Credibility-enhancing displays promote the provision of non-normative public goods.


Journal Article

Promoting the adoption of public goods that are not yet widely accepted is particularly challenging. This is because most tools for increasing cooperation-such as reputation concerns1 and information about social norms2-are typically effective only for behaviours that are commonly practiced, or at least generally agreed upon as being desirable. Here we examine how advocates can successfully promote non-normative (that is, rare or unpopular) public goods. We do so by applying the cultural evolutionary theory of credibility-enhancing displays3, which argues that beliefs are spread more effectively by actions than by words alone-because actions provide information about the actor's true beliefs. Based on this logic, people who themselves engage in a given behaviour will be more effective advocates for that behaviour than people who merely extol its virtues-specifically because engaging in a behaviour credibly signals a belief in its value. As predicted, a field study of a programme that promotes residential solar panel installation in 58 towns in the United States-comprising 1.4 million residents in total-found that community organizers who themselves installed through the programme recruited 62.8% more residents to install solar panels than community organizers who did not. This effect was replicated in three pre-registered randomized survey experiments (total n = 1,805). These experiments also support the theoretical prediction that this effect is specifically driven by subjects' beliefs about what the community organizer believes about solar panels (that is, second-order beliefs), and demonstrate generalizability to four other highly non-normative behaviours. Our findings shed light on how to spread non-normative prosocial behaviours, offer an empirical demonstration of credibility-enhancing displays and have substantial implications for practitioners and policy-makers.

Full Text

Cited Authors

  • Kraft-Todd, GT; Bollinger, B; Gillingham, K; Lamp, S; Rand, DG

Published Date

  • November 2018

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 563 / 7730

Start / End Page

  • 245 - 248

PubMed ID

  • 30356217

Pubmed Central ID

  • 30356217

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1476-4687

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0028-0836

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1038/s41586-018-0647-4


  • eng