Does Message Framing Last? A Field Experiment on Reducing Litter

Conference: The Asian Conference on Media, Communication & Film (MediAsia2021)
Title: Does Message Framing Last? A Field Experiment on Reducing Litter
Stream: Communication Theory and Methodology
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation
Dzulfikaar Sutandar, The University of Queensland, Australia
Max Yu, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Sonny Ben Rosenthal, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore


Littering is a threat to the environment. It is well established that social norms shape littering behavior (Reno, Cialdini & Kallgren, 1993). Yet, there is a need for research on the influence of communication about social norms, particularly regarding framing in media messages. People are sensitive to message framing. For example, people are more risk-averse if a message emphasizes potential losses rather than highlighting potential gains (Tversky & Kahneman, 1981). Building on this, we predicted that messages highlighting that few people litter often ("negative frame") are more effective in reducing littering behavior than messages highlighting that most people do not litter ("positive frame"). We argue that the former frame is akin to a loss frame—in this case, a loss of community cleanliness, and creates motivation for people to avoid that undesirable outcome (Young, 1996). To test our prediction, we conducted a six-week field experiment in Singapore involving 36 housing flats and approximately 12,000 residents. We weighed the amount of litter in public spaces for two weeks to establish a baseline. Then we randomly assigned blocks to a negative frame or positive frame condition and displayed the posters in common areas for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks, there was less litter in the negative frame condition than in the positive frame condition. However, after removing the posters, the difference in litter disappeared after two weeks. While the initial change was consistent with our prediction, the end result suggests framing has a transient behavioral effect.

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