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Research showcase highlights work of UA graduate students, faculty

UA+Assistant+professor+of+communication+Rain+Liu%E2%80%99s+stand+in+front+of+her+poster+titled%3A+%E2%80%9CBagging+a+Greener+Future%3A+Social+Norms+Appeals+and+Financial+Incentives+in+Promoting+Reusable+Bags+Among+Grocery+Shoppers%2C%E2%80%9D+at+the+SBSRI+showcase+on+Feb.1.+Liu+looked+at+how+communicative+social+norms+can+affect+the+use+of+plastic+grocery+bags+by+shoppers.+%28Courtesy+Mackenzie+Meitner%29
UA Assistant professor of communication Rain Liu’s stand in front of her poster titled: “Bagging a Greener Future: Social Norms Appeals and Financial Incentives in Promoting Reusable Bags Among Grocery Shoppers,” at the SBSRI showcase on Feb.1. Liu looked at how communicative social norms can affect the use of plastic grocery bags by shoppers. (Courtesy Mackenzie Meitner)

The University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Institute held its first ever showcase to celebrate the projects of over 24 grant awardees last week. 

On Feb. 1, SBSRI grant awardees displayed research posters of their funded projects. The grants fall under four different categories: pre-doctoral research, dissertation research, faculty small and research professorship. A detailed list of each awardee in their respective category and the title of their research project can be found in the SBSRI research program

The showcase featured participants, in disciplines ranging from anthropology to linguistics to gender and women’s studies. 

Bagging a Greener Future: Social Norms Appeals and Financial Incentives in Promoting Reusable Bags Among Grocery Shoppers,” was the title of Rain Liu’s poster. As one of the faculty small grant awardees and an assistant professor of communication, Liu’s research focused on how communicative social norms can affect the use of plastic grocery bags.

Liu’s collected data by showing a virtual grocery store to over 1000 national participants who were then shown a poster with different messages relating to the use of plastic bags. After viewing the video, participants were asked about their intention to bring their own reusable bags. 

“There were lots of findings, but the most exciting finding was that both discount and surcharge work the same, they don’t differentiate and they generate the least amount of behavior with the intention of bringing reusable bags,” Liu said. “The most effective message was the injunctive norm, which is the social approval norm and the descriptive norm, which is when you believe that other people are doing something so you do it too.” 

According to Liu, these findings demonstrated that behavior intention was stronger when discounts/surcharges were combined with a norm message, rather than just having the financial incentive alone.

Liu argued the data could be similar across other social situations, contending that social norms have been used in a variety of health and environmental situations, including in COVID-19 preventative messages. 

An awardee for the pre-doctoral research grant, PhD anthropology student Patrick Robinson showcased “Anthropology | What is ‘Nature,’ now? Science, Alliance, and Informed Local Self-Determination in Intag, Ecuador.” 

Robinson’s presentation looked at the politics of an environmental monitoring campaign he has been a part of in a cloud forest region in northwest Ecuador since 2018.

“By many metrics, it is the most biodiverse ecosystem in the world, as it is home to about one sixth of all plant species in the world, but there is also a lot of copper here which has led to a lot of corporations coming in to mine there,” Robinson said. “I have been involved in collecting water quality data from this region and found there is a high correlation between elevated arsenic levels and proximity to where the drilling is happening.” 

The SBSRI showcase has been a long time in the making according to Rachel Small, coordinator of grants and research.

“This has been a dream of the directors for 12 years and this was the year we finally did it,” Small said. “I find that a lot of faculty and graduate students feel very isolated in their field, and this showcase celebrates their work since we are all doing such cool projects.”


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