Which construal level combinations generate the most effective interventions? A field experiment on energy conservation

Anouk M. Griffioen*, Michel J.J. Handgraaf, Gerrit Antonides

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Many campaigns targeting pro-environmental behavior combine multiple approaches without properly understanding how these different approaches interact. Here we study the effect of such combinations. We apply construal level theory to classify different intervention approaches, which can either be at a high construal level (abstract and distant) or at a low construal level (concrete and proximal). In a field experiment we recruited 197 students living in one-person apartments in an all-inclusive student housing facility. We objectively measured their individual electricity and warm water use, and measured psychological variables through surveys. We expected that the (commonly considered superior) combination between a high and a low construal level approach would be least effective. Participants were randomly assigned to a 2(Construal Level: low vs. high) × 2(Social Distance: low vs. high) plus control condition mixed-model design targeting a reduction in warm water use. Our findings suggest that a congruent combination at a high construal level (i.e., the high construal level condition combined with the high social distance condition) has the largest effect on warm water use and that spillover to electricity use is most likely to occur when a high construal level is used (i.e., high social distance). Moreover, especially participants who valued nature and the environment less were most strongly influenced by the combination of two high construal level approaches. In sum, our study suggests that when designing interventions one should consider the construal level and when targeting pro-environmental behavior high construal levels appear most appropriate.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0209469
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jan 2019


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