The role of social influence in New Zealand rural landowners' land use decisions
New Zealand’s native bush has been substantially reduced in extent by human actions. Valuable native bush fragments remain on private land. Protection of these fragments is required on multi-generational timescales appropriate to their succession periods. Social influence has been shown to predict human behaviour in a variety of behavioural domains and research settings. Social norms possess a self-reinforcing characteristic that may lead to the diffusion and embedding of behaviour and attitude change in society also on a multi-generational time-scale. The role of social influence in New Zealand landowners’ decisions with respect to native trees on their land is examined for two populations. One population is a shared interest group (the ‘Farm Forestry Association’); the other is the general population of rural landowners. Data is gathered using questionnaires based on the Theory of Planned Behaviour. Weak social influence is shown to be present for participants’ intentions to increase or decrease native tree cover on their land. The strength of social influence is moderated by the frequency of social interaction. Contrary to the research hypothesis, the two groups do not differ in the norms they perceive nor the strength of social influence experienced. Suggestions are made for developing and applying the research methods in a small group setting.