Saturday, April 24, 2010

Mistakes Were Made, Noses Were Thumbed

Behavioral economics suggests that small 'nudges' can get economically significant changes in people's behavior. For instance, some California residents were informed (by Costa and Kahn of UCLA) of how much electricity the average person in their neighborhood consumes. The expectation was that people who consume more would realize they could/should reduce consumption.

In fact, Democrats who were already contributing to environmental causes, living near other Democrats who were more energy-thrifty than they were, reduced their energy consumption about 6 percent.

But the study highlights that Republicans acted just a little differently. Specifically, energy-conscious Republicans, who were already using less power than their neighbors, increased their energy use ... by 1%.

Now, the article asks why the nudge made Republicans "suddenly" become "energy hogs." Does a 1% change sound like energy hog to you? From someone who was already below the average? They apparently try to blame Rush for this and a Republican desire to thumb one's nose at the government.

The greater point is that nudging is difficult and leads to unpredictable results, particularly if you don't or can't account for all the psychological factors in play ... like saying, "Oh, I'm doing pretty well at this energy-conservation stuff. I guess I don't have to worry about leaving the lights on quite so much." (Hat tip: MR)

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