Want a Cleaner? Show You Care

If you saw someone inadvertently drop a lot of oranges on the sidewalk, do you help pick up them? A recent study shows that 40 percent of passersby would. What’s amazing, however, is that for passersby who’d witnessed the act of positive social behavior happening nearby — like somebody crossing debris in the road — before the oranges’ dropping, that percentage more than doubled, to 82 percent of people stopping to help.

Good social behavior spreads, whether we realize it is impacting us or not. The findings, published by Kees Keizer, a behavior scientist and professor at the University of Groningen, Netherlands, confirm the belief that putting a good example can positively influence others. But this study ventures even further to show that when we observe others caring about culture, we wind up caring, too.

This concept has broad applications, but in our own neighborhoods is a good starting place. Want a quieter road? Prove your neighbors that you care about keeping it clean and secure; they may get the message and follow suit. “demonstrating that people care for criteria seemingly has a large influence on other people in the neighborhood functioning as well,” Keizer states.

Mitchell Wall Architecture & Design

I understand what you are thinking. How could one individual impact a complete neighborhood? Think back to this road sweeper from the orange experimentation. “That 1 person sweeping the pavement had enormous influence. The beauty is that it is 1 person doing this and giving an example. So you have an influence. And that should be a favorable message,” Keizer states.

He’s not the only person who’s picked up about the reality that we can affect others through our behavior. Opower is a software firm that gathers data to help homeowners save money and energy through their utilities. It’s also running the largest behavioral science program in the world, assessing usefulness data from 18 million homes globally. It uses that information to influence people to use less energy. How does Opower do it? For starters, the company tells people when their neighbors are using less electricity than they are.

The idea is based on research done by Robert Cialdini, a professor, who demonstrates that neighbor comparison effectively motivates people to save energy. The behavioral science term for this kind of comparison is “peer proof” “it is a matter of understanding what your area is doing and setting that a normal interior pressure to do what your peers are doing,” says Roderick Morris, senior vice president of marketing and operations at Opower; he predicts Opower a behavioral science firm.

So far the firm has saved users $320 million. “In 2013 we saved enough power to take the town of Sacramento off the grid for a calendar year,” Morris says.

How to Use Behavioral Science to Better Your Own Neighborhood

Let your neighbors know you care. If your neighbors see that you care, they’re more inclined to care as well. That means don’t hide your activities from public view. The more your activities are on display, the better. Here a homeowner has created corrugated metal bins for trash and recycling to keep the road clean. The extra effort signals to neighbors the homeowner cares about the overall look of the road, a behavior that’s very likely to be replicated.


Ever wonder why recycling bins are usually brightly colored? It’s actually a sign to others that you are being a fantastic neighbor, and hopefully others will follow. “In part it is simple for folks to find that their neighbors are placing them in the road,” Morris says. “it is a normative effect. And, emotionally, they don’t wish to differ from the standard.”

Pick up litter. There is just something about clutter which promotes disorder. As you walk through your neighborhood or on your road, make a point to pick up crap whenever possible. It’s about making other people think of those norms and rules as important. “If you know that all of your neighbors think that it’s important to have a clean road, it is going to be more difficult to litter in that environment,” Keizer states. “So communication we care about this is essential.”

Organize a street-cleaning day. Get your neighbors included. Even if everybody doesn’t participate, the simple fact that people understand their neighbors care about having a clean road can affect their behavior.

Brooks Ballard

Pick up your toys. Parents pick up after their children to set a fantastic example. They show children how to do it and encourage them to do it, too. The same is applicable for adults. If you want a wonderful street, begin to your own home. Maintain your yard clear of debris and leaves, and keep things mowed and trimmed. Do not leave your garbage cans out for long stretches of time. “The cleaning-up component makes others not transgress too readily,” Keizer states.

Erase graffiti in tropical areas. Nobody wants to be the neighborhood grouch. After all, it is just some innocent children writing on the neighborhood mailbox, right? Well, yes and no. Keizer found that things like graffiti have a spreading impact on social standards.

Keizer has also published a set of research in the journal Science, showing the negative side effects of graffiti on walls and unreturned shopping carts. Not only did people replicate the behavior, but there was a spreading part, too. “People are more likely to graffiti when there’s graffiti there, but also litter and be more inclined to steal,” he states. “This implies that in case you maintain your road clean and neat, you could help in a way reduce different transgressions as well.”

You may be considering that European neighborhoods are significantly different from American people. But in reality, at the origin of it, we are all the same. “Our behavioral science works exactly the same way in Europe and Asia, exactly the same as in North America,” Morris says. “It’s the same no matter what. Culture, customs and language are all layered on top of exactly the same portion of the brain we discuss, which drives a great deal of our decisions.”

Have a team mentality. We often live in our own little bubbles. Because of this, we may not understand if we are causing a problem with our neighbors. By meeting neighbors regularly to talk about issues, people are more inclined to think about the group as a whole than in relation to individuals.

Perhaps you did not realize how disappointed your neighbors were that 1 tree branch hanging out of your yard that dropped berries onto the sidewalk and cars. After hearing this concern, you may think about trimming the tree. Perhaps the neighbors could also help in pitch to pay for it. This could reinforce a group mentality for future behavior in your area. “The more you believe a certain behavior is common or approved of, the more likely other people would pick it up,” Keizer states.

More about neighborhoods:
15 Ways To Create Your Neighborhood Better
6 Tips for Teaching Your Kids to Be Good Neighbors
How to Get Along With the Neighbors — and Live Happier at Home

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