Unraveling the 'Social' in Social Norms: The Conditioning Effect of User Connectivity
42 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2017
Date Written: March 21, 2017
Social influence in the form of social norms has been shown to be a powerful means to motivate behavior change, and is widely used to promote desirable behaviors such as a healthy life style. While abundant empirical evidence supports the average efficacy of social norms, there are few studies examining how the effects of social norms are differentially manifest across individuals. In today’s socially connected digital world, we conjecture that the effects of social norms are conditional on one’s digital social ties, and provide new empirical evidence from a randomized field experiment. Our field experiment included more than 7,000 individuals observed for a two-month period on an online physical activity community. We studied the effect of social norms on users’ goal setting and goal attainment behavior. We find that while social influence increases the rate of goal setting, strikingly, we also observe an undesirable effect in that such influence leads to lower rates of goal attainment. Our examination of heterogeneous treatment effects shows that individuals with higher levels of social connectivity are the most susceptible to a social norms message. Further analysis suggests that social norms motivate these runners with high social connectivity to set up a goal beyond their own capabilities, resulting in low goal attainment. Our findings have important implications for the design of interventions in the context of mobile health technologies.
Keywords: Social norms, social connections, goal setting, goal attainment, goal setting theory, heterogeneous treatment effect
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