The Uptrend Effect: Encouraging Healthy Behaviors Through Greater Inferred Normativity

John P. Costello, Aaron M. Garvey, Frank Germann, James E.B. Wilkie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Only a minority of Americans adequately engage in activities experts recommend to curb preventable diseases, such as the consumption of healthful foods and regular physical exercise. This poses a challenge for policy makers and social marketers alike, given the substantial impact descriptive norms have on behaviors in the health domain. The authors propose a new way to address this challenge by identifying what they call the “uptrend effect.” This effect encourages descriptively nonnormative, healthy behaviors through uptrend messaging that makes salient actual increased engagement in those behaviors over time without referencing an objective descriptive norm. Across seven experimental studies, including studies conducted in the field and measuring real behaviors, this research demonstrates that uptrend messaging leads recipients to infer greater descriptive normativity for the target behavior, which subsequently improves engagement. The authors identify theoretically and practically relevant boundary conditions, showing that the uptrend effect is attenuated when the growth in a behavior is driven by a dissimilar group or when the message explicitly states a descriptive norm. They also demonstrate that uptrend messaging outperforms other norm-based approaches. The theory and findings of this research inform scholars, policy makers, and marketers by providing actionable and easy-to-implement techniques to encourage behaviors that improve consumer quality of life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-127
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Marketing Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© American Marketing Association 2023.


  • health behavior
  • messaging
  • social norms
  • trend information

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing


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