Public perceptions of energy consumption and savings

Shahzeen Z. Attari, Michael L. DeKay, Cliff I. Davidson, Wändi Bruin De Bruin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

470 Scopus citations


In a national online survey, 505 participants reported their perceptions of energy consumption and savings for a variety of household, transportation, and recycling activities. When asked for the most effective strategy they could implement to conserve energy, most participants mentioned curtailment (e.g., turning off lights, driving less) rather than efficiency improvements (e.g., installing more efficient light bulbs and appliances), in contrast to experts' recommendations. For a sample of 15 activities, participants underestimated energy use and savings by a factor of 2.8 on average, with small overestimates for low-energy activities and large underestimates for high-energy activities. Additional estimation and ranking tasks also yielded relatively flat functions for perceived energy use and savings. Across several tasks, participants with higher numeracy scores and stronger proenvironmental attitudes had more accurate perceptions. The serious deficiencies highlighted by these results suggest that well-designed efforts to improve the public's understanding of energy use and savings could pay large dividends.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16054-16059
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number37
StatePublished - Sep 14 2010


  • Anchoring
  • Climate change
  • Decision making
  • Environmental behavior
  • Judgment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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