Let’s talk about it

Let’s Talk About It: The impacts of interpersonal interactions on consumption choices 
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Typical behavioral studies of household energy use focus on single-informant surveys or interviews, or home-level kWh outcomes. While informative, these approaches miss the fact that in a typical home, several individuals interact with one another to ultimately influence the energy that is consumed as well as how it is consumed. This methodological mismatch is particularly relevant to negotiations of thermal comfort, as individuals may have vastly different preferences, but only one home thermostat to satisfy these heterogeneous needs. One potential reason that people manually deviate from thermostat programs may be interpersonal negotiations over thermal comfort. The objective of this research is to characterize social interactions concerning thermal comfort, energy use, and sustainability-related topics among occupants of shared residential spaces, and to investigate the role of such interactions on thermostat adjustments and energy use behaviors.

Methods: In Study 1, we recruited more than 300 residents of the greater Columbus region to participate in a 2-week diary study in which they provided daily reports of within-household social interactions around energy use as well as actions taken. In Study 2, we recruited dyads (roommates) residing in university housing at Oberlin College, and tested whether those who negotiated a “sustainability” agreement subsequently used less energy and water than those who did not negotiate such an agreement.  Study 3 is an in-lab experiment testing how the verbally stated values of one’s conversation partner influence one’s support for a plant-based foods policy. Study 4 is an online replication of Study 3, except it uses written instead of verbally stated values. Study 5 is an additional lab experiment that evaluates the unique contribution of conversation, above and beyond a joint commitment, on conversation partner’s support for a plant-based foods policy.

Significance: Understanding how people interact around joint environmental decisions is critical for more accurately modeling the behavioral contributions to sustainability, such as energy use in homes, as well refining interventions to promote more sustainable behavior.

Project Phase: Study 1 data collection complete with published manuscript. Studies 2-5 data collection complete, manuscript in preparation.

Collaborators: Dr. Grant Donnelly (OSU Fisher), Oberlin College Office of Residential Education Housing

Funding acknowledgement: National Science Foundation Grant Number 1522054 as part of NSF CompSustNet: Expanding the Horizons of Computational Sustainability provides partial support for Studies 1-5.

*This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1522054. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.