Dutch research: setting an example works

7th October 2010, Comments 0 comments


Seeing people display desirable behaviour helps others follow the example, a Dutch psychologist has found. Kees Keizer at the University of Groningen shows that the effectiveness of rules is influenced by the environment.

In his dissertation, which was published on Thursday, Mr Keizer cited examples such as a "Don't litter" sign which turned out to be ignored when there is a lot of graffiti and garbage around, while it was being obeyed when it was displayed on a clean street. The positive effect of a rule-obeying environment is not always related to cleanliness, Mr Keizer found. In one experiment, some banknotes were stuffed into a frontdoor letterbox, but left hanging out. The money was more often stolen when the house was in a littered street, but was left untouched in orderly, cleaner neighbourhoods.

The Groningen psychologist says that his findings can help public awareness campaigns. "These could be made more effective. Currently, TV spots often show unwanted behaviour with a voice-over saying 'Don't do this'. We now know that showing the desired behaviour instead has a positive effect."

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