By Kate Yoder

Thinking about installing solar panels, buying an electric vehicle, or eating less meat? You probably have your friends and neighbors to thank for that.

A growing body of literature suggests that our spending habits are contagious. When you see solar panels sparkling atop someone’s rooftop, for example, your roof suddenly looks barren by comparison. Likewise, when you receive a bill comparing your electricity usage to that of your neighbors, you’re more likely to adjust your energy usage up or down to match.

A recent paper in the journal Nature Energy reviewed the existing research on social influence and personal energy habits and concluded that peer pressure plays a major role in why we do what we do. “In some instances,” the authors write, “these social influences are even more powerful than cost or considerations such as convenience or effectiveness.”

The messenger matters. A raving review from a new Prius owner will probably matter more to you coming from your best friend instead of from strangers. “Friends and family are often among the most trusted sources of information,” said Kimberly Wolske, the lead author of the Nature Energy study and an assistant professor at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy, in a statement accompanying the study. “Policies and programs that seek to promote low carbon technologies may benefit from enlisting the help of peers who have already adopted them.”

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