The Effect of Prior Litter on Sewing Class Students` Clean-up Behavior
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GREEN, C. A. (2001). The Effect of Prior Litter on Sewing Class Students` Clean-up Behavior. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 4. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

The Effect of Prior Litter on Sewing Class Students` Clean-up Behavior

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (
The effect of a previously littered environment on littering behavior was studied. It was predicted that if sewing students entered a littered classroom they would leave the room more littered than if entering a clean classroom. A convenience sample of 10 students enrolled in a public sewing class was used. Students were 18 years old and up. All students were given a brief questionnaire at the end of the last class. While results did not support the research hypothesis, they did indicate that individuals notice trash receptacles when available and use trash receptacles when they are accessible. Limitations and suggestions for future experiments are discussed.

Littering may be defined as leaving behind unwanted and unnatural elements in the environment. Litter is an abstruse social incidence that leaves the environment in aesthetic disorder. In 1953, a nonprofit organization called Keep America Beautiful (KAB) was formed, devoting itself to encourage individuals to take an active part in creating a more beautiful community environment ( According to KAB, people litter for three main reasons: "they feel no sense of ownership, even though areas such as parks, highways and lakes are public property; they believe someone else - a city or state maintenance worker - will pick up after them; and where litter has already accumulated - people will litter if litter is already present" ( With the efforts of KAB, environmental action awareness began in the late 1960`s and early 1970`s. The concerns of the KAB and the community about the possible problems caused by littering, prompted behavioral scientists to began to study littering behavior (Grasmick, Bursick, Jr. & Kinsey, 1991). Littering has since been studied in a variety of settings such as a parking garage (Reiter & Samuel, 1980 and Cialdini, Reno & Kallgren, 1990), a football stadium (Baltes & Hayward, 1976 and O`neill, Blanck, & Joyner, 1980), an amusement park (Casey & Lloyd, 1977 and Cialdini, Reno & Kallgren, 1990), a grocery store (Geller, Witmer & Tuso, 1977), and along highways and in urban areas (Finne, 1973).Litter sometimes is produced by simple carelessness but in some circumstances people litter deliberately. On a small scale, littering is visually unappealing and a nuisance. Consider the following scenario: You walk into a grocery store and notice that the floor is littered with candy wrappers and other small pieces of paper. How appealing would it be to shop here? How would it make you feel to have to shop in all that litter? Now imagine walking into another grocery store with clean floors. How appealing would it be to shop here? Would your attitude and appetite be different in each case? Would you want to spend time shopping in the littered store or the clean store? If you had a choice, which store would you choose? Chances are you would choose the clean store. On a small scale, littering can waste time and energy and cause inconvenience for the person who cleans it up. However, the smaller scale littering can have bigger consequences. If the two specified stores are in close proximity and individuals could choose between the two, then the cleaner store would probably be chosen by the majority of customers. The littered store could possibly be forced out of business due to lack of patronage, which would subsequently result in jobs being lost. On the larger scale, it is more than aesthetically unappealing. It can be quite costly to have litter, such as beer cans, bottles and miscellaneous trash strewn by the side of the road, removed from the environment. Sometimes appliances and vehicles are left behind, posing another problem concerning how to clean up the area. When and why do people litter? KAB suggests they have a diffused responsibility for their actions because they feel some one else will pick up. Do they unconsciously believe that this behavior is normal? When psychological constructs are studied, the relationship between two variables are examined. When a study concerns the individual and the environment, both must be taken into consideration. According to Robinson (1976) "all theorists agree in the point of view that the environment and behavior are closely intertwined, almost to the point of being inseparable". When psychological norms are studied, the psychological norm is the "forefront" of the stimulus of the individual. The norm is considered the outside stimuli, which influences an individual to act in a certain way. (Sherif, 1965). A psychological norm, known as a social norm, can broadly be defined as a group of rules and acceptable behaviors within a social group or culture. Social norms may vary from culture to culture, so in a social situation we need to know how to behave in order to follow the norm and behave appropriately. Since each culture has it`s own set of norms, when in question, one can simply observe others in order to imitate the appropriate behavior. People even tend to imitate those around them when they already know how to act (Chartrand and Bargh, 1999). But what happens when there is no one to observe? When an individual doesn`t have another person to observe to indicate what the social norm is, a cognitive heuristic, or a mental shortcut, helps the individual to come to a conclusion about a situation. In the case of not knowing appropriate behavior, the individual may simply observe the environment to obtain direction in what others are doing. In the case of litter, an individual encountering a littered environment, may conclude that others litter and, that littering must be a social norm. This cognitive heuristic has been termed "social proof" by Cialdini (1984) and is considered an influence that individuals use to decide what others think is appropriate. It is especially important for individuals who need to determine what is appropriate behavior. While social proof may be a shortcut to tell us social behavior, some cognitive heuristics may not always be correct since the observed behavior may not always be appropriate (Cialdini). When considering social proof as a social influence, Cialdini et al. (1990) defined two distinct categories: injunctive norms, which tell an individual what they should, or "ought" to do, and descriptive norms, which tell an individual what is appropriate behavior. According to Cialdini et al., these social norms enable us to determine how to behave in a social situation and it is important to differentiate between the two. The present experiment was concerned with only descriptive norms.A review of methodology for behavioral approaches to litter reduction divides the problem into two basic categories: antecedents and consequences (Huffman, Grossnickle, Cope & Huffman, 1995). The present experiment was concerned exclusively with antecedents. An antecedent condition may be defined as an environmental condition set up before the target behavior occurs that is likely to increase the probability of the target behavior (Geller, Winett & Everett, 1982).Reiter and Samuel (1980) studied printed signs as an antecedent strategy in littering behavior, along with the presence of or absence of litter. Research was conducted on two different days. Three different conditions of a written message concerning littering and the presence or absence of litter were used. Signs on the walls of different parking garage levels conveyed different messages, with one condition threatening, "Littering is Unlawful and Subject to a $10.00 Fine," one condition conveying a cooperative message, "Pitch In!" and the third had no message related to littering at all. Handbills distributed on the windshields of cars parked in the garage were used to determine littering behavior. The researchers predicted that because of a reactance effect in the areas where the threatening signs were in view, there would be more litter than the area with a cooperative message. This reactance effect occurs when an individual feels external pressure to behave in a certain manner, without freedom of choice. The individual feels that his/her freedom is threatened and therefore engages in the behavior to restore their freedom (Brehm, 1972). The Reiter and Samuel study found no difference in behavior between the two message groups, each was equally effective over the group with no message. However, the littering rate was lower in areas that were not previously littered. They concluded that the day on which the sign was observed was "an important variable in the determining the effectiveness of signs." This was thought to be either due to a reactance effect, because the signs became an irritation by some of the observers on the second day, or that the subjects became accustomed to the signs and simply ignored them (Reiter & Samuel). Other studies on the effects of prior litter on littering behavior have been conducted suggesting that littering behavior occurs more frequently in littered areas than in non-littered areas (Finnie, 1973; Krauss, Freedman & Whitcup, 1978; Geller, Witmer & Tuso, 1977; Reiter & Samuel, 1980; Geller et al., 1982 and Cialdini, et al., 1990). Some of the research on littering has been conducted in areas with no available trash receptacle. The subjects were given handbills, the intended litter (Geller, Witmer & Tuso, 1977 and Cialdini, et al., 1990). The subjects did not generate this litter on their own and therefore had no reason to take responsibility and/or ownership of the handbill. The subjects in these studies were forced to make a choice between carrying the litter around with them until a trash receptacle could be found, or carrying it to their vehicle, or simply tossing the litter on the ground. The choice of carrying litter around with no trash receptacles in view might have been inconvenient or irritating to some, possibly stimulating a littering behavior, which would not be a normal response for some of these subjects. If given the choice of having the opportunity to dispose of their litter properly, perhaps more subjects would have done so. The purpose of this experiment was to test the prediction that if students enter a littered room, then they would leave the room more littered. Does litter, an antecedent, give us the cognitive heuristic of what is the descriptive norm? Do individuals have a tendency to use trash receptacles (an antecedent) when accessible and convenient, even in the presence of pre-existing litter? Do individuals notice signs (an antecedent) that are posted that relate to littering behavior? Have we become a society that is so accustomed to anti-littering signs that we have become habituated to them, and are therefore not cognitively aware of them? This experiment was designed to test these hypotheses, as they apply to individual cleaning-up behaviors. All classes observed were held on the same day of the week and at the same time. Both the control group and the experimental group entered the same classroom, which were identical in both groups. The only variable manipulated was the cleanliness of the room. The classroom environment used in the present experiment was controlled so students in the control group entered a clean environment and students in the experimental group entered a pre-littered environment. The area that is one`s own working space was examined, giving the participant the opportunity to conveniently dispose of litter they have personally generated with a non threatening, positive reminder in view.

ParticipantsConvenience sampling was used for this experiment. Participants in the experiment were students already enrolled in pre-existing sewing classes that had been established in a fabric store located in the metro New Orleans area prior to the experiment. Ten students enrolled were used in the study, of these there were 9 women and 1 man. The participants included 7 Caucasians, 2 African Americans, and 1 Hispanic. These students were at least eighteen years old and up. The first group of students that signed up for the first session sewing class, were used as the control group and the second group of students that signed up for the second session were used as the experimental group.Materials A 14` X 22` public sewing classroom was used. This classroom was set up with four tables, eight trash receptacles (two per table) and ten sewing machines. There were four existing signs in the classroom that read, "Thanks for picking up after yourself" located on each of the four walls. These signs were 8 " x 5 . All chairs were placed under the tables in their appropriate places in front of a sewing machine and all sewing machines were placed at the back of the table, covered, their foot-control petals rolled up in the electrical cord and placed by their side. For the experimental group a pre-measured amount of sewing litter, 6.0 grams, was randomly placed around the sewing room. The pre-measured litter used was produced from oddly colored threads and fabric, to help differentiate it from sewing students litter. Because of the difficulties in counting individual threads and small pieces of fabric, the weight of the sewing litter was used as the measurment of litter left behind. A Black and Decker hand held canister vacuum cleaner was used to collect data left behind from each subject, and Shure-fine brand, 1.75 milligram, zip lock bags were used to store the collected litter. An Ohaus model number BD300 electronic top loading balance was used to measure both the weight of the sewing litter left behind from each student after every class, and to measure the amount of sewing litter to be randomly placed in the room before the experimental group arrived. One zip lock bag of sewing litter was weighed four different times to determine the reliability of the weight determination. After completion of the sewing classes, the subjects were given a short questionnaire asking if the subject noticed the condition room before entering or after leaving, if they remembered cleaning up their area, and if they noticed the trash receptacles or any signs requesting they help keep the room clean. A copy of the questionnaire can be found in Appendix A.Design and ProcedureThis experiment was a single variable between subject design that looked at the effect of pre-existing classroom conditions on a sewing students littering behavior. The independent variable used was the pre-existing classroom condition, which consisted of two levels: clean and littered. The dependant variable studied was the students littering behavior. Sewing classes were held on Wednesday evenings at 6:30p.m., at the same location, with the same instructor. This helped to keep the environment consistent and controlled for any extraneous behavior variables for the differences in the day, place, and time for behavior. The students were requested to remain seated in the same place throughout the class sessions, to control for the variable of the subjects` behavior working in different seating areas throughout the classes. For this experiment the operational definition of sewing litter was left over fabric pieces, interfacing pieces, extraneous threads, and outer wrappings of zippers and/or bias tape and/or any other items necessary for the completion of the subject`s project. Littering behavior was operationally defined as leaving any of the above behind on the table or floor as a result of sewing for two reasons: 1) the sewing litter was generated by the subjects and not originally on the floor or table and, 2) trash receptacles were adequately and conveniently placed around the room and easily accessible for use. Sewing classes were held once a week for a six-week session, but because of the curriculum of the sewing classes and for experimental purposes, the subjects were observed only during the third through sixth class. These four classes were held in the same sewing classroom where the environment could be controlled and manipulated. Each of the sewing areas was numbered one through ten for identification of an individuals area. As the subjects entered the room for the first sewing class they were asked to sign their name in a book, a normal procedure for class. Once the students were seated, they were asked to remain in the same seats for the remainder of the classes to enable the instructor to learn their names. Once the student had taken their seat, they were identified by the number of the seating area for research purposes. Upon arrival the participants in the control group entered a clean, unlittered classroom. Prior to class, the room was vacuumed, all tables were cleaned, and there were two trash receptacles available for use at each of the four tables. After the end of class, when all students had left, a Black and Decker hand held vacuum cleaner with a canister was used to pick up any litter the subject that was left behind. The sewing litter was then was placed in a zip lock bag, and tagged with the subject`s number and an alphabet representing class three, four, five, or six. These bags were weighed by an independent party and recorded on a record sheet. A copy of this sheet can be found in Appendix B. The experimental group entered the same classroom setup after it had been cleaned and vacuumed, but with a pre-measured amount of sewing litter distributed randomly about the room. After the end of class, when all students had left, the same Black and Decker hand held vacuum cleaner with a canister was used to collect any litter the subject had left behind. The litter was placed in a zip lock bag, and tagged with the subject`s number and an alphabet representing class three, four, five, or six. These bags were weighed by an independent party and recorded on a record sheet. A copy of this sheet can be found in Appendix B. When the experimental groups litter was collected, the pre-measured sewing litter weight was divided between the number of subjects for even distribution, the divided weight was then subtracted from the individual subjects litter. After completion of the sewing class, subjects were informed of the observations for the experiment and assured that any sewing litter left behind was expected, and that they were used anonymously. They were also given a short questionnaire to fill out which can be found in Appendix A.

The present experiment was directed at one target behavior, littering, and the effect of preexisting environmental conditions. Analysis of the research data indicated that a previously littered environment does not stimulate littering behavior. An independent-groups t-test was performed and the means of sewing litter left behind was compared between the control (4.78) and experimental (5.06) group. Standard deviation for the control group means was 2.44 with a standard error of 1.08 and the standard deviation for the experimental group was 6.24 with a 2.79 standard error, (t (8) = -.093, p = .150) indicating the results are statistically non-significant, therefore the null hypothesis was not rejected.Overall, 50% of the students correctly noticed that the room was clean or littered when they arrived and left indicating that they were aware of previously existing conditions. Eighty percent reported that they had remembered cleaning up their own working area. While 60% of the participants did not notice any signs in the classroom pertaining to cleaning up, the questionnaire indicated that 100% of the participants noticed available trash receptacles.

The present experiment studied the effects of prior litter and the cleaning behavior of sewing students. Both the environment and behavior were taken into consideration. Research data indicated that litter alone does not stimulate littering behavior as previous research has suggested (Finnie, 1973; Krauss, Freedman & Whitcup, 1978; Geller, Witmer & Tuso, 1977; Reiter & Samuel, 1980; and Geller, Winett & Everett, 1982). In the previous research studies which showed individuals littered more in a littered environment, there were no trash receptacles available, which could have resulted in individuals littering because they were forced to make a choice in carrying around a piece of litter or throwing it on the ground, not because they would normally litter. Results of the present experiment also do not indicate that individuals use the environment as social proof (Cialdini, 1984) or a descriptive norm to use as a model for their behavior as defined by Cialdini (1990). While the results do not support the research hypothesis, or previous research, 100% of all students reported that trash receptacles were noticed which could indicate that individuals do use trash receptacles when they are provided instead of littering. If individuals do use trash receptacles when provided, then the results of the present experiment would be expected. Results of the present experiment also indicated individuals do not always notice signs that pertain to littering which might suggest they have become so accustomed to seeing littering signs that they have become habituated to them and no longer pay them any attention.One limitation of the study was a time constraint that led to using one control group and one experimental group, which made the sample size small. During the control group observation, one participant left an extreme amount of sewing litter behind during each class, which acted as an outlier. Another participant in the control group, who had been previously observed cleaning up their area, left a large piece of sewing litter after one class which weighed more than most other pieces of litter left behind. Although the litter was large and the participant should have noticed it because of the size and picked it up, it went unnoticed and was left behind. The present experiment used weight as a measurement of littering behavior, which was more efficient than counting pieces of litter that included small pieces of thread. The problem encountered with using weight as a measurement was that large pieces of litter left behind weighed more than many small pieces, and many small pieces of litter make an environment more visually unappealing. Although care was taken to control both environments, including day and time, so the only difference would be the cleanliness of the room, there was no way to control for the participants established habits of cleanliness prior to the experiment. Also, there was no way to determine if the cleanliness of the participants was an original response or mimicked as suggested by the Chartrand and Bargh (1999) study.Practical implications of the experiment are limited due to the results. However, we should keep in mind that 100% of the participants did notice trash receptacles, which when combining the analysis of the results, might imply that individuals do use trash receptacles when available. This would suggest that public establishments should make trash receptacles available to reduce littering. Previous theoretical implications need to be redirected. If, in fact, individuals do use trash receptacles when available, past studies need to be re-examined and reconducted to include available trash receptacles to determine if a littered environment does stimulate littering behavior even with available trash receptacles, more than a non-littered environment with available trash receptacles. Any future experiment of this nature needs to be conducted over an extended period of time. This could provide sufficient data for a more accurate statistical analysis of the target behavior within a population. Designing a new measurement system for litter would be helpful to get a more accurate measure of litter. However, designing a new measurement system for litter would be difficult. While using weight as a measurement to collect data had its problems in the present experiment, used over an extended period of time with a large sample population should more evenly distribute the outliers and give an accurate measurement of litter. A self-report questionnaire could be helpful in determining the established cleanliness habits as well as determining the cleaning response (an original response or mimicked) of participants. With more participants over an extended period of time, and another questionnaire another experimental study could yield results which have more practical and theoretical implications in the future. Future researchers should take into consideration the intrusion placed on the individual when handing them what is the intended litter and realize that the individual has no reason to take responsibility for the item. They should also take into consideration the availability of trash receptacles in the studied area and combined with the intended litter, take into consideration that by not providing a place to dispose of the litter could stimulate the target behavior when the individual would not normally do so.

Baltes, M. M. & Hayward, S. C. (1976). Application and evaluation of strategies to reduce pollution: Behavioral control of littering in a football stadium. Journal of Applied Psychology, 61, 501-506.Brehm, J. (1972). Responses to loss of freedom. New York: General Learning Press, 1972.Casey, L., & Lloyd, M. (1977). Cost and effectiveness of litter removal procedures in an amusement park. Environment and Behavior, 9, 535-546.Chartrand, T. L., & Bargh, J. A. (1999). The chameleon effect: The perception - behavior link and social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 893-910.Cialdini, R. B. (1984). Influence: How and why people agree to things. New York: Morrow and Company.Cialdini, R. B., & Reno, R. R., & Kallgren, C. A. (1990). A focus theory of normative conduct: Recycling the concept of norms to reduce littering in public places. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 1015-1026.Finne, W. C. (1973). Field experiments in litter control. Environment and Behavior, 5, 123-144.Geller, E. S., & Winett, R. A., & Everett, P. B., (1982). Preserving the environment. New York: Pergamon Press.Geller, E. S., & Witmer, J. F., & Tuso, M. A. (1977). Environmental interventions for litter control. Journal of Applied Psychology, 62, 344-351. Grasmick, H. G., & Bursik, R. J., Jr., & Kinsey, K. A. (1991). Shame and embarrassment as deterrents to noncompliance with the law - the case of an antilittering campaign. Environment and Behavior, 23, 233-251.Huffman, K. T., & Grossnickle, W. F., & Cope, J. G., & Huffman, K. P. (1995). Litter reduction: A review and integration of the literature. Environment and Behavior, 27, 153-183.Keep America Beautiful. Retrieved on February 23, 2001 from the World Wide Web: Keep Knoxville Beautiful. Retrieved on February 14, 2001 from the World Wide Web:, R. M., & Freedman, J. L., & Witcup, M. (1978). Field and laboratory studies of littering. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 14, 109-122.Oneill, G. W., & Blanck, L. S., & Joyner, M. A. (1980). The use of stimulus control over littering in a natural setting. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 13, 379-381.Reiter S. M., & Samuel, W. (1980). Littering as a function of prior litter and the presence or absence of prohibitive signs. Journal of Applied Psychology, 10, 45-55.Robinson, S. N. (1976). Littering behavior in public places. Environment and Behavior, 8, 363-384.Sherif, M. (1965). The psychology of social norms. New York: Octagon Books. (Reprinted from The psychology of social norms by M. Sherif, 1936, New York: Harper & Brother).


Instructions: Please circle either yes or no to the following questions.1. When you first arrived to each class did you notice whether or not the classroom was clean or littered?


2. When you left after each class did you notice whether or not the classroom was clean or littered?


3. When you left after each class do you remember cleaning up your area?


4. Did you notice any trash receptacles available in the classroom while you were there?


5. Did you notice any signs in the classroom that pertained to keeping the room clean?





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