Let’s get in the Persuasion Wayback Machine and travel back to 1984 for a demonstration of Green Dissonance and an illustration of the More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same.
Kantola, Syme, and Campbell tested the impact of a simple dissonance manipulation, hypocrisy, on actual household energy use in this Journal of Applied Psychology research published in 1984. Homeowners were surveyed prior to the persuasion manipulation to determine those folks who viewed themselves as especially Green (“personal duty to conserve energy!”) and had above average home energy use. These strong, but inconsistent Greens were randomly assigned to one of four conditions.
1. Dissonance plus feedback group plus tips (dissonance group)
Subjects in this group were informed that they were high consumers of electricity and that they had said in the earlier survey that they felt it was their duty to save electricity. They also received a pamphlet and card listing ways to reduce the electricity consumed by air conditioners, together with a note informing them that dishwashers also use a lot of electricity.
2 Feedback plus tips group (feedback group)
Subjects in this group were notified that they were high consumers of electricity, they also received a pamphlet and card listing ways to reduce electricity consumption. No mention of “duty to save” was included in this letter.
3. Tips-only group (tips group)
Subjects in this group received only the pamphlet and card listing ways to reduce electricity consumption.
4. Control group
Subjects in this group received only the thank-you letter and the postage-paid postcard requesting further conservation information that was sent to all groups.
The researchers read home meters during two week intervals following the mailing to measure actual home energy usage. Here’s the table for each of the four groups and their energy use in the two intervals and for the total use.
Just eyeballing those means you can see that the Dissonance group used less energy than any other group. The difference is most pronounced in comparing Dissonance to Control (a Medium plus Windowpane of approximately 30/70) and to Feedback (a Medium Windowpane of about 35/65). There was no statistically significant difference between Dissonance versus the Tips group.
In Dissonance terms, that letter which highlighted the inconsistency between self proclaimed energy attitudes and actual energy use triggered a hypocrisy threat based on the obvious discrepancy between what you say and what you do. That hypocritical discrepancy motivated Dissonance which then motivated the drive to reduce that unpleasant psychological state. The easiest way to cut the hypocrisy was to change the behavior – consume less energy.
Consider now just how simple and practical this effect is. You need to get that public declaration of a strong position. (And, you know it is not topic specific. The jazz here is from the strong position and not just on Green, right?) Then, just nail the hypocrisy in a clear, unadorned statement of inconsistency. Don’t dwell on it. Don’t nag on it. Don’t nanny it. Just point out the inconsistency, then move on to desirable TACTs that will help the Other Guy resolve the Dissonant Hypocrisy. (Hey, if you are in the Lifestyle Police Department, do you understand why your zeal gets in the way?)
Underline the effect sizes compared to status quo type actions (feedback from your Uncle Earl). This simple persuasion play moves concrete, observable, and countable behavior change. You don’t need a play the size of Gone with the Wind to get a practical change.
Also see the Dissonance play producing fairly strong immediate change (the first two week interval) that does not continue into the next interval. Longer tracking might reveal complete decay suggesting that this Dissonance play was closer to the CLARCCS Cue of Commitment/Consistency rather than a deep Dissonance play. The design of the experiment does not permit strong inferences here, but these limited data certainly suggest a Peripheral Route operation. We can easily envision inconsistent Greens reading the letter then stomping over to the thermostat. And they monitor that for a few days until they forget.
Finally, remember this research was done in the 1980s, thirty years ago. Anyone who thinks that Green is a New New Thing is either Under 30 or merely thinks like that. Back then we were remembering the cry, Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30. On this topic, we need to invert that saying!
Hypocrisy has its uses. Go Green!