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Negative social proofing (related to previous post)

So what?

I had a day to read that article and think about the previous posting on The Magnetic middle and I see the solution is alot simpler than I was thinking… but first…

The science

Example: During the 1980’s ‘The Petrified Forest’ in the USA suffered an incredible amount of theft of its ‘petrified wood’. Understandably they wanted to influence people out of this behaviour to save the forest. So they put in place a number of signs warning people not to steal petrified wood, and detailed how much was stolen each year! (14 ton !! WOW)

This approach is what they call ‘negative social proof’, So what happened? Well what happened as a result of the signage was more theft than the year before! well I think you can understand this took all the park staff by surprise, so they devised an experiment which was that they put signs asking people not to steal in one half of the park and no signs in the other half! what they found was where the signs were located the signs increased theft, in other words where negative ‘negative social proofing’ is used it served not as a deterrent but more as a rallying cry for ‘magnetic middle’ and seemed to encourage normal honest people to steal more than if they were not told anything?…

The solution
OK if we are even going to accept that this negative social proofing has an effect on the magnetic middle then how do we counter this apparent anomaly? … It turns out that the answer is simpler than I imagined, Just focus on the prevalence of the positive rather than on the social undesirability of the behaviour you are hoping to discourage. So in this example they simply changed the signs from the negative example signs to messages which highlighted that only a small % of the people stole the wood from the park!  result: The wood theft dropped dramatically!!

Conclusion

Given the last two posts I am really surprised and shocked that a simple sign in a park or a letter through the door can influence their behaviour to do something socially negative or even in the Park example ‘illegal’ !! I am equally just as dismayed that this can be simply fixed with the way the messages are written!

Until the next time – Be Great – N –

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