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Article

Raymond Yu Wang and Xiaofeng Liu

Household water use accounts for an important portion of water consumption. Notably, different households may behave differently regarding how water is used in everyday life. Trust and risk perception are two significant psychological factors that influence water use behavior in households. Since trust and risk perception are malleable and subject to construction, they are useful for developing effective demand management strategies and water conservation policies. The concepts of trust and risk perception are multidimensional and interconnected. Risk perception varies across social groups and is often shaped by subjective feelings toward a variety of activities, events, and technologies. Risk perception is also mediated by trust, which involves a positive expectation of an individual, an organization, and/or an institution that derives from complex processes, characteristics, and competence. Likewise, different social groups’ trust in various entities involved in household water use is subject to the significant and far-reaching impact of risk perception. The complexity of the two notions poses challenges to the measurement and exploration of their effects on household water use. In many cases, risk perception and trust can influence people’s acceptance of water sources (e.g., tap water, bottled water, recycled water, and desalinated water) and their conservation behavior (e.g., installing water-saving technologies and reducing water consumption) in household water use. Trust can affect household water use indirectly through its influence on risk perception. Moreover, trust and risk perception in household water use are neither given nor fixed; rather, they are dynamically determined by external, internal, and informational factors. A coherent, stable, transparent, and fair social and institutional structure is conducive to building trust. However, trust and risk perception differ among groups with diverse household and/or individual demographic, economic, social, and cultural characteristics. Direct information from personal experiences and, more importantly, indirect information from one’s social network, as well as from mass media and social media, play an increasingly important role in the formation and evolution of trust and risk perception, bringing a profound impact on household water use in an era of information. Future directions lie in new dynamics of risk perception and trust in the era of information explosion, the coevolution mechanism of risk perception and trust in household water use, the nuanced impacts of different types of risks (e.g., controllable and uncontrollable) on household water use, and the interactive relations of risk perception and trust across geographical contexts.

Article

Water planners and policy analysts need to pay closer attention to the behavioral aspects of water use, including the use of nonprice measures such as norms, public communications, and intrinsic motivations. Empirical research has shown that people are motivated by normative as well as economic incentives when it comes to water. In fact, this research finds that after exposure to feedback about water use, adding an economic incentive (rebate) for reducing water use holds no additional power. In other cases, nonprice measures can be a way to increase the salience, and subsequently, effectiveness of any adopted pricing mechanisms. We review these empirical findings and locate them within more general literature on normative incentives for behavioral change. Given increasing water scarcity and decreasing water security in cities, policy planners need to make more room for normative incentives when designing rules for proenvironmental behavior.