I will if you do

Research by Victoria University of Wellington PhD Psychology student Lauren Vinnell has found that social norms affect support for earthquake strengthening legislation.

Ms Vinnell’s study, supervised by Dr John McClure and Dr Taciano Milfont, used the context of recent New Zealand legislation requiring the strengthening of earthquake prone buildings. The aim was to see if using information about other people’s behaviour would influence Wellingtonians to support this legislation.

By telling participants that most Wellingtonians approved of the legislation, support for the legislation increased among the study sample. One group of participants were also told the rate at which buildings were being strengthened under the legislation, and Ms Vinnell found that those participants—in comparison to those who were not told—thought that the strengthening work was more possible to achieve in the time frame.

She says these findings show that we can influence what people think about something, such as government legislation, by telling them what other people are thinking and are doing in relation to it. “Typically, this type of influence, called social norms, has been used to change simpler, individual behaviours like littering or drinking,” says Ms Vinnell. “So as well as contributing to the theory by showing that this type of influence can be used for judgments and higher-level behaviours, it also provides a way for groups, like the government or councils, to increase public support for new initiatives,” she says.

Ms Vinnell is involved in the National Science Challenge: Resilience to Nature's Challenges— a government-funded, national, cross-disciplinary research programme aimed at helping New Zealand be resilient to the many natural hazards we face. As a member of Victoria’s ‘Culture Toolbox’ team, she is working to understand the thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes of New Zealanders in relation to hazards and disasters, and find ways to change that culture and improve resilience.

Read more about Ms Vinnell’s research