutionary psychology suggests there are five ancestral forces that have shaped human perception and behaviour. In this case: Social imitation.
It refers to the important lesson that human beings learned a very long time ago and which secured our survival: imitating others is the most efficient way to learn. Our brain is therefore wired to do what the majority does.
Unfortunately, the majority of people often influence each other into adverse habits – especially when it comes to the environment. Social scientists have demonstrated the influence of peer behavior in a host of areas. We’ve been building bigger houses, driving heavier vehicles, flying to remote destinations or engaging in a host of other energy-intensive activities. A dominant reason we are doing these things is our tendency to behave as our peers do.
The Green Nudge: There’s reason to believe that peer effects could be similarly beneficial to our climate future.
Utility Companies, for example, have found that customers reduce their electricity usage significantly when told how their consumption compares with that of neighbors.
Opower, a home-energy-management company owned by Oracle, has helped deliver these customer-comparison reports to millions of households served by utilities around the globe; it boasts that the program has helped save enough energy to power San Francisco’s homes for more than 10 years.
Google, the manufacturer of smart Nest thermostats, has incorporated the approach into its product: It rewards customers who choose energy-efficient settings with green leaf icons in their monthly usage summaries, and compares the number of leaves earned with those of other Nest users in the area.”
From Robert H. Frank’s book, Under the Influence: Putting Peer Pressure to Work.