Dr Laura Cowen
when judging the energy consumption of their household appliances. It is likely that
they instead rely on simple heuristics such as the size heuristic, which has been reported
in a small number of previous studies. The studies showed that people?s perceptions of
the size and energy consumption of appliances were positively correlated but the studies
differed in their methods and effect sizes. The present study re-tests the use of the size
heuristic using two methods of data collection (between-participants and
within-participants) and three methods of correlation. On average, correlations between
size and energy estimates were moderately strong but they (and the accuracy of the
energy estimates) varied greatly between individual participants. Understanding
householders? perceptions of energy is vital to designing more effective energy-saving
policies. The findings highlight the importance of choosing and clearly reporting
Judging the energy consumption of household appliances is difficult; judging the effectiveness of energy-saving measures even more so. The research in this thesis proposed, and found support for, a model in which householders try to simplify energy judgements using heuristics. In heuristic energy judgements, people substitute energy consumption or savings with easier-to-access features of appliances and measures. For example, inferring high energy consumption from appliances that produce heat, and high energy savings from measures that reduce heat production.
Part I: A systematic literature review of the small amount of existing heuristic energy judgements research identified a common assumption that heuristic feature substitution underlies energy judgements, but there were gaps in how the theory explains energy judgements. A novel theoretical model was constructed using established cognitive theories of categorisation and heuristic judgement making.
Mixed methods were used to identify existing and novel heuristic cues used in energy consumption judgements, including the size and heat production of appliances. The heuristic elicitation design and other correlational methods were compared. The difference in coefficients from different methods underlined the importance of selecting appropriate methods for the research question and clear reporting.
Part II: Mixed methods were used in a novel exploration of the heuristic cues used in energy savings judgements, including heat reduction, appliance consumption, usage reduction, and measure frequency. A paired comparisons study design enabled a novel multidimensional analysis of heuristic energy savings cues and how they are used.
Part III: Householders intuitively try to simplify their energy judgements using heuristics. Giving them more information is unlikely to help. Interventions to help people save more energy need to be designed to work with, not against, the heuristic cues they intuitively use.
behaviour? Findings from three everyday settings,Journal of Environmental Psychology 42 pp. 139-148 Elsevier
Conferences and seminars
Cowen, L. & Gatersleben, B. (2016). Size matters! Making sense of household energy use. British Environmental Psychology Society (BrEPS) 2016. Surrey, UK.
Cowen, L. & Gatersleben, B. (2016). Size matters! Making sense of household energy use. International Association of People-Environment Studies (IAPS). Lund, Sweden.
Cowen, L. & Gatersleben, B. (2012). Energy and mental models. North Carolina State University doctoral seminar on climate change. Raleigh, NC.
Cowen, L. (2011). Energy and behaviour change. IBM Interconnect 11. London, UK.
Cowen, L. (2011). Energy and behaviour change. Homecamp 4. London, UK.
Cowen, L. & Gatersleben, B. (2011). Technology as a remedy for high energy use: Investigating the rebound effect. IAREP/SABE/ICABEEP 2011. Exeter, UK.
Cowen, L. & Gatersleben, B. (2011). Technology, risk perception, and intentions to save energy (poster). 9th Biennial Conference on Environmental Psychology. Eindhoven, Netherlands.