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The interaction of descriptive and injunctive social norms in promoting energy conservation


Behavioural interventions that leverage social norms are widely used to foster energy conservation. For instance, home energy reports combine information on others’ behaviour (descriptive feedback) and approval for norm compliant behaviour (injunctive feedback). In a randomized controlled trial, we investigated how descriptive and injunctive feedbacks interact to affect electricity use, and evaluate the effects of additional normative feedback presented in the form of descriptive or injunctive energy conservation norm primes. We found that consistent descriptive and injunctive feedback boosts the effectiveness of social information in inducing energy conservation. When descriptive and injunctive feedback are in conflict, conservation behaviour is a function of the relative strength of the two types of feedback. Additional normative feedback produces smaller gains when it reinforces existing information of the same type. These results suggest complementarities between different types of normative messages rather than superiority of any one kind of feedback.

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Fig. 1: Hypothesized impact of injunctive and descriptive feedbacks in social information messages.
Fig. 2: Home Energy Report.
Fig. 3: Impact of the injunctive feedback on electricity usage.
Fig. 4: Heterogeneous impact of the normative primes at different injunctive feedback cutoffs.
Fig. 5: Prime impact by up- and downgrades in the injunctive feedback category.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are proprietary data of the energy company and cannot be shared publicly. To inquire about access to the proprietary data, please contact M.T.

Code availability

The replication code is available on Open Science Framework at


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The research leading to these results received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Program (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC grant agreement no. 336155—project COBHAM, ‘The role of consumer behaviour and heterogeneity in the integrated assessment of energy and climate policies’.

Author information




J.B., C.C., G.D. and M.T. conceived and designed the experiments. J.B. analysed the data. J.B. and G.D. contributed the analysis tools. J.B., C.C., G.D. and M.T. wrote the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Giovanna d’Adda.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Methods, Notes 1–6, Figs. 1 and 2 and Tables 1–18.

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Bonan, J., Cattaneo, C., d’Adda, G. et al. The interaction of descriptive and injunctive social norms in promoting energy conservation. Nat Energy 5, 900–909 (2020).

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