It seems that when we give people feedback on just about any task, from ranging anti-aircraft artillery to reducing household energy use, our performance improves.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that this fact is a surprise. 2011 is the 30th anniversary of a study that proves we conserve more energy if we get feedback on how much energy we’re using. It’s all there in Encouraging Residential Energy Conservation Through Feedback.
The authors of this paper wondered if feedback that compared homeowners to other, similar homeowners would be as effective. Thirty years on, the answer is “yes.”
The reasons for that are well, irrational. It turns out that we make decisions based on emotion. All those theories about people as rational actors in the marketplace? Wrong. How we feel makes us skew the value of a fact compared to its absolute value. If reading this makes you angry, don’t worry. Your reaction is normal. When people are shown that their emotions make them play fast and loose with the facts they get upset.
Anyway, if you’re still with me, envy is that hollow, gnawing-in-the-gut feeling we get when our neighbor brings home a shiny new car, or a barbeque, or a baby.
It seems that when we find out we’re using more energy than our our neighbors we cut back to use just a little less than they do. Is that envy at work? Maybe it’s some inverted, dark envy? Who cares? It works.
So, to boost participation in energy-saving rebate programs let folks know how their household energy use compares to the neighbors’.