Addressing the recreation specialization and norm theory gap: Connecting scuba diver specialization level to norms for underwater behaviors, resource conditions, and crowding
This study sought to connect two bodies of knowledge—recreation specialization theory and social norms. Recreation specialization is a way of segmenting recreationists into meaningful subgroups that are ordered along a continuum from low to high. Norms are evaluations of "what should be" that are held and sanctioned by social groups. The centrality of the social group to both recreation specialization and social norms inspired an inquiry into the linkages between the two theories. Scuba divers were intercepted in the Florida Keys between June 2006 and March 2007 and later sent a mail questionnaire that asked them about their norms for resource conditions, behaviors, and crowding. Scuba diver specialization level was determined using an index based on the social worlds literature. Based on two propositions from recreation specialization, it was hypothesized that highly specialized divers would have higher norm intensity and crystallization for resource conditions, behaviors, and sanctions than would less specialized divers. It was also proposed that crowding be added as a new recreation specialization proposition. From this, it was hypothesized that more highly specialized divers would have higher norm intensity and crystallization for crowding conditions than would less specialized divers. Two of the study's eight null hypotheses were rejected: (1) there is no difference in resource condition norm intensity by specialization level and (2) there is no difference in resource condition norm crystallization by specialization level. A number of significant items in the other hypothesis tests suggest that high specialization divers felt most strongly about their obligation not to engage in behaviors that can negatively impact reef health. More specialized divers were also more accepting of not encountering other people and boats at a dive site. The choice of Scuba divers as a study population may have had some impact on the results, due to the training requirements and relatively high specialization of this recreation group. Recommendations for future research include focusing on the role of norm strength in differentiation by specialization, understanding the significance of the zero encounter condition, and finding new approaches that tie resource condition norms more strongly to biological data.