Previous research established that norms describing the behaviour of a majority (e.g. 'many people consume too much alcohol') can have ironic and unwanted effects on health behaviour. To date, no research has addressed the effects of minority descriptive norms (e.g. 'only few people use sunscreen'), while such minority norms are frequently communicated to the public. The current studies investigate the effects of minority and majority norms on intended and actual fruit intake. University students received either minority or majority normative information describing fruit intake behaviour of a referent group. Identification strength with this referent group was measured (Study 1) or manipulated (Study 2). Results showed that, compared to majority norms, minority norms negatively affected fruit intake when participants strongly identify with the referent group. Moreover, absolute negative (minority norm) and positive (majority norm) effects of one-third portion of fruit were found compared to a no-norm condition. Since minority norms are often communicated with the intention of alarming people regarding their low engagement in health protective behaviour, the potential ironic effects of these minority norms should be taken into account when presenting such information to the public.
- fruit intake
- minority norms
- normative influence
- referent group identification
- social norms