According to this month’s Scientific American, academics at UCLA have found that peer pressure does a better job of motivating people to conserve resources than do standard environmental messages. In an experiment, researchers presented two different signs to hotel guests: one had a typical conservation message and the other told guests that most of their fellow travelers had reused towels. The study found that the social-norm message worked 25% better than the generic environmental message in convincing guests to reuse their towels. It also found that telling guests that those who had stayed in same room had reused their towels worked even better than saying that other guests at the same hotel had done so.
Crowd motivation seemed at work yesterday as well. According to The New York Times, recent studies attribute our drive to cast a ballot to the desire to see ourselves as the kind of people who vote. In other words, we vote to maintain our moral self-image. This desire seemingly operates internally and externally. We vote because we want to feel good ourselves and because we want others to feel good about us too. Hence, so many kept on their “I Voted!” stickers throughout the day. As the UCLA study suggests, those “I Voted!” stickers likely motivated others to head to the polls, especially if they were worn by colleagues and friends. Although the heavy turn out was no doubt due to the historic nature of the race–an African American candidate (now President elect)–and the unbelievably high stakes given our economy and the war, it also created a contagion of the greatest kind, one that was red, white, and blue.