Get access

To think or not to think: The effect of cognitive deliberation on the influence of injunctive versus descriptive social norms


  • The authors would like to thank Marcel Kornelis and Volkert Beekman for their valuable help in data collection. Data were collected as part of a research project funded by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature, and Food Quality and by Wageningen UR KB5 under project number 20939. The authors also acknowledge the support of TransForum (Veldkamp et al., 2009; DOI: 10.1051/agro:2008022), an innovation program for the Dutch agricultural sector.


Consumers can process information containing social norms at different cognitive deliberation levels. This paper investigates the effect of cognitive deliberation for both descriptive and injunctive norms. The experimental study examines the consequences for attitudes and behavioral intentions of these two norm formulations under different levels of deliberation. Results show that (1) cognitive load limits the influence of both norm formulations, and (2) cognitive deliberation increases the effect of descriptive and decreases the effect of injunctive norms. The positive and negative thoughts made salient by the information are shown to lead to these consequences. Marketers therefore need to consider the context and channels in which social norms are communicated, as this can affect the motivation, ability, and/or opportunity of consumers to process the information. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.