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Are Normative Appeals Moral Taxes? Evidence from a Field Experiment on Water Conservation

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  • Daniel A. Brent

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  • Corey Lott
  • Michael Taylor
  • Joseph Cook
  • Kim Rollins
  • Shawn Stoddard

Abstract

We investigate how normative appeals for water conservation drive behavioral change using a large-scale field experiment. Using a new social comparison that reduces the correlation between pre-treatment consumption and the difference from the peer group, we isolate the normative component of the message. The strength of the message, which we define as a household's performance relative to a peer group, is a primary driver of social comparisons' efficacy, consistent with social compar- isons imposing a moral cost on excess consumption. Relative to a nudge highlighting financial savings, social comparisons generate less persistent water savings and are more dependent on multiple mailers.

Suggested Citation

  • Daniel A. Brent & Corey Lott & Michael Taylor & Joseph Cook & Kim Rollins & Shawn Stoddard, 2017. "Are Normative Appeals Moral Taxes? Evidence from a Field Experiment on Water Conservation," Departmental Working Papers 2017-07, Department of Economics, Louisiana State University.
  • Handle: RePEc:lsu:lsuwpp:2017-07
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    File URL: https://www.lsu.edu/business/economics/files/workingpapers/pap17_07.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Dolan, Paul & Metcalfe, Robert, 2013. "Neighbors, knowledge, and nuggets: two natural field experiments on the role of incentives on energy conservation," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 51563, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    2. Ian Ayres & Sophie Raseman & Alice Shih, 2013. "Evidence from Two Large Field Experiments that Peer Comparison Feedback Can Reduce Residential Energy Usage," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 29(5), pages 992-1022, October.
    3. ITO Koichiro & IDA Takanori & TANAKA Makoto, 2015. "The Persistence of Moral Suasion and Economic Incentives: Field experimental evidence from energy demand," Discussion papers 15014, Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI).
    4. Wichman, Casey J., 2014. "Perceived price in residential water demand: Evidence from a natural experiment," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 107(PA), pages 308-323.
    5. Dora L. Costa & Matthew E. Kahn, 2013. "Energy Conservation “Nudges” And Environmentalist Ideology: Evidence From A Randomized Residential Electricity Field Experiment," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 11(3), pages 680-702, June.
    6. Alec Brandon & Paul J. Ferraro & John A. List & Robert D. Metcalfe & Michael K. Price & Florian Rundhammer, 2017. "Do The Effects of Social Nudges Persist? Theory and Evidence from 38 Natural Field Experiments," Experimental Economics Center Working Paper Series 2017-04, Experimental Economics Center, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University.
    7. Daniel A. Brent & Joseph H. Cook & Skylar Olsen, 2015. "Social Comparisons, Household Water Use, and Participation in Utility Conservation Programs: Evidence from Three Randomized Trials," Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, University of Chicago Press, vol. 2(4), pages 597-627.
    8. Paul J. Ferraro & Juan Jose Miranda & Michael K. Price, 2011. "The Persistence of Treatment Effects with Norm-Based Policy Instruments: Evidence from a Randomized Environmental Policy Experiment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(3), pages 318-322, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Cristina Bicchieri & Eugen Dimant, 2019. "Nudging with Care: The Risks and Benefits of Social Information," Discussion Papers 2019-02, The Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham.
    2. Brade, Raphael & Himmler, Oliver & Jäckle, Robert, 2018. "Normatively Framed Relative Performance Feedback – Field Experiment and Replication," MPRA Paper 88830, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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