Social norms signal appropriate behavior and are classed as behavioral expectations or rules within a group of people (Dolan et al., 2010). Social norms of exchange, such as reciprocity, are different from market exchange norms (Ariely, 2008). Normative feedback (e.g. how one’s energy consumption level compares to the regional average) is often used in behavior change programs (Allcott, 2011) and has been particularly effective to prompt pro-environmental behavior (Farrow et al., 2017). This feedback can either be descriptive, representing what most people do for the purpose of comparison (e.g. “The majority of guests in this room reuse their towels”; Goldstein et al., 2008), or injunctive, communicating approved or disapproved behavior (e.g. “Please don’t….”, Cialdini et al., 2006). The latter is often more effective when an undesirable behavior is more prevalent than desirable behavior (Cialdini, 2008).


Allcott, H. (2011). Social norms and energy conservation. Journal of Public Economics, 95(5), 1982-2095.

Ariely, D. (2008). Predictably Irrational. New York: Harper Collins.

Cialdini, R.B. (2008). Influence: Science and Practice, 5th ed. Boston: Pearson.

Cialdini, R. B., Demaine, L. J., Sagarin, B. J., Barrett, D. W., Rhoads, K., & Winter, P. L. (2006). Managing social norms for persuasive impact. Social Influence, 1(1), 3-15.

Dolan, P., Hallsworth, M., Halpern, D., King, D., & Vlaev, I. (2010). MINDSPACE: Influencing behaviour through public policy. London, UK: Cabinet Office.

Farrow, K., Grolleau, G., & Ibanez, L. (2017). Social norms and pro-environmental behavior: A review of the evidence. Ecological Economics, 140, 1-13.

Goldstein, N. J., Cialdini, R. B., & Griskevicius, V. (2008). A room with a viewpoint: Using social norms to motivate environmental conservation in hotels. Journal of Consumer Research, 35(3), 472-482.