Should Energy Conservation be Framed in Terms of What Would be Lost?

nudge book image

Image: Nudge
Rather Than What Would be Gained
The book "Nudge" by Richard H. Thaler and Cas R. Sunstein contains many ideas on how to present choices to people in such a way that they are more likely to make choices that are good for them. The idea is that however choices are presented, even if randomly, people are being nudged in a certain direction for various reasons, so we might as well try to nudge them in a good direction (without coercion, so that they can still chose something else). One section of the book mentions energy conservation and how framing it differently could help.

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The authors discuss "framing", something that will be familiar to those who follow politics. Like any tool, framing can be used to do good or evil. But whether we like it or not, things will be framed one way or another. When a doctor tells a patient that "out of 100 patients who have this surgery, 90 will be alive 5 years from now", the doctor is framing the information. Studies have shown that fewer patients will accept to have the surgery if exactly the same information was instead conveyed as: "out of 100 patients who have this surgery, 10 will be dead 5 years from now".

The authors also mention that energy conservation messages could be more effective if instead of saying "You can save $x per year if you do this" they emphasized how much you could lose if you don't do it; "You will lose $x per year if you don't do this."

In a perfect world, all of this would make no difference. People would rationally analyze information and take the time to think about it from all angles before forming an opinion. But in this world, with humans full of cognitive biases, green should probably take the time to make sure that what they are saying isn't being obscured by the way it is said. If it can lead to things like more energy conservation, it seems worth the effort.

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