Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

UseLESS Plastic

The problem of plastic

Plastic consumption has become an increasingly large problem over the past decades, and in 2017 there was 6.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic waste (Parker, 2017) and it has been reported that one of the largest sources of this waste is from drinks bottles. Trowsdale, Housden, and Meier (2017) reported that 480 billion plastic bottles were sold in 2016 which is the equivalent of 1,000,000 plastic bottles being sold every minute.

The Marine Conservation Society (2017) found that since 1994, plastic litter has increased by 180%. This growing issue has become even more apparent since China recently placed a ban on importing plastic waste from countries including the UK. In previous years, Britain shipped roughly 500,000 tonnes of plastic to China for it to be recycled, but this will no longer be possible (Harrabin, 2018). There is a growing concern that Britain will be unable to deal effectively with the excess plastic and therefore it is more important than ever to start reducing plastic consumption when possible.  

There has been extensive media coverage about plastic waste consumption in the news. For example, the Guardian have stated that the amount of plastic which is produced every year is roughly the equivalent of the entire weight of humanity (MacArthur, 2017).  See Figure 1. for the increase in global annual plastic production.

Figure 1- Global annual plastic production increase in million tons.

The government are on board to help reduce plastic waste. Recently, new measures have been proposed which suggest alternative ways in which the country could prevent levels of wasted plastic consumption from worsening.  For example, the government have suggested charging each customer a 25p levy for each plastic cup they purchase. Hopefully this extra cost would encourage others to cut down on individual plastic waste and the revenue generated could be put towards producing maintaining facilities which ensure other disposable cups are recycled (Environmental Audit Committee, 2018). Another measure suggested is introducing deposit return schemes which involves individuals paying a small sum of money which will be refunded back to the individual once the bottle or can has been returned. This already takes place in several other countries including Germany and the success of this scheme can be highlighted by the fact that Germany has now has reached a recycling rate of 99% (Laville & Zhou, 2017).

In the UK alone, 35.8 million plastic water bottles are used every single day on average (Refill). However, according to the website Refill, if just 1 in 10 people refilled their bottle once a week, there would be 340 million less plastic bottles a year. Therefore, we thought that using a reusable bottle would be feasible for students and staff to do and would have large wide-reaching benefits.

How we solved the problem:

Stage 1: Where to start

To get the ball rolling we decided to plan a meeting with Tony Howard (Director of Food and Retail Strategy) and David Chapman (Sustainability Champion). In this meeting we incorporated two key persuasion tactics. Firstly, we used the ‘Just Ask’ principle. The Just Ask principle suggests that if you ask for something, you are likely to get what you asked for (Hills, 2014).

Secondly, we attempted the ‘Door-in-the-Face’ tactic. This technique states that one should demand a large favour which will normally be rejected, but will create a feeling of indebtedness which will increase the chance that a smaller request will be accepted (Pratkanis, 2007). Moreover, due to the contrast effect, the smaller request will now appear more attractive as it will be compared to the previous large request (Miller, 1974). We were aware that the Door-in-the-Face tactic can backfire if future negotiations are likely; if the people you’re negotiating with realise that you’re using this tactic, they may see you as less trustworthy and be more likely to switch to a different person to collaborate with in the future (Wong & Howard, 2018). However, as we only needed to negotiate once for our funding, we decided that the door-in-the-face tactic would be appropriate in this case.  We decided that we would ask for funding for 2000 reusable water bottles. This was our big request. Why 2,000? We needed to create a social norm. We hoped that if people saw their peers with our water bottles, they would want one too and would create an expectation that using reusable water bottles on campus is the norm rather than using plastic water bottles. Creating a social norm will also create social pressures to conform which will encourage long-term use of the bottles (Prakanis, 2007).  We did not expect Tony and David to accept our big request, so we had a back up (to ask them to remove plastic straws from SU outlet bars and only give them to customers who directly request them). This would have been our small request as it would cost nothing. However, Tony and David loved our idea to give out reusable water bottles and were happy to help. Tony even committed to getting rid of single use plastic cups from water fountains. This meant that we didn’t get chance to offer our small request as they accepted our big request! Note: we did manage to reduce plastic straw consumption in Leamington Spa though…(see mini project on plastic straws at the end of the page).

2. Securing Funding

Having decided how many bottles we would need (2,000), we then had to research how much they would cost and where we would get the funding from. We received various quotes of around £1-£2 per bottle. David helped us get in touch with the SU in order to apply for funding. We applied for £2,000 from the University Environment and Sustainability Fund in the hope that we could get 2,000 bottles for £1 each. We did not expect to receive the full £2,000 but decided to ‘Just Ask’ for it anyway. We then had to attend a meeting with the Development Exec to answers questions about our application. The board rejected our request of £2,000 but decided to grant us £500 instead. We believe that asking for £2,000 anchored them on a high number. This meant that the amount of money they gave us was still generous. If we had asked for a lower number, say £500, they might have anchored on this and offered us a lower amount. Anchoring is a cognitive heuristic which explains how judgements can be influenced by completely random numbers without individuals being aware the numbers had influenced their judgement (Wilson, Houston, Etling, & Brekke,1996). Our £2000 may have acted as a base value for the Development Exec and helped us to secure a funding of £500. After securing the £500 funding from the SU, we received a message from Tony stating that he’d managed to secure us full funding for 2,000 reusable metal water bottles. We added the £500 from the SU to the funding from the University in order to print both the SU and University logos onto the bottles.

3. Promoting our campaign

Once we had secured funding for the 2,000 bottles we could promote our campaign. We designed posters to put up around campus and ‘Just Asked’ various people to post on facebook/ email students in order to get the word out.

The poster we designed used the scarcity principle in order to encourage staff and students to come and collect their bottles quickly before they all ran out! The poster said ‘Limited number of bottles available: Once they’re gone, they’re gone!’. We expected that when people saw there were a limited number of bottles available, they would rush to get theirs before it was too late! When items are scarce, they are highly sought after. The concept of scarcity was demonstrated in a study by Brehm and Weintraub (1977), where they found that less accessible items were more desired when compared to items that were more accessible. Another study by Van Herpen, Pieters and Zeelenberg (2014) found that scarce products were rated more unique and exclusive than products that were not scarce, leading to more people choosing the scarce product over the non-scarce one. Highlighting the scarcity of the bottles would therefore increase their desirability and value, making people want one more.

We also used rhetorical questions in our poster, such as “Did you know London alone uses 7.7 billion plastic bottles a year?” According to Burnkrant & Howard (1984), rhetorical questions can increase processing of a message which results in increased persuasion when the message is strong, as ours is.

4. Giving out the bottles

Our main persuasion tactic when giving out our FREE reusable bottles was the reciprocity principle. Over the course of two days, we gave away all 2,000 bottles. We gave the bottles away for FREE so people would download a free app called ‘Refill’ designed to show them where they can fill up their water bottle on campus and parts of the UK. When we are given something for free we feel obliged to repay the favour as we do not like to feel indebted to people (Cialdini, 2007). The reciprocity rule is demonstrated in a study by Burger, Sanchez, Imberi and Grande (2009). A confederate in this study asked all the participants to fill in a questionnaire and return it in a few days, whilst also giving half the participants a free water bottle. The questionnaires were either anonymous or non-anonymous. When the participants received a favour (the water bottle from the confederate), they were more likely to return the questionnaire than when they didn’t received a favour, regardless of whether the questionnaires were anonymous or not. This was an important finding for our project as downloading the app at a later date would be anonymous; we would not know who had downloaded the app and who hadn’t. Whilst we trusted that people would download the app later, we encouraged participants to download the app straight after taking a free water bottle because previous research has found that people are less likely to return a favour as the length of time increases between the initial favour and the chance to reciprocate. For example, Burger, Horita, Kinoshita, Roberts and Vera (1997) found that participants were more inclined to repay a favour when they were asked 5 minutes after they had received a free drink from the confederate rather than 1 week later. It was difficult to measure how many people actually downloaded the app (although some people did it straight away in front of us, which is evidence that the reciprocity principle worked!). However, it is clear that the app is becoming much more widely used across campus, likely due to us asking people to download it. Before the launch of our campaign, there were only two refill sites on campus. There are now seventeen (and counting)! We hope that the app will encourage people to continue to use their reusable water bottles.

Figure 2. Day 1 of giving out the FREE water bottles in Rootes Grocery Store

We also invoked the principle of written commitment. We asked people to sign a statement that said “I will use my reusable water bottle as much as possible, and will therefore be reducing plastic waste and helping to save the environment”.  This principle is demonstrated in a study by Deutsch and Gerard (1955). In this study, individuals were split into three groups and asked to make estimates about the length of lines. One group was asked to keep their estimates to themselves (in their head) and not write them down. The second group was asked to write their estimates down but not show anyone else. The third group was asked to write their estimates down and show the experimenter. The experimenters then told the participants that their estimates were incorrect and the participants were given the chance to change their estimates. The researchers were interested in how many participants changed their minds once receiving disconfirming evidence. Interestingly, the group most resistant to changing their minds were those who had written their estimates down and shown the experimenter, showing the power of written commitments. When people signed the pledge they committed to using their water bottle as much as possible. We hope that their intention to use their water bottle as much as possible will transform into actual behaviour of reusing their water bottle.

Another principle we used when giving out the bottles was social proof. We used A3 sheets of paper to collect signatures for our pledge in the hope that when people saw others have pledged to use their bottles as much as they can, they would too. Cialdini (2007) stated that people are more likely to conform with an action when they have a lot of proof that it is the correct thing to do. Moreover, Burger and Shelton (2011) highlighted the power of social proof. They found that simply placing a sign stating “more than 90 percent of the time, people in this building use the stairs instead of the elevator” resulted in the number of people using the elevator falling by 46%. We kept the full sheets of paper on the table for people to see (see Figure 3). By laying out the completed signature sheets, people had proof that others are using reusable water bottles and thus increased the likelihood that they too would take and re-use a bottle.

Figure 3. The ten A3 sheets of paper, full of signatures of individuals committing to using their water bottles.

A visual representation of the different stages of our project


We are confident that our project was a huge success. 2,000 staff and students at The University of Warwick have committed to using reusable water bottles. Warwick University have also committed to removing single-use plastic cups from water fountains.

Mini Project: How we reduced plastic straw consumption...

It is not a rare occurence to be asked if you want a plastic straw when ordering a drink at a bar. Many people do not understand that answering yes to this question makes them a key contributor to the devastating amount of plastic being used and dumped in the ocean everyday. Over 500 million straws are used everyday in the US (Parker, 2018), making single-use plastic straw consumption a serious issue. Plastic straw consumption is such a pressing issue that the UK Environment secretary Michael Gove has urged the UK government to ban the sale of plastic straws (Independent, 2018).

To reduce commercial plastic straw consumption, we created a pledge and asked eight local business to sign it. The pledge stated ‘we will only give out plastic straws to customers who directly request them’. When showing the managers the pledge, they saw the list of other businesses who had signed it. Here we enforced the technique of  social proof; people like to follow what others see as correct (Cialdini, 2014). When the business managers saw that other local companies had signed our pledge, they too felt obliged to sign it. Therefore, the Leamington business owners likely signed the straw petition as they believed that if others thought it was the correct thing to do, then they should too. Furthermore, a previous study looking at social proof found that people are more likely to conform to what others have done if the others are similar to them (Hornstein, Fisch & Holmes, 1968). The Leamington Spa business owners were likely to sign our petition as all the previous signers were similar to themselves.

Eight business signed our pledge to reduce plastic straw consumption. Similarly to our water bottle campaign, we also used written commitment. Written commitment has proven to be an effective method to get people to behave consistently with their prior beliefs (Levy, 1997). We hoped that the businesses would stick to their promise and only give straws to those who have asked for one. Those who didn’t sign the pledge already had steps in place to reduce plastic straw consumption which is great!


We would like to say a huge thank you to Tony Howard (Director of Food and Retail Strategy) and David Chapman (Sustainability Champion) who helped us along the way. From securing funding to suggesting ways we can make our campaign more effective to sourcing environmentally friendly bottles. We also would like to thank Megan Holland (Marketing Officer) for working behind the scenes with the marketing of our campaign. Finally, we would like to thank the SU for their contribution to our funding. It would not have been possible to do this project without all of these individuals.

By Lottie Devey Smith, Hattie Goodhart and Rebecca Jacobs.


Burger, J. M., Horita, M., Kinoshita, L., Roberts, K., & Vera, C. (1997). Effects on time on the norm of reciprocity. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 19, 91-100.

Burger, J. M., Sanchez, J., Imberi, J. E., & Grande, L. R. (2009). The norm of reciprocity as an internalized social norm: Returning favors even when no one finds out. Social Influence, 4, 11-17.

Burger, J. M., & Shelton, M. (2011). Changing everyday health behaviors through descriptive norm manipulations. Social Influence, 6, 69-77.

Burnkrant, R. E., & Howard, D. J. (1984). Effects of the use of introductory rhetorical questions versus statements on information processing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47, 1218-1230.

Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. New York: Collins.

Cialdini, R. B. (2014). Influence: Science and practice. Harlow, Essex: Pearson Education Limited.

Environmental Audit Committee. (2018). Disposable Packaging: Coffee Cups. UK: House of            Commons.

Eriksen, M., Lebreton, L. C. M., Carson, H. S., Thiel, M., Moore, C. J., Borerro, J. C., Galgani, F., Ryan, P. G., & Reisser, J. (2014). Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans: more than 5 trillion plastic pieces weighing over 250,000 tons afloat at sea. Plos One, 9, 1-15.

Harrabin, R. (2018, January 1). UK faces build-up of plastic waste. The BBC. Retrieved from:   

Hornstein, H. A., Fisch, E., & Holmes, M. (1968). Influence of a model’s feeling about his behavior and his relevance as a comparison other on observers’ helping behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 10, 222-226.

Laville, S., & Zhou, N. (2017, June 29). Could a money-back scheme clean up the UK’s                       plastic bottle plague? The Guardian. Retrieved from:                                         

Levy, R. L. (1977). Relationship of an overt commitment to task compliance in behavior                   therapy. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 8, 25-29.

MacArthur. (2017, June 28).  A million bottles a minute: world’s plastic binge ‘as dangerous as climate change’. The Guardian. Retrieved from:                         

Marine Conservation Society. (2017, November 30). Beach litter rises 10% in the UK,                        shocking report reveals.

Parker, L. (2017, July 19). A whopping 91% of plastic isn’t recycled. National Geographic.                Retrieved from:

Parker, L. (2018, February 23). Straw Wars: The Fight to Rid the Oceans of Discarded                         Plastic. National Geographic. Retrieved from:


Trowsdale, A., Housden, T., & Meier, B. (2017, December 10). Seven charts that explain the           plastic pollution problem. The BBC. Retrieved from:

Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Science, 185, 1124-1131.

Van Herpen, E., Pieters, R., & Zeelenberg, M. (2014). When less sells more or less: The scarcity principle in wine choice. Food Quality and Preference, 36, 153-160.

Watts, J. (2018, April 18). UK to ban sale of plastic straws and drink stirrers that blight the country’s seas and rivers, ministers say. The Independent. Retrieved from:

Wilson, T. D., Houston, C. E., Etling, K. M., & Brekke, N. (1996). A new look at anchoring   effects: basic anchoring and its antecedents. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 125, 387- 402.

Wong, R. S., & Howard, S. (2018). Think twice before using door-in-the-face tactics in repeated negotiation: Effects on negotiated outcomes, trust and perceived ethical behaviour. International Journal of Conflict Management, 29, 167-188.

Spreading happiness: One Smile at a Time

Intuitively, we know that social interactions are good for us. Talking to others tends to make us feel better, and when we don’t talk to anyone we start to feel lonely and isolated. Although intuition and research don’t always agree with each other, this is one case where they do. In fact, studies have found that the positive effects of social interactions (and, on the flip side, the negative effects of social isolation) are further reaching than you might expect. Social isolation can negatively impact both physical and mental health. For example, Thurston and Kubzansky (2009) found that higher levels of loneliness were associated with a higher risk of heart disease in women. Hawkley and Cacioppo (2003) found that socially isolated young adults rated everyday events as more stressful, were less likely to actively cope with any problems they faced, and had poorer sleep quality.

Starting university is, for most students, a big life change. You are moving away from your family and friends, and while this can lead to lots of new friends and opportunities, it can also be easy to feel socially isolated. Ibrahim, Kelly, Adams and Glazebrook (2013) analysed 24 different studies looking at rates of depression among university students from a range of cultures and found that there was a mean prevalence of 30.6%. This a much higher rate than is normally found in the general population. The Mind website states that 3.3 in 100 people in England are diagnosed with depression (McManus, Bebbington, Jenkins, & Brugha, 2016). This suggests that university is a difficult time for a lot of people in terms of their mental health as prevalence rates among students are high.

So, we decided to encourage students to communicate with someone to spread a little bit of happiness!

Turning that frown upside down: What we did 

We created a postcard designed for students to give to a friend. We had 1000 postcards printed and we distributed them around campus. In some locations we left sign-up sheets and a stack of postcards for people to help themselves to and in other locations we stood and gave them out in person (e.g. outside the library and in several cafes around campus).

We based our project on the behavioural concept of implementation intentions. We thought it was interesting that getting someone to pledge the specifics of when, where and what they are going to do, makes it more likely that they will follow through and do it.

We know that many students suffer with poor mental health during their time at university on top of stress, loneliness, homesickness and much more. It is easy for students to lose touch with their friends when their workload increases. We wanted to encourage students to gift a little note to a friend, family member or stranger to brighten that person’s day. It is important that we stay in touch with our loved ones in times of stress and just starting the conversation can sometimes be difficult.


Our main persuasion technique: Implementation Intentions

Gollwitzer (1999) describes implementation intentions as ‘the when, where and how’ underlying a goal intention. For example, for the goal intention of losing weight, one of the implementation intentions might be to exercise daily for 60 minutes after work. You can think of implementation intentions as the instructions that you need to follow in order to fulfil your goal.

Research has shown that if you explicitly state your implementation intentions, you will be more likely to complete your goal. For example, Orbell, Hodgkins and Sheeran (1997) asked female participants how strongly they intended to perform a breast self-examination within the next month. Then, some of the participants were also asked to state when and where they would do this (implementation intentions). Of those who had strong goals to complete the self-exam, 100% went through with it if they had also provided implementation intentions, compared to only 53% of those who did not provide implementation intentions.

In our project, we asked people to write down when they would send the postcard (today, tomorrow or next week) and who they would send it to (friend, family or other). This formed each individual’s implementation intentions for sending their post card. Based on the research, anyone who took a postcard and filled in the implementation intentions should be more likely to actually send it than if we hadn’t asked them to provide this information.

Social Proof

The principle of social proof explains that the actions of those around us will help us make decisions about what behaviour is correct and appropriate for a situation. For example, Bandura, Grusec and Menlove (1967) studied nursery school age children with a fear of dogs who were shown another little boy playing with a dog for 20 minutes a day. After 4 days, 67% of the children were happy to be left alone with a dog. The children used the boy’s behaviour to infer how they should behave themselves. Similarly, 37% more Facebook users explored the advertised security features when shown the number of their friends that also used the features, compared to a control group (Das, Kramer, Dabbish & Hong, 2014). So, if your friends are doing it, you are likely to do it too!

The sign-up sheets that we left in various locations across the University of Warwick campus had several signitatures and pledges on them that we had previously obtained by asking friends to take a postcard first. Based on the principle of social proof, people should have been more likely to make a pledge than if we had put up blank sign-up sheets.

‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get!’

Just asking people to do something can be a powerful persuasion technique. For instance, Flynn and Bohns (2008) found that on average, participants needed to ask just 10.5 strangers to fill out a questionnaire in order to receive 5 ‘yes’ responses. This was in contrast to participants’ expectations; on average, people expected to have to ask 20.5 strangers. We ‘just asked’ people to take a postcard, either by speaking to them in person or through the sign-up sheets we put up. Hopefully, by explicitly asking people to take a postcard, we increased the rate of people who did so.


We used the persuasion technique of reciprocity by offering free postcards to students and then asking for a minute of their time in return. Research has shown that giving something away for free activates the reciprocity rule and makes us want to repay the favour to whoever gave us the gift. Kolyesnikova and Dodd (2009) found that offering free wine tasting lead to more money being spent on wine afterwards, compared to those who paid for the service of wine tasting. Being offered a free sample of wine activated the reciprocity rule and therefore, participants felt obliged to spend more money on wine in the winery afterwards. Those who paid for the service of wine tasting did not feel this commitment or obligation and so spent less. This means that people were more likely to stop and make the pledge to send the postcard if we offer them the free postcard first. We found that this was one of the best ways to get people to stop and fill in our pledge sheet.

The reciprocity effect even persists when the person who offered the initial favour is no longer present (Burger, Sanchez, Imberi, & Grande, 2009). Hopefully this was true for the people who took the postcards. We were not always present when the postcards were taken, as some were left in locations for people to help themselves to. Also, even in situations where we were present for the pledge, we were not present when the postcards were actually posted or given away. Based on the research, the reciprocity rule should still apply and people should feel encouraged to send their postcard because it was a free gift.

With our behaviour change project we have successfully handed out 1000 postcards in an attempt to spread happiness among students. If your friend seems stressed or distant, just ask them if they’re okay (or send a postcard). Reaching out to someone can make all the difference.

By Natasha Townsend, Clare Renshaw & Megan Day


Bandura, A., Grusec, J. E., & Menlove, F. L. (1967). Vicarious extinction of avoidance behaviour. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 5, 16-23.

Burger, J. M., Sanchez, J., Imberi, J. E., & Grande, L. R. (2009). The norm of reciprocity as an internalised social norm: Returning favors even when no one finds out. Social Influence, 4, 11-17.

Das, S., Kramer, A. D. I., Dabbish, L. A., & Hong, J. I. (2014). Increasing security sensitivity with social proof: A large-scale experimental confirmation. International Journal of Electronic Commerce, 16, 91-114.

Flynn, F. J., & Bohns, V. K. (2008). If you need help, just ask: Underestimating compliance with direct requests for help. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 128-143.

Gollwitzer, P. M. (1999). Implementation intentions: Strong effects of simple plans. American Psychologist, 54, 493-503.

Gonzalez, O., et al. (2010). Current depression among adults - United States, 2006 and 2008. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 59, 1229-1235.

Hawkley, L. C., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2003). Loneliness and pathways to disease. Brain, Behaviour, and Immunity, 71, 836.

Ibrahim, A. K., Kelly, S. J., Adams, C. E., & Glazebrook, C. (2013). A systematic review of studies of depression prevalence in university students. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 47, 391-400.

Kolyesnikova, N., & Dodd, T. H. (2009). There is no such thing as a free wine tasting: The effect of a tasting fee on obligation to buy. Journal of Travel and Tourism Marketing, 26, 806-819.

McManus, S., Bebbington, P., Jenkins, R., & Brugha, T. (2016). Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult psychiatric morbidity survey 2014. Retrieved from

Orbell, S., Hodgkins, S., & Sheeran, P. (1997). Implementation intentions and the theory of planned behaviour. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 945-954.

Thurston, R. C., & Kubzansky, L. D. (2009). Women, loneliness, and incident coronary heart disease. Psychosomatic Medicine, 71, 836-842.

#Lookwhostalking: Addressing the increase of communication difficulties observed in young children entering Nursery and Reception classes

A few months ago, I was privileged to be able to interview an Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) leader at a local primary school in Coventry, England. My intent was to ascertain whether psychological methods could be used to positively address current issues within education. We talked at length about a notable increase of communication difficulties observed in young children entering Nursery and Reception classes. The Communication Trust (2017) states that over one million children have some form of long term and persistent speech, language and communication difficulties. They also report that two thirds of 7-14 year olds with serious behaviour problems suffer with a language impairment, and at least 60% of adolescents in young offender institutions experience some form of communication difficulties. The EYFS leader suggested that a decrease in parent-child communication was, in her opinion, the primary cause of a decline in communication development. She gave examples of numerous incidences where she had challenged parents or carers who were collecting their child from school; the parents were engrossed in their personal handheld devices, many also using headphones and thus ignoring their child. Imagine a situation where a child finishes school brimming with excitement to discuss the many experiences of their day but is met with a dismissive and uninterested response. An upsetting yet daily experience for many children, where countless opportunities to explore and discuss the events of their day are regularly overlooked in favour of selfish pursuits from their primary caregiver.

The recent influx of handheld devices has led to many positive outcomes such as; round the clock access to news and current affairs, immediate connectivity to friends and family and the ability to interact with like-minded others around the globe. However, there are also many consequences to overuse of such devices to be aware of. In 2017, 42% of children under 8 years old owned a personal tablet or mobile device (Common Sense Media, 2017). It is understandable that with hectic lives and busy schedules, parents may search for easy solutions to entertain their children whilst they relax at home, feeling that they are furthering their child’s knowledge and understanding of technology. Although this could be considered to prepare children for the modern world, there is evidence to suggest that it could cause severe developmental delays (Chonchaiya & Pruksananonda, 2008). Use of the device is not the cause for these detrimental consequences. However, extended use which replaces stimulating parent-child communication, leading to an overall decrease in two-way communication throughout the household.

If you consider how little time parents have with their children between school and bedtime, the fact that children spend on average 48 minutes each day on a handheld device is worrisome (Common Sense Media, 2017). It is shocking to learn that 57% of young children are not read to daily (Common Sense Media, 2017). It is well known that sharing a story is fundamental to developing literacy skills and language acquisition (Jones, 2018). Unfortunately, instead of hearing a bedtime story half of children under 8 years old spend their final few hours before bed in front of the television (Common Sense Media, 2017). Screen time is known to have a detrimental effect on both sleep quality and memory consolidation (Grønli et al., 2016). Consequently, these children are deprived of a daily opportunity to develop their communication skills.

Following the interview, I decided to design a video which would increase awareness of this developing issue, while challenging the viewers to increase the amount of conscious time which they dedicated to parent-child communication. The video begins by stating the problem reported by the EYFS leader and presents quantitative statistics to support these qualitative observations. It proceeds to inform parents about the consequences of decreased parent-child communication. I researched simple to administer activities which families could integrate into their daily lives to improve parent-child communication. These included eating as a family (Fulkerson et al., 2010), engaging in playful behaviour (Ginsburg, 2007), and shared reading (Horst, Parsons, & Bryan, 2011). I challenged parents to make a commitment to their children by incorporating one or more of these activities. The video ends by highlighting the potential positive outcomes such as developing their child’s communication skills, vocabulary, and improving attachments.

The campaign follows the format of the successful and widely popular ALS ice bucket challenge which reached a wider audience using nominations to generate additional participants, leading to increased donations (Woolf, 2016). Similarly, I asked parents to share their activities and nominate others to post their own. During the design of the video and campaign, I used a variety of persuasive psychological methods to facilitate behaviour change. The following techniques were used to create and spread the message within the video:

Foot in door technique: The first step was to create a Facebook group from which I would post my final video. Upon creating the page, I asked people within my social network to ‘like’ it so that I could show them the video once it had been completed. According to the foot in the door technique, I could use compliance tactics to increase the distribution of my video (Freedman & Fraser, 1966). Once a person has agreed to a small request, they are more likely to agree to a larger request. Although quite an old technique, the effect is still found to work with time consuming computer-based favours. Through email communication, a person is more likely to complete a 15-20 minute online survey after initially responding to a smaller favour (Guéguen, 2002). Using this technique, I was able to make another request for people to engage in the campaign, requesting personal images which could be used in the video (as free to use google images were limiting and appeared ingenuine). Making these additional small requests in an increasingly demanding order meant that once the video was ready to be published, I could expect more people to be willing to participate in the larger request of sharing the video and/or taking part in the activities outlined within it.

Sadvertising: My next step was to gather imagery and music which I could use for the video. The annual John Lewis Christmas adverts are some of the most anticipated and talked about adverts of recent times (Ashton, 2016). Their adverts are highly emotive and appear to be purposefully so, with a combination of slow melancholic instruments and a heart-warming tale, progressing from sad to uplifting through the course of the advertisement. Emotional appeal adverts evoke empathic emotions and produce favourable attitudes towards helping, especially in females (Wang, 2008). It is for this reason that I purposely selected a well-known song to carry the message of my video, Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound of Silence’. This song was originally released in 1964 but returned to the charts in 2016, thus meaning a range of viewers would be familiar with the song. I searched for an instrumental version of this song and found a musician who composes violin and piano pieces. The artist gave me permission to use her cover version as a backing track. Here is a link to the original video:

Guilt and the negativity effect: The video begins with negative and sad images presented in black and white. This is a technique used effectively by charitable organisations (Hudson, 2013). A study by Basil, Ridgway and Basil (2006) found that guilt appeals induce a sense of responsibility in the targeted audience. The negativity effect is the finding that negative information receives more attention and is more influential than positive information (Lau, 1982). Therefore, the beginning of the video is particularly negative, focusing on the consequences of reduced communication with children. This should induce a receptive state of mind in audience members, with the anticipated effect that they will be more willing to accept the suggestions provided regarding how to help their children.

Authority: The beginning of the video starts with a quote from a professional deemed to have authority in an educational setting, the EYFS leader of a large school. Authority has been shown to persuade people to do all forms of things, from giving a stranger some change for a parking meter (Bushman, 1984), to administering dangerously high dosages of drugs (Hofling, Brotzman, Dalrymple, Graves, & Pierce, 1966). The video makes use of data from scientific papers and paediatrician reports, all of which derive from a person or organisation in positions of authority on the subject. This should therefore increase the audiences trust in the information provided in the video.

Pique technique: In my project, you will notice that I have suggested parents give up 16 minutes of their day to focus on communicating with their child. This may seem like an odd duration of time, but it is intentionally unusual. According to the persuasion tactic known as the pique technique, unusual requests result in increased cooperation (Santos, Leve, & Pratkanis, 1994). This study demonstrates that asking for an unusual amount of cash, for example 17 or 37 cents, piques the person’s interest and increases their liking of the person making the request, this results in greater compliance to the request. It is for this reason that I selected the arbitrary number of 16, which is simply a third of the amount of time children use per day, on handheld devices (48 minutes).

Egoistic messages: By directly referring to the viewer’s own children, I highlight a personal benefit to them. When people perceive personal gain, they are more likely to comply to a request (Chang, 2014). In this study, people made larger donations to charity when they were reminded of how good the donation will make them feel, as opposed to how much the donation would help the benefactor. This finding suggests that the method of addressing the viewers own children will encourage them to make greater time donations to the campaign. This should continue to manifest over the coming months in the form of continued practice or communicating for longer than the suggested 16 minutes.

Making public commitment: In the video I ask the audience to comment on, or share the video indicating their individual ideas and how they intend to increase interactions with their child. This is asking the person to publicly commit their intentions towards the project. This has been shown to result in increased compliance due to people wanting to appear consistent to others (Cialdini, 2007). An example of this is that the more public a weight loss commitment is, the more likely a person is to maintain long-term weight-loss behaviour (Nyer & Dellande, 2009).

Rejection then retreat technique: I originally targeted everyone who ‘liked’ the Facebook page, asking them to participate by posting a picture or video of them communicating with their child. If refused (many didn’t have children), I asked a smaller request of sharing the campaign video. The rejection then retreat technique suggests people are more likely to feel the need to reciprocate with a concession of their own once you have made one yourself (reducing the original request) (Cialdini et al., 1975). Cialdini found that when asked, only 17% of people agreed to chaperone juvenile offenders on a trip to the zoo. Cialdini was able to increase compliance to 50% for the same request if he first asked a larger favour (volunteering 2 hours per week for 2 years in a juvenile centre). The rejection then retreat technique is effective in the sales profession, where it is common to be denied. Sales people will often follow a denial by asking “Do you know anybody else who may be interested?”. Names obtained by the salesperson are especially useful, because people are more likely to purchase from them if they learn that a friend has recommended them (Cialdini, 2007).

Multiple sources: I asked people and organisations to share the video on their own social media pages. Obviously, exposing the video to more eyes means that the message is spread further, but there is another benefit to this. Studies suggest that the larger the amount of people saying (or supporting) something increases its validity in the eyes of the audience (Harkins & Petty, 1981; Harkins & Petty, 1987; Moore, Mowen, & Reardon, 1994). This means that the more people share this video, the more people will value its information. Therefore, the earlier use of the foot in the door technique (Freedman & Fraser, 1966) will become important, as it will facilitate a higher amount of willingness to share the video.

The campaign has only just begun, so it is difficult to gauge how successful the campaign can be in the long term. At present, the video has 246 views on YouTube, 9 ‘likes’ and 7 comments, and the original Facebook post has reached 1178 people. The post has been shared 16 times on Facebook, but I anticipate this to increase considerably if I can obtain the support of people with large followings. I have approached charities which share a similar goal to this campaign, to request their help in introducing it to a larger audience. I am currently awaiting responses from the Thirty Million Words initiative, Every Child a Reader, and Reach Out & Read. In the meantime, I have received positive communication from many individuals such as a secondary school teacher and a probation officer, who are both new first-time parents. It has been rewarding to know that the campaign is appreciated and taken seriously by these people, as these are the perfect audience to help make a change.
Overall, this project has been an absolute pleasure to work on, and I feel that this very important dilemma has been highlighted appropriately. After gauging the early reaction to the campaign, I am optimistic of talkative, family orientated generations to come! To end this post I present some of the wonderful examples already shared. I welcome you to take a look who’s talking!


Ashton, J. (2016). The man behind John Lewis's festive advert on why it's no longer about sadvertising. Retrieved from

Basil, D. Z., Ridgway, N. M., & Basil, M. D. (2006). Guilt appeals: The mediating effect of responsibility. Psychology & Marketing, 23, 1035-1054.

Bushman, B. J. (1984). Perceived symbols of authority and their influence on compliance. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 14, 501-508.

Chang, C. (2014). Guilt regulation: The relative effects of altruistic versus egoistic appeals for charity advertising. Journal of Advertising, 43, 211-227.

Chonchaiya, W., & Pruksananonda, C. (2008). Television viewing associates with delayed language development. Acta Paediatrica, 97, 977-982.

Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. New York, NY: Collins.

Cialdini, R. B., Vincent, J. E., Lewis, S. K., Catalan, J., Wheeler, D., & Darby, B. L. (1975). Reciprocal concessions procedure for inducing compliance: The door-in-the-face technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 206-215.

Common Sense Media. (2017). The common sense census: Media use by kids age zero to eight. Retrieved from

Freedman, J. L., & Fraser, S. C. (1966). Compliance without pressure: The foot-in-the-door technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 195-202.

Fulkerson, J. A., Pasch, K. E., Stigler, M. H., Farbakhsh, K., Perry, C. L., & Komro, K. A. (2010). Longitudinal associations between family dinner and adolescent perceptions of parent-child communication among racially diverse urban youth. Journal of Family Psychology, 24, 261-270.

Ginsburg, K. R. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics, 119, 182-191.

Grønli, J., Byrkjedal, I. K., Bjorvatn, B., Nødtvedt, Ø., Hamre, B., & Pallesen, S. (2016). Reading from an iPad or from a book in bed: the impact on human sleep. A randomized controlled crossover trial. Sleep medicine, 21, 86-92.

Guéguen, N. (2002). Foot-in-the-door technique and computer-mediated communication. Computers in Human Behavior, 18, 11-15.

Harkins, S. G., & Petty, R. E. (1981). The multiple source effect in persuasion: The effects of distraction. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 7, 627-635.

Harkins, S. G., & Petty, R. E. (1987). Information utility and the multiple source effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 260-268.

Hofling, C. K., Brotzman, E., Dalrymple, S., Graves, N., & Pierce, C. M. (1966). An experimental study in nurse-physician relationships. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 143, 171-180.

Horst, J. S., Parsons, K. L., & Bryan, N. M. (2011). Get the story straight: Contextual repetition promotes word learning from storybooks. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 17.

Hudson, S. (2013). Are emotive appeals effective in persuading people to give to charity? Retrieved from

Jones, P. (2018). The Brainy Benefits of Bedtime Stories. Retrieved from

Lau, R. R. (1982). Negativity in political perception. Political Behavior, 4, 353-377.

Moore, D. J., Mowen, J. C., & Reardon, R. (1994). Multiple sources in advertising appeals: When product endorsers are paid by the advertising sponsor. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 22, 234-243.

Nyer, P. U., & Dellande, S. (2010). Public commitment as a motivator for weight loss. Psychology & Marketing, 27, 1-12.

Santos, M. D., Leve, C., & Pratkanis, A. R. (1994). Hey buddy, can you spare seventeen cents? Mindful persuasion and the pique technique. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 24, 755-764.

The Communication Trust. (2017). Communication difficulties – Facts and Stats.  Retrieved from

Wang, C. L. (2008). Gender differences in responding to sad emotional appeal: A moderated mediation explanation. Journal of Nonprofit & Public Sector Marketing, 19, 55-70.

Woolf, N. (2016). Remember the ice bucket challenge? It just funded an ALS breakthrough.  Retrieved from

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

From where it all began…Understanding the Power of Behaviour Change

Image result for the eternal jew 
-          Understanding the power that advertisements can have on their viewers most powerfully resonated with me when I watched the ‘Eternal Jew’ with a friend on YouTube . This was thought to be one of the
-          most well-known and influential Propaganda adverts used within Nazi Germany during World War II. Their infamous demonization of the enemy technique (Zimbardo, 2003) in representing Jews as non- human trying to corrupt German Racial Purity was perversely captivating (Rabbi & Moritz, 1988). Seeing how effective this advert was in influencing people to become so emotionally charged and enact otherwise unimaginable behaviours put a scary undertone to the power of adverts.
 Rabbie, J. M., & Horwitz, M. (1988). Categories versus groups as explanatory concepts in intergroup relations. European Journal of Social Psychology18(2), 117-123.
Zimbardo, P. G. (2004). A situationist perspective on the psychology of evil: Understanding how good people are transformed into perpetrators. The social psychology of good and evil, 21-50.

Hopefully to a better future… 
Image result for syrian 6 year old

In a time of Trump and cultural conflict seeming at an all-time high, this video had a major impact on me in 2016. As a child wrote to Obama to ask if he could adopt a Syrian refugee boy that he had seen on the news it gave hope that the new generation could be the positive change-makers for the future.


More chocolate bars, More shared moments of humanity?  
It’s no secret that John Lewis are notorious for creating simplistic heart-warming Christmas adverts that makes us rush to grab a tissue box almost every time.  However, in 2014 polls showed Sainsbury’s Christmas Advert championing John Lewis’s reigning position with an advert that re-created a historic moment from World War 1. Despite many adverts coming and going, I wanted to investigate why this advert stuck with me 4 years after its making.
The advert starts with German and British soldiers temporarily putting down their arms at Christmas to greet and exchange gifts and ends with a German solider unwrapping his gift of British chocolate. Money collected from customers buying the £1 chocolate bar featured was sent to the Royal British Legion charity.

Image result for sainsburys war advert
The success of the advert was shown by Sainsburys selling an astonishing ‘5,000 chocolate bars per hour’.                                      

What made this advert so successful?
Advertisements’ strategy to market Christmas as a time for ‘sharing’ is no new theme but how did Sainsburys achieve such an increased behaviour change in sales?
The advert’s emphasis on emotional stimulation and increasing empathy is probably the biggest teller of its success. By using employing storytelling (Pratkanis, 2007) we as an audience are immediately captivated by the causal narrative of two young men bravely stepping into ‘No Man’s Land’ to greet one another. This narrative technique is often used within charitable organisations to help create positive emotions in the consumer to help the person in need when being given the opportunity to donate (Merchant et al., 2010).
Another main influential technique used within the narrative of the advert was reciprocity (Cialidini, 2001) . In the advert we first see a young British solider going to the top and then a German Solider repaying the favour in doing the same. This rule of reciprocity is effective in building relationships with people we may not ordinarily like by using this feeling of indebtedness (Cialidini,2001). The power of this strategy is shown when two notorious enemies German and British soldiers follow suit in exchanging greetings and gifts. Furthermore, I realised that this would have also increased customers motivations to buy chocolate bars by making us feel indebted to the sacrifice of past veterans and feel obligated to pay this forward.
While watching, we remain constantly on edge between feelings of happiness at the soliders camaraderie and fear at the impending war. This effect of ‘emotional see-sawing’ is likely to have been effective in fuelling sales since change in emotional equality can often increase compliance (Dolinski & Nawrat, 2007). For example, increased emotional stimulation tends to release oxytocin (the neurochemical responsible for both empathy and narrative transportation) that research has linked to increased generosity (Barazza & Zack, 2011). Linn et al. (2013) also found that the people who were given oxytocin before watching public service advertisements donated 56% more money than the placebo group. Similarly, by getting the audience emotionally invested in the veterans’ brave sacrifice we are likely to have a greater inclination to want to donate to the cause.
Lastly, by tying their Christmas Advert to the significance of WWI starting 100 years earlier, Sainsburys effectively uses the strategy of the availability heuristics (Tverysky & Kahneman, 1973 ). In making us associate Christmas with the haunting memory of WWI, greater emotional meaning is ascribed to the advert, making it more likely to be impressed into our long-term memories. This effect of strengthening emotional associations to increase memory recall has been shown from early research. For example, Hamann et al (1999) found that amygdala encoding when watching emotional films led to enhanced memory recognition for the stimuli when assessed month later. Research also shows that invoking personal nostalgia in this way by linking Christmas with a historic British Event is likely to have enhanced people’s inclinations to donate (Ford el at., 2010)


·         Barraza, J. A., McCullough, M. E., Ahmadi, S., & Zak, P. J. (2011). Oxytocin infusion increases charitable donations regardless of monetary resources. Hormones and Behavior60(2), 148-151.

·         Cialdini, R. B. (2001). The science of persuasion. Scientific American284(2), 76-81.

·         Ford, J. B., & Merchant, A. (2010). Nostalgia drives donations: The power of charitable appeals based on emotions and intentions. Journal of Advertising Research50(4), 450-459.

·         Hamann, S. B., Ely, T. D., Grafton, S. T., & Kilts, C. D. (1999). Amygdala activity related to enhanced memory for pleasant and aversive stimuli. Nature neuroscience2(3), 289.

·         Lin, P. Y., Grewal, N. S., Morin, C., Johnson, W. D., & Zak, P. J. (2013). Oxytocin increases the influence of public service advertisements. PloS one8(2), e56934.

·         Merchant, A., Ford, J. B., & Sargeant, A. (2010). Charitable organizations' storytelling influence on donors' emotions and intentions. Journal of Business Research63(7), 754-762.

·         Nawrat, R., & Dolinski, D. (2007). " Seesaw of Emotions" and Compliance: Beyond the Fear-Then-Relief Rule. The Journal of social psychology147(5), 556-571.

·         Pratkanis, A. R. (2007). Social influence analysis: An index of tactics. The science of social influence: Advances and future progress, 17-82.

·         Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive psychology5(2), 207-232.

Divya Sharma