Dynamic Social Norms

The social world is characterized by change.
But, how do people react to learning about the social changes going on around them?

This line of work examines how information about others changing over time can influence one’s own decision-making and behavior.
It also examines how such information can be used in interventions and to inform policy to promote social change at scale.

Representative Publications
Sparkman, G., Macdonald, B., Caldwell, K., Kateman, B., & Boese, G. (2021). Cut back or give it up? The effectiveness of reduce and eliminate appeals and dynamic norm messaging to curb meat consumption. Journal of Environmental Psychology75, 101592. Link
Here we assess dynamic norm appeals in an easy-to-disseminate medium (an op-ed), comparing a message to eat less meat versus one to stop eating meat. We find that dynamic norm appeals to eat less meat are more effective, reducing meat consumed by 7-9% for at least 5 months; and, these effects differ based on demographics.
Sparkman, G., Weitz, E., Robinson, T. N., Malhotra, N., & Walton, G. M. (2020). Developing a scalable dynamic norm menu-based intervention to reduce meat consumption. Sustainability12(6), 2453. Link |  Materials
In this piece, we develop a scalable dynamic norm intervention to be implemented in restaurant menus. We assess effects on over 30,000 food orders at 3 restaurants and detail areas for improvement.
Sparkman, G. (2020). Designing dynamic norm interventions: How to dislodge problematic norms and accelerate positive change. In G. Walton & A. Crum (Eds.) Handbook of wise interventions: How social-psychological insights can help solve problems. Link
In this chapter, I provide a practical guide on how to utilize dynamic norms in interventions to address ongoing social problems.
Sparkman, G., & Walton, G. M. (2019). Witnessing change: Dynamic norms help resolve diverse barriers to personal change. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology82, 238-252. Link |  Materials
Is social change contagious? Here we show dynamic norms lead people to question barriers they thought stood in the way of change, and help people quit smoking, improve sleep habits, & support gender equity.
Sparkman, G., & Walton, G. M. (2017). Dynamic norms promote sustainable behavior, even if it is counternormative. Psychological Science, 28(11), 1663-1674.
/ Link + Materials
Here we introduce “dynamic norms” and demonstrate how people conform to changes in norms over time. We show this can promote counternormative behavior like eating less meat or saving water during a drought.

Motivation and Advocacy for Social Change

What motivates people to embrace change and what leads some advocates of change to be more influential than others?
How can we muster robust sources of motivation to help us deal with major social problems of the day?

This line of research examines motivational dynamics that can forestall or facilitate personal change.

Representative Publications
Sparkman, G., Attari, S., & Weber, E. (2021). Moderating spillover: Focusing on personal sustainable behavior rarely hinders and can boost climate policy support. Energy Research & Social Science, 78, 102150. / Link + Materials
How can we ensure that taking one climate action doesn’t sap motivation for further action? In this paper, we examine how sustainable behavior impacts subsequent climate policy support. We find sustainable behavior rarely hurts policy support, and can even boost policy support if people connect their actions to their values or sense of self.
Sparkman, G., Lee, N. R., & Macdonald, B. N. (2021). Discounting environmental policy: The effects of psychological distance over time and space. Journal of Environmental Psychology73, 101529. Link |  Materials
Climate change will impact people near and far, soon and into the distant future. How does this psychological distance impact policy support for issues like mitigating climate change? Here, we map out how people discount the benefits of policies that help those further into the future those who are geographically distant.
Sparkman, G., Howe, L., & Walton, G. (2021). How social norms are often a barrier to addressing climate change but can be part of the solution. Behavioural Public Policy5(4), 528–555. Link
Here we discuss why social norms are a uniquely good tool to mobilize action on climate change. We explore how dynamic norms and feelings of togetherness help overcome common hurdles in this context.

Social Reality

How do we form our impressions of what is real, including about our social world, and what role does social information play in forming these beliefs?
How do we construct a picture of the social world that we belong to?

This line of research examines how people perceive or misperceive the attitudes and actions of others, and how these perceptions impact our own decision-making.

Representative Publications:
Sparkman, G., Geiger, N., & Weber, E. U. (2022). Americans experience a false social reality by underestimating popular climate policy support by nearly half. Nature Communications13(1), 1-9. Link
Do we hold accurate perceptions of public opinion? In this paper, we find a misperception of public opinion that is so large as to invert the norm status, and is so prevalent as to be near-universal—a scenario we refer to as a “False Social Reality”. Specifically, Americans who support major climate policies outnumber opponents two to one, but the public nearly universally perceives the opposite to be true.
Sabherwal, A., Pearson, A., & Sparkman, G. (2021). Anger consensus messaging can enhance expectations for collective action and support for climate mitigation. Journal of Environmental Psychology76, 101640. Link
What happens when people learn that a growing number of Americans are angry about climate inaction? Here, we find this collective anger consensus message leads people to perceive greater support for climate policies among others and increases personal levels of support for policies to address climate change.

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