Columbia University researcher Shahzeen Attari conducted a survey of 505 Americans in 427 different zip codes, and 34 states, about energy conservation. Her study indicated that the sample group was not aware of the most effective measures they could take to save energy. Turning lights off was selected as the best choice by the survey participants. Options such as purchasing fuel efficient cars, energy conserving appliances and weatherizing homes, which actually do make an impact, were not popular with the participants. Attari said that many people in the study seemed to believe in taking steps like turning off lights or unplugging cell phone chargers. 2.8 percent of the participants said that sleeping more and relaxing more would reduce their energy consumption (Table 1, Page 2).
The study group overlooked other consumer options such as switching from central air conditioning to single room air conditioners.
One of the study’s conclusions brought up prevailing energy misconceptions, “So long as people lack easy access to accurate information about relative effectiveness, they may continue to believe they are doing their part to reduce energy use when they engage in low-effort, low-impact actions instead of focusing on changes that would make a bigger difference.”
One of more surprising findings of the study was that, “participants who reported engaging in a greater number of pro-environmental energy-related behaviors had less accurate perceptions” (Page 3, bottom).
Another important point regarding single action bias was highlighted in the study. When people have taken one or two actions they believe reduce energy consumption, they don’t pursue any others. Attari commented on the single action bias, “[I]f we’re going to do just one or two things, we should focus on the big energy-saving behaviors. People are still not aware of what the big savers are.”
The median age of the survey group was 31. Eighty-four percent had high school diplomas, and 41 percent had bachelor’s degrees. Forty-seven percent self-identified as liberals, 31 percent as moderates and 22 percent as conservatives. Thirty-seven percent said they are environmentalists.
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