Sunday, February 19, 2012
Exhibit Hall A-B1 (VCC West Building)
Do people use their lawns to look sexy, high status, and family friendly? Previous research shows that recycling and taking public transportation, among other behaviors, can convey a less positive or desirable image, which may prove a barrier to behavior change. We extended this research to examine the image that landscaping portrays for a sample from Phoenix, Arizona, where water resources are scarce and homeowners’ landscaping options range from the water-intensive (grass lawns) to more water-conserving (desert plants and rocks). We hypothesized that owners’ grass or desert landscape choices are seen to convey very different personalities. Across three samples, participants rated the personality characteristics of a new homeowner on dimensions of agreeableness, being a good neighbor, status, sexual attractiveness, family orientation, creativity, prosociality, environmentalism, Big Five personality ratings, and positivity. Participants were randomly assigned to read that the person in question chose either a desert or a grass lawn for their new home. Inferred motivations for choosing desert or grass were also measured. We found consensus among participants that a desert landscape conveys a lower-status, less sexually attractive, family-unfriendly image–suggesting that even among those who might see people with desert landscaping as fine neighbors, they still perceive those individuals to be lower status and not family-oriented. Perceived motivations largely corroborated perceived attributes: Whereas aesthetic preference was perceived as the primary motivation for choosing either a desert or lawn landscape, secondary motivations differed. Desert landscaping was perceived to be more motivated by environmentalism, money savings, and ease of maintenance, whereas grass landscaping was perceived to reflect a desire to interact with one’s neighbors and to raise a family. Our choice of lawn may thus convey much to our neighbors about both our own quality as a neighbor and community member. To the extent that landscaping paints the image of a relatively unfriendly, low-status, unsexy or child-averse person, inferences may prove a barrier to encouraging native landscape adoption, as making such a choice might not only incur a financial cost in the value of the home, but a concurrent cost in self-image.