How Does Communication Play a Role in Recycling Bin Contamination?

Clinical Validation and Cognitive Elaboration: Signs That Encourage Sustained Recycling

Authors: Carol Werner, Robert Stoll, Paul Birch and Paul H. White (2010) 

Background/Summary: Three field experiments relevant to both communication and psychology aimed to track the level of influence of persuasive messages on aluminum can recycling . The theory was signs that validated student’s complaints and issues that aluminum can recycling was inconvenient, but persuaded them to recycle anyway (called validate-per-suade) were expected to “reduce reactance, increase scrutiny and cognitive elaboration ad result in longer term behavior change”.  This was done at the university of Utah and results were marked based on quantitative observations (number of cans recycled before and after experiments ) and qualitatively (peoples attitudes towards recycling with and without the signs).

Method: A team of professors and graduate students carried out three experiments. The first experiment was theoretical background. It evaluated two kinds of persuasive messages, one designed to receptivity of the message and the other to increase persuasive impact by counter arguing against the students complaints or recycling.  The second experiment used “factorial design” (no-yes questions) with a type or persuasive message. The third experiment measured the level of scrutiny and importance validation played on a person for a particular sign.  Each experiment was then looked over and the results were analyzed. The researchers took the different results and figured out the most productive way to change the behavior or people to a more pro-recycling type.

Results: There were several results from the study. Some of them include

  • Effective signs can encourage recycling despite inconvenience, therefore lowering the cost of recycling programs
  • Validation appeared to have the best effect with the signs. Validation lead to thoughts such as, “It is more important to recycle then worry about the inconvenience” by individuals.
  • Messages needed to be inherently persuasive and appropriate for the situation. This can link the gap between behaviors and attitudes for the long term positive effects of recycling for someone
  • Signs are more effective where a person’s attitude started at an either neutral, or more positive view towards recycling. If someone started out hating recycling, behavior change is much harder.

Recommendation: Create signs around your campus that touch on the inconvenience people go through in order to recycle, but more importantly the benefit that they and the world get from it. This will reinforce their habits and allow for long term behavior change or reinforcement.

Effect of Message Type on Recycling Amount

Figure 1: The effect of different types of messages on % of aluminum can recycled.

The Effects of Message Framing on Response to Environment Communications

Author: Joel Davis (1995)

Background/Summary: This article discusses how framing can influence whether messages  produce a change in  behavior or not. Using messages concerning recycling the experiment tested whether focusing on gains and losses, future and current effects, and using less and doing  (recycling)  more.

Methods: The experiment tested the effects of framing in terms of gains and losses future and current effects and recycling more while wasting less. Paragraphes were introduced to a convenience sample framing the situation with a different idea in each paragraph.

Results: The outcomes of gain vs loss, present vs future, and using less vs doing more were all significantly different only in the activity condition.

Recommendations: This experiment emphasises the need for not only specific framing, but targeting smaller groups with relatively similar values in order to make framing more effective. Targeting smaller groups allows for developing messages that can specifically address the concerns of the group.

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The content on this page is developed by students enrolled in Environ 211 and does not represent the official position of the University of Michigan.