Opinion: Publicize Pitching In

When problems arise nowadays, the greatest question is not usually why the issue occurred, but rather how it may be handled and solved. In our materialistic world, attempts to ameliorate problems oftentimes involve managing material costs and benefits--cash, cheap souvenirs, food, or the like. However, even though material costs and benefits are frequently used to promote cooperation and solutions, are they the most effective way?

Apparently not, says the journal Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences. By examining a series of experiments that sought to promote cooperation, researchers found that manipulating material costs and benefits in the attempt to find solutions is greatly unsuccessful.

Take the case of the California drought, for example. In the attempt to save water, governor Jerry Brown issued mandatory water reductions. Conserving water entails cooperation on a large scale; Individuals must endure greater personal costs for the benefit of society.

In California, this greater personal cost translates into higher water prices, with the benefit being less water consumed. However, according to this New York Times article, there has been little positive change when it comes to conserving water.

“Estimates suggest that a 10 percent increase in price would result in reductions in water use of 2 to 4 percent.” Clearly, this unresponsiveness to a change in price does not fulfill the state’s needs when it comes to water conservation.

Though this material costs and benefits approach has proved to be ineffective in California’s case, as well as many other cases, it is no reason to give up on promoting cooperation altogether. Another approach, one involving social concerns, may be the answer to the cooperation conundrum.

As it turns out, the benefits of appealing to social concerns, rather than material benefits, are much more appealing to the masses. This is easy to understand given one reason: people value their public image.

“When your choices are observable by others, it makes it possible for good actions to benefit your reputation." Most of us possess a profound desire for those we know to think highly of us. So, what better way to promote cooperation than by social intervention?

Whether it is conscious or subconscious, the main reason we are often motivated to cooperate is because it boosts our image. With this in mind, it is clear to see why social interventions may be successful: We place more value on the opinions others hold than on material incentives.

Given the situation in California, examples of this cooperation approach may be seen in a couple ways. WaterSmart Software, a California firm, has adopted the social intervention approach by allowing “homeowners to compare their water use to their neighbors’.” When information is public, people wish for it to be positive. California could also get citizens to publicly pledge to reduce their water consumption, adding accountability to the equation.

The solution of social intervention may not just be used in solely the case of the California water shortage; this approach may be exercised in everyday issues--whether they be personal, work-related, or school-related. Either way, the solution to the pitching in problem is publicity.

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Emma Powers