Tiefenbeck, V. et al. Overcoming salience bias: How real-time feedback fosters resource conservation


Verena Tiefenbeck, Lorenz Goette, Kathrin Degen, Vojkan Tasic, Elgar Fleisch, Rafael Lalive & Thorsten Staake


Management Science, online publication

Inattention and imperfect information bias behavior toward the salient and immediately visible. This distortion creates costs for individuals, the organizations in which they work, and society at large. The authors show that an effective way to overcome this bias is by making the implications of one’s behavior salient in real time, while individuals can directly adapt. In a large-scale field experiment, participants were given real-time feedback on the resource consumption of a daily, energy-intensive activity (showering). The authors find that real-time feedback reduced resource consumption for the target behavior by 22 percent. At the household level, this led to much larger conservation gains in absolute terms than conventional policy interventions that provide aggregate feedback on resource use. High baseline users displayed a larger conservation effect, in line with the notion that real-time feedback helps eliminate “slack” in resource use. The approach is cost effective, is technically applicable to the vast majority of households, and generated savings of 1.2 kWh per day and household, which exceeds the average energy use for lighting. The intervention also shows how digitalization in our everyday lives makes information available that can help individuals overcome salience bias and act more in line with their preferences.

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