Humans are social beings, and therefore our decisions are highly dependent on those around us. This includes our willingness to cooperate, conform, and change as a result of social pressure or following the lead of those we like or admire.

Principles & Strategies

Make the behavior observable

  • Identify ways to make behavior public/visible instead of private/invisible

Increase social expectations

  • Highlight the possibility of social sanctions for doing undesired behavior
  • Promote descriptive norms that show cases of success and good behavior
  • Identify credible and trusted messengers doing good behaviors
  • Facilitate peer or community exchanges where others can observe the desired behavior and/or gain social support

Eliminate excuses for not engaging in the behavior

  • Encourage public commitments or pledges to drive desired behavior
  • Provide visible indicators of support for behavior (e.g., badges, pins, hats, sail/boat panting)


When highlighting descriptive norms (what behaviors people are doing), be sure that they clearly demonstrate desired behavior, as it can be counterproductive to highlight what people are not doing or that only a few people are doing the desired behavior. Also, while celebrities may seem like great and highly visible messengers, they tend to work best when they are trusted sources for the behavior, not just leaders of a trend.

Cooperative Behavior Adoption Guide 1
Community members pledge to uphold fishing regulations. Photo Credit: AG Sano