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Interpersonal Influence within Car Buyers’ Social Networks: Observing Consumer Assessment of Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) and the Spread of Pro-Societal Values

Abstract

Consumer purchase behavior is central to the successful deployment of alternative-fuel passenger vehicles. This dissertation explores the role of social influence in vehicle purchase behavior via observations of car buyers’ assessments of plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles (PHEVs). Five theoretical perspectives on social influence are used to analyze these behaviors: contagion, conformity, dissemination, translation, and reflexivity. Social interactions are found to have substantial influence over the majority of participants’ assessments. Contagion and similar theoretical perspectives over-simplify processes of social influence, while translation and reflexivity better provide the language and theoretical depth required to integrate the observed perceptions and social processes with concepts of self-identity. Car buyers who are typically motivated by the private benefits of vehicles may be amenable to developing new, pro-societal interpretations of PHEVs. Social influence is important, as is the development and use of behaviorally realistic theoretical frameworks to advance transportation and energy policies that rely on the widespread adoption of new technologies.

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