Getting active in the office: Using descriptive norm messages to decrease sedentary behaviour and increase light physical activity at work


The sedentary nature of an office workplace is an increasing health concern (Marshall & Ramirez, 2011).  One avenue through which sedentary behaviour may be decreased and beneficial light activity increased is through the use of information conveyed in social norms.  Previous theory-driven research in the activity area (e.g., Priebe & Spink, 2012, 2014) has demonstrated that perceptions about others’ behaviour (i.e., descriptive norms; Cialdini, Reno, & Kallgren, 1990) can influence individual physical activity.  However, it is unclear if descriptive norms can be used to impact specific light physical activities that could break up sedentary time.  The main purpose was to examine whether descriptive norm messages would impact both sedentary behaviour and light activity within an office setting.  Given that the effects of personal (e.g., values) and contextual (e.g., physical location) characteristics of the norm reference group could influence the effectiveness of the messages, a secondary purpose was to examine the effects of descriptive norm messages that varied in reference group characteristics (similar vs. dissimilar) on behaviour.  Office workers received different email messages with descriptive norm information about their co-workers’ behaviour in the office.  A repeated measures MANOVA revealed a main effect for time, F(4, 89) = 10.30, p < .001, ηp2 = .316.  Those who received descriptive norm messages about co-workers’ lower sedentary behaviour and greater stair use and walking decreased their own sitting time while increasing stair use and walking, respectively, p’s < .05.  In terms of the secondary purpose, results revealed no differences between participants receiving information about groups that varied in similarity (i.e., same or different values and office location), p’s > .10. These results provide experimental evidence that descriptive norm messages may serve as a source of social influence associated with decreasing sedentary and increasing light physical activity within an office setting.

Acknowledgments: 1st author funded by SSHRC Vanier Graduate Scholarship