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Putting Text in Context: The Conflict between Pro-Ecological Messages and Anti-Ecological Descriptive Norms

  • Luis Oceja (a1) and Jaime Berenguer (a1)

In the present work we test whether the effectiveness of ecological messages may be canceled out when they conflict with the descriptive norm that is salient in the situation. In two studies, participants were unobtrusively observed while performing an ecologically relevant behavior: leaving lights on or off when exiting a public space. The results of Study 1 showed in two different settings (i.e., public washrooms of a university and of a restaurant) the powerful influence of focusing a descriptive norm that refers to such behavior, even when this descriptive norm is not sustained by the injunctive norm. The results of Study 2 showed the overall ineffectiveness of ecological messages when the information in the message was in conflict with the descriptive norm made salient by the context. Additionally, the results of a Follow-up Study suggested that vividness-congruency may increase the effectiveness of the message. Both the theoretical and practical implications of these results are discussed.

En este trabajo se comprueba si los mensajes de tipo ecológico pierden efectividad cuando entran en conflicto con la norma descriptiva; es decir, la percepción sobre cómo se comportan las personas en una situación concreta. En dos estudios se observó la conducta de dejar las luces apagadas o encendidas al salir de un espacio público. En dos contextos diferentes (i.e., los servicios de una universidad y de un restaurante) los resultados del Estudio 1 mostraron como el comportamiento se ajusta a la norma descriptiva saliente. Los resultados del Estudio 2 mostraron que los mensajes ecológicos no son efectivos cuando la información contenida en dichos mensajes entra en conflicto con la norma descriptiva saliente. Además, los resultados de dos estudios complementarios mostraron que la influencia de la norma descriptiva era independiente de la norma prescriptiva, y que la efectividad del mensaje ecológico puede incrementarse si despierta una imagen clara y coherente con el comportamiento que se pretende provocar (i.e., vividness-congruency).

Corresponding author
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Luis Oceja, Departamento de Psicología Social y Metodología. Facultad de Psicología. Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. 28049 Madrid, (Spain). Phone: +34-914977674; Fax: +34-914975215; E- mail:
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The Spanish Journal of Psychology
  • ISSN: 1138-7416
  • EISSN: 1988-2904
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