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.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Against All the Anti-Smokers: The Art of Projection

The following clip is a scene from the movie ‘Thank you for Smoking’. Nick Naylor, a lobbyist from Big Tobacco, is confronted in a talk show with Robin Willigers, a 15 year old smoking boy diagnosed with cancer. Ron Goodes from the Department of Health & Human Services leads the case against the tobacco industry.
The lobbyist applies a number of persuasion tactics: misleading question, projection tactic, physical attractiveness, similarity altercast, negativity effect, vivid appeals, hostile audience effect, and flattering. Hereafter, the projection tactic is discussed.
The lobbyist uses a projection tactic to mirror the negative traits attached to the tobacco industry on the Department of Health & Human Services. In specific, he accuses the latter to be profit oriented by gaining from the number of health-impaired people, thus trafficking in human misery. 

Ellis Friedman identified in a study on Nazi propaganda the influence tactic of projecting: “Accusing another person of the negative traits and behaviors that one possesses and exhibits with the goal of deflecting blame away from one’s own misdeeds and toward the accused.” Rucker & Pratkanis (2001) investigated the effect of projection, yielding that the tactic both increases the blame placed on the target of the projection, as well as decreasing the perceived guilt of the accuser. The hypothesis were tested by placing two subjects (player A and C) and one confederate (player B) playing some variation of a repeated prisoners dilemma under the impression of some cover story. Participants publicly voiced, but privately voted to compete or cooperate. Cooperation yielding one point for each player, two or more players competing yielded  zero points, and one competing and the others cooperating two for the former and zero for the latter. Scores were anonymously shown after 6 and 12 repetitions of the game (scores of 10-2-2, and 20-4-4). The comrade (player B) accused one player for cheating after each round (being the cheater himself). After the experiment subjects were asked to fill out a questionnaire. Still under the cover story, they rated a number of items, among them two scales indirectly measuring the dependent variable: assessment of the honesty of the other players.

The experiment resulted in player B (the confederate) being rated less likely to be the cheater if he used the projection technique versus the control condition (no projection).

Freeman, E. (1940). Conquering the man in the street. New York: Vanguard.
Rucker, D. D. & Pratkanis A. R. (2001). Projection as an Interpersonal Influence Tactic: The Effects of the Pot Calling the Kettle Black. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 1494-1507.


  1. This is a great description of a really wonderful piece of persuasive work. The graph of the results helps the understanding tremendously, and is a nice touch. I'm guessing Player A is the 'true cheater', who then projects cheating onto Player B. Is that correct?

  2. Player B is the confederate who accuses other players of cheating, while being the cheater himself. The graph shows that player B (the accuser and cheater) was less likely to be rated guilty for cheating than the two subjects.

    I have added the details in the blog entry to clarify this subject matter.


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