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Conserving Energy by Inducing People to Drive Less

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Volume 41, Number 1, p.106-118 (2011)



We attempted to reduce college students' use of their cars with an online intervention. Every other day for 2 weeks, students reported the number of miles they had avoided driving. In a 2 ◊ 2 design, participants received feedback about pollution avoided (e.g., CO2 saved), financial feedback (e.g., gas money saved), or no feedback. A control group did not monitor their driving. Participants in all Web conditions reported driving less than the no-Web control group. In addition, Web participants who received both kinds of feedback reported driving less than did those who received one kind or none. We discuss implications for research on energy conservation and offer an online feedback form to help readers reduce their own driving. One of the best ways to address global warming is to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels. Such efforts are particularly important in the United States, given that Americans consume 22.5% of the world's energy while comprising only 4.6% of the world's population (Energy Information Administration, 2006). A substantial proportion of that energy is used to power automobiles; there are over 240 million registered vehicles in the U.S., which is more than one vehicle per licensed driver (U.S. Census Bureau, n.d.). Convincing Americans to drive less could thus have a significant impact on energy conservation and global warming. The recent rise in gas prices has convinced some Americans to use public transportation or to buy more fuel-efficient cars (Mouawad & Navarro, 2008), and has resulted in the first large-scale decrease in U.S. highway driving in decades (Federal Highway Administration, 2008). Nonetheless, many people still endure long solo commutes to work, punctuated by traffic jams of increasing severity, instead of carpooling or taking public transportation. This problem seems an ideal opportunity to apply social psychology's findings in persuasion and social cognition to reduce energy consumption (Gonzales, Aronson, & Costanzo, 1988). In the present study, we designed and tested an intervention to try to get college students to reduce the use of their cars.