In February, the website Solar Love reported on research conducted at Yale University and the University of Connecticut that found peer influence could be more important than income level in influencing a homeowner’s decision to purchase a home solar power system.
Of course, peer influence means the impact of a neighbor having a solar power system, and being a positive example to someone living nearby who does not own one. Chatting with a neighbor over a fence or a cup of tea on a weekend afternoon is obviously far more of a social bond than having a phone call from a salesperson or interaction with a door-to-door canvasser.
University of Vermont researchers found a similar effect for energy and water conservation.
Specifically, controlling for an array of background and environmental concern variables, social evenings spent with neighbors are significantly tied in our models to environmentally friendly practices such as household energy and water conservation, driving less, and buying chemical-free produce. We hypothesize that neighborly sharing of information and possibly material resources is a factor in this relationship.
Social bonding is a part of culture transmission in general. If you tell a neighbor about a new book you are reading, later the neighbor might ask to borrow it, and if it is read, the information in the book will also be transferred to the neighbor in some capacity. The same could be said for other products like new cars or BBQ grills. The phrase “Keeping up with the Jones” is a common one, and speaks to a similar effect.
On this more general level of social bonding, other research has found:
Touch can even have economic effects, promoting trust and generosity. When psychologist Robert Kurzban had participants play the “prisoner’s dilemma” game, in which they could choose either to cooperate or compete with a partner for a limited amount of money, an experimenter gently touched some of the participants as they were starting to play the game—just a quick pat on the back. But it made a big difference: Those who were touched were much more likely to cooperate and share with their partner.
The good news is that energy and water conservation are not excluded from transmission through social bonding. Perhaps it is unsurprising they are transferred like any other part of culture.