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Could Peer Pressure Save the World?

Many of our customers call in saying that their neighbour has got solar panels, so they thought they would get a quote too. Just how strong is this effect? If a house gets solar panels, then the probability that another house on the same street will get solar panels is doubled. Indeed, for every 1% rise in solar panel installations in a postcode, the time for the next installation within that postcode falls by 1%. Why does this happen?

Peer pressure is a well-studied phenomenon – humans like to be part of a group, and not many of us like to be the person to go out on a limb. It’s fairly random, but take the example of hotels. Much of the running cost of hotels is tied into their laundry bill; they really want people to re-use their towels to cut these costs. However, their guests don’t care. A recent study has been conducted into how to prevent people using towels! Half of the rooms of a hotel had a sign “Help Save The Environment” next to their towels, whereas the other half of the rooms had a sign saying “Join Your Fellow Guests In Helping To Save The Environment”. The latter lead to a 25% increase in towel recycling.

Alcohol is a typical example of something which is heavily influenced by peer pressure. Not only does binge drinking most often occur in groups rather than individuals, but a 1980s study went so far as to show that levels of drinking in students were related to what they believed other people’s consumption to be. This lead to a publicity campaign at the Northern Illinois University, delivering the message that students actually had fewer than 5 drinks on average when they went to a party. What was the result? By 1999, incidents of heavy drinking at the same University had fallen by 44%. Similar campaigns can now be found targeting safe sex, wearing seat belts and smoking.

There can be some amazing effects of peer pressure too – studies have found that people can withstand pain better if they can see someone in the same situation with calm facial expressions. Weight loss as part of a group commitment is known to be several times more effective. Groups of colleagues in an office are much more likely to give money if someone comes in collecting it that random individuals stopped in the street. Can environmental change be the next great thing through a contagious effect of solar panels?

Thanks to The Ottowa Sun, New York times, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, University of Chicago Medical Center, University of Notre Dame,, and the Wall Street Journal for facts and figures.