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Infrastructure Resilience Conference 2018

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On the Resilience of Cooperative Behaviour and Social Norms and Their Role for a More Sustainable Energy Demand

In decisions characterised by a social dilemma – that is when the interest of the individual and that of society diverge – it is important to understand the conditions under which people are willing to sacrifice part of their welfare for the preservation of common resources. Energy conservation is a typical example of such prosocial behaviour. In fact, individual welfare is reduced with lower energy consumption, but the positive externalities so generated (e.g. reduced CO2 emissions) increase the welfare of society as a whole.

Empirical research has provided extensive support on the effectiveness of social norms in promoting prosocial behaviour – households’ energy conservation in particular. However, the question of how cooperation and social norms are affected by changes in systemic conditions due to an exogenous shock is still open. During such extreme events (e.g. a particularly hot summer), in order to limit the pressure on energy infrastructures due to increased demand, it is important to avoid a total breakdown in energy conservation efforts by private households and the emergence of antisocial habits and norms that might survive the end of the crisis. Our goal is to make energy consumption behaviour more resilient – that is able to sustainably adapt to changes in the availability of resources and other systemic conditions.

To investigate these processes, we are conducting a Public Good laboratory experiment on a sample of 420 students of the National University of Singapore. To introduce an exogenous shock, we manipulate the efficiency of the public good (i.e. the per capita return from each dollar collectively invested in the public good), thus varying the participants’ incentives to behave cooperatively.

This investigation will allow us to study how prosocial behaviour and social norms are affected by changes in the incentive structure due to exogenous shocks and to derive policy recommendations to avoid an uncontrolled increase in energy consumption during a crisis.

Martina Cecchini
Future Resilient Systems

Jan Schmitz
ETH Zürich

Renate Schubert
ETH Zürich


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