Episode 108: Can knowing how much energy my neighbor uses affect my energy use?

On this week’s Energy Bite, Gabrielle Wong-Parodi, a scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, discusses how “keeping up with the Joneses” might help us modify our energy use.



Learn more

Alcott, Hunt., “Social Norms and Energy Conservation,” Journal of Public Economics 95 (2011) 1082–1095.

Belsie, Laura. “Peer Comparisons Reduce Energy Use,” National Bureau of Economic Research.

Social Comparison Theory from Psychology Today.

The EPA’s EnergyStar Home Energy Yardstick


HOST: You’ve heard the phrase “keeping up with the Jonses”. Can knowing how much energy my neighbor uses affect my energy use? On this week’s EnergyBite, Gabrielle Wong-Parodi, a scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

GABRIELLE WONG-PARODI: The formal term for “keeping up with the Joneses” is social comparison. That is, we are driven to determine our personal worth by comparing ourselves with others.

HOST: How does this apply to energy?

GABRIELLE WONG-PARODI: Researchers looked at several utility’s programs that sent information to their customers comparing that customer’s electricity use to that of their neighbors. They found that consumers decreased their electricity consumption by up to 2%. Why? Because they wanted to keep up with their neighbors.

HOST: But does this work for everyone all of the time?

GABRIELLE WONG-PARODI: No, researchers found that the reductions in energy consumption varied based on how much energy was consumed, and that there was sometimes a “boomerang” effect where people would increase their electricity consumption, even after decreasing it, if their neighbors did the same.

HOST: Would knowing more about your neighbor’s electricity consumption change your consumption of electricity? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at EnergyBite.org.


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