Norm Dynamics as Agents of Urban Social Change and Environmental Sustainability: Investigating Cross-Cultural Differences and Longevity of Intervention

2018 Faculty Research Award

Award Period: 2018-2020

Elke Weber, the Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment and professor of psychology and public affairs, and Simon Levin, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, are leading a panel study of how campaigns intended to change people’s behaviors related to the environment uphold over time and across cultures. Social and behavioral changes are essential to addressing climate change and other environmental challenges. Existing research, including by Weber and Levin, has shown that people respond to “institutional signals” — such as from government or the private sector — that seem to change social norms of environmentally conscious behavior. Because of their population density, urban areas are especially prone to the influence and spread of signal-induced behavior changes.

This project will follow 1,000 urban residents in the United States, Italy and India for the better part of a year. Participants will be given either institutional signals from an international body such as the United Nations, or no signal. Monthly surveys will assess how each person’s attitudes, perceived social norms, and behavior (such as daily actions, support of political petitions or ballot propositions, and revealed preferences in economic games) develop in response to these perceived changes in social norms. Results from this project will be used to develop a larger project on altering environmental behavior across cultures.

Educational Impacts

The researchers will hire and train undergraduate research assistants to conduct the cultural studies during the first year. Weber also will offer two internships for summer 2019 through the Andlinger Center. Interns will be trained in the design and execution of empirical cross-cultural research studies and data analysis using R software, as well as the writing of research reports, scientific papers and their use as case studies in undergraduate and graduate-level courses. Weber, Levin and co-senior researcher Valentina Bosetti, a professor of economics at Bocconi University in Italy, will work with Princeton undergraduate and graduate students to develop “mini case studies” related to using social norms to motivate social change in different cultural settings. The studies will be based on the project’s results and be used in classes and made available to other instructors.

Participating Department

Collaborating Institutions


Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment, Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs
James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Research Associates