Political Behavior

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 1–20 | Cite as

A Light Bulb Goes On: Norms, Rhetoric, and Actions for the Public Good

Original Paper


This paper explores whether invoking social norms, in the context of a persuasive appeal, affects individuals’ willingness to take action for the public good. The framework I develop brings together a host of factors treated as distinct in past work, including attitudes, rhetoric, and social norms. I test predictions from this framework in an experiment that focuses on a particularly important behavior—actions regarding the consumption of energy. I find that highlighting norms in the context of an appeal for energy conservation increases the importance individuals’ associate with these actions, intentions to conserve energy, and actual behavior on a light-bulb purchasing decision. The findings have implications more generally for understanding when individuals take actions that promote the public good.


Social norms Persuasive appeals Collective action Energy conservation 



I thank Dennis Chong, Fay Lomax Cook, James N. Druckman, Jennifer Jerit, Martin Johnson, Peter Loewen, Sean Richey, and Kim Mannemar Sonderskon for comments on this manuscript. I thank Lindsey Herbel and Veronica Luckow for research assistance. The research was supported by a Graduate Research Grant from Northwestern University.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA

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