California Conservatives Not 'Nudged' Into Conserving Energy

electric tower photo

photo: Omar Bárcena via flickr.

Here's an interesting twist on the conventional wisdom that if you give homeowners more information about the amount of energy they use, they'll naturally start conserving. New Scientist found a report which shows that in general it is true that more info equals energy savings. But when you add political affiliation into the mix things get more complicated.A fairly recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research looked at some 80,000 California households, half of which had received feedback on energy use. Of those getting more information, overall energy use dropped by 2%, but among self-identified Republicans the average drop was just 0.4%. And among Republicans not affiliated with environmental causes, energy use actually increased 0.75%.

Different Incentives Needed?
Sounds to some degree like just plain stubbornness, and one of the early researchers into the psychology of energy use seems to agree:

Wesley Schultz at California State University in San Marcos, one of the researchers behind the 2007 finding, is not surprised by the result. He says that some Republicans have a negative view of the environmental movement and so might want to distance themselves from a green-themed campaign. Using more electricity could be an act of defiance, whether conscious or subconscious.

The result does not negate the usefulness of such psychological "nudges", adds Schultz. But it does suggest that feedback needs to be tailored to specific groups. "No one is immune to social pressure," says Schultz. "Even among those that increased electricity use there is a nudge that would work."

Read more: New Scientist

And the original: Energy Conservation "Nudges" and Environmentalist Ideology: Evidence from a Randomized Residential Electricity Field Experiment
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