Social norms influence how people react to smoke from wildfires, according to researchers at Stanford University.
As wildfires become commonplace, checking air pollution data is becoming as routine as checking the weather. However, how people react to this data differs from person to person.
To understand the different reactions, researchers at Stanford University interviewed residents of all ages, races and incomes who were affected by wildfire smoke.
The study’s lead author, Francisca Santana, said: “Understanding how people behave is important so that public health communication professionals can potentially intervene and promote safer behavior that mitigates risk. “
The researchers found that individuals reacted to wildfire smoke in three main ways: interpreting information together, protecting vulnerable people, and questioning protective measures.
They also found that social norms really influenced how people chose to act based on their perception of threat. For example, people who have observed other people wearing masks have often been prompted to wear a mask themselves.
It is hoped that this study will provide a framework to better understand wildfire smoke responses by examining social processes while recognizing that cultural and political contexts can also influence behavior.
As these events become more common, the researchers said this data provides an opportunity to find policy synergies that help prepare communities for future smoke events.
For example, programs designed to improve household comfort and increase energy efficiency could also include measures to reduce smoke intrusion during wildfires.
“This research shows that social norms can be an effective lever to encourage the pro-health change we would like to see,” said Assistant Professor Gabrielle Wong-Parodi.
“It’s actually a very promising sign for thinking about how to adapt and mitigate our risks as we face increasing threats from climate change.”