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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The rise and fall of attitudes : longitudinal comparisons with economic motive using data from a field experiment Warriner, G. Keith


Littering, giving blood, conserving energy, voter registration and wearing seatbelts serve as examples of public behaviours which governments have attempted to alter. Whether it be for purposes of controlling costs, helping other citizens, or protecting the environment, altering behavioural patterns which operate against the general well-being of society has become big business. A plethora of techniques have been employed in efforts to sway the activity patterns of people. While various approaches have been undertaken, the research focuses upon two traditions. First, an economic or behavioural approach is employed where behavioural changes are believed to be influenced most effectively by material rewards. Second, cognitive or attitudinal approaches stress that attitudes play an operative role in effecting behavioural change. Using shifts in daily patterns of energy use as an example of social behaviour, the research reported here contrasts cognitive and economic models. While the two approaches can be complementary, it also may be that under certain conditions one or the other model is most successful. Where the two models do contrast is in the predictions made about what behavioural change will result after the removal of economic incentives. Data from a large field-experiment using a multi-stage probability sample of nearly 700 Wisconsin households is analysed to examine the influence of cognitive and behavioural models of time-of-day energy usage. The objective of the experiment was to determine whether economic stimuli could be used to reduce peoples' use of peak-time energy consumption. Behavioural change in energy consumption patterns was measured by in-house meters which recorded all usage for a year prior to the introduction of special time-of-day rates; for three years while the rates were in effect; and for a sub-sample of households, the summer after the rates ended. In addition, three waves of survey data from mailed questionnaires administered prior to, during, and following the experiment allow monitoring of the development and change in attitude toward time-of-day pricing of electricity, and its influence on behaviour. In contrast to earlier published work, this analysis suggests only a minimal, independent impact of attitude on behavioural change under time-of-day electricity rates. At the conclusion of the experiment, and in the absence of any further financial rewards, households, by and large, returned to former consumption levels. Concomitant changes in attitudinal commitment occurred as well. Nevertheless, a subset of households, constituting some twenty percent of the original sample, remained highly committed to peak electricity reductions and, to a degree, maintained their prior conserving behaviours without further financial reward. Several analyses were performed in an attempt to reconcile the contradictory nature of the current findings with those of earlier research. It is argued that the apparent influence of attitude in affecting behaviour at the time the pricing incentive was in effect was exaggerated by householders substituting an attitudinal for a financial motive. Further, the influence of price on attitude formation may have been underestimated due to the curvilinear relation of price with behaviour. Evidence in support of each of these hypotheses is provided. It is concluded that, in combination with price, attitude is important to maintaining behavioural change, but that its independent influence, in this instance, is minor. At the same time, the effect of price appears less based on the size of the pricing incentive, than serving as an informational source signalling appropriate action, irrespective of the absolute financial reward. Finally, the thesis concludes with some speculations on the lessons from this experiment for other attempts to alter behavioural patterns.

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