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The impact of normative message types on off-trail hiking




Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Pacific Southwest Research Station


Depreciative activities and high annual visitation levels threaten the health and sustainability of the giant Sequoia. Signage is one route to managing visitor behavior. Research suggests a two-by-two conceptualization of normative messages in signs. Messages may present the "ought" (injunctive) or the "is" (descriptive) of behavior and may be stated positively (prescriptive) or negatively (proscriptive). This paper summarizes findings from an experiment testing normative messages and presents evidence for injunctive-proscriptive messages as the most effective route in gaining desired behavior. Under this condition off-trail hiking was less likely to occur, compared to the incidence of off-trail hiking under four other conditions (including a control under which no additional sign was posted). In contrast, the incidence of off-trail hiking was greatest when the descriptive-proscriptive message was used (when compared to three other message types). The injunctive-proscriptive message is most appropriate when a behavior is desired shortly after exposure to a message and may not be most effective when longer-term maintenance of actions is desired.


Winter, P.L. 2006. The impact of normative message types on off-trail hiking. Journal of Interpretation Research, 11 (1): 35-52.

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