Overcoming Salience Bias: The Power of Real-time Feedback at the Point of Use

Research Highlights

- Large and persistent energy savings of 22% on the target behavior

- The approach is cost-effective and the savings (452 kWh/home/year) exceed the energy use for lighting in the average Swiss household

- The study was featured as Research Highlight by Nature Energy in 2017 and will be a case study in the book Social Marketing: Behavior Change for Social Good (Lee & Kotler, forthcoming)



Energy consumption may be a prerequisite for our modern lives, yet, for most people, is a low-involvement topic: Even though many people want to protect the environment, in their daily lives they rarely think about how much energy a particular activity consumes. The benefits of energy or water use are usually immediate and perceptible, whereas the negative implications in terms of costs and emissions from energy generation are typically elusive and difficult to gauge for the individual. This creates a bias in favor of the salient at the point of decision-making.



In a large-scale two-month randomized controlled field trial, we provided smart shower meters to 697 Swiss households and collected survey data for subgroup analyses. While two thirds of the participants received real-time feedback on their resource use in the shower, control group devices displayed only water temperature.



- We show that an effective way to overcome salience bias is by providing feedback on resource use in real time, while individuals can directly adapt.

- Feedback on a single energy-intensive behavior induces much larger absolute savings than aggregate feedback on household energy use (same pool of households).

- The effects are stable over the two-month study period.

Selected publications

Tiefenbeck, V., Goette, L., Degen, K., Tasic, V., Fleisch, E., Lalive, R., Staake, T. (2018), Overcoming salience bias: How real‐time feedback fosters resource conservation. Management Science 64(3), pp. 1458‐1476, epublished ahead of print in Nov. 2016.

Wörner, A., Tiefenbeck, V. (2018), The role of self‐set goals in IS‐induced behavior change. Proceedings of the European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS 2018), Portsmouth, United Kingdom  – First runner up best paper award.


The research has been funded by Zurich’s utility company ewz and by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE). 



Verena Tiefenbeck, Thorsten Staake, Vojkan Tasic, Elgar Fleisch

Partners: ewz, SFOE, Amphiro AG, University of Lausanne (Lorenz Goette, Kathrin Degen, Rafael Lalieve)






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