Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills 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 31, 2013

An Inconvenient Truth



In 2006, Al Gore released a documentary film, called 'An Inconvenient Truth,' in which he outlined the dangers of global warning, aiming to educate the public about the climate crisis and the potential consequences of our behaviour.

It was considered to be a very influential documentary and throughout his presentation he used many persuasive techniques to change the opinions of his audience.  One way in which he does this, is by arousing a feeling of fear into the public.  With the use of shocking images that are believed to have exaggerated the extent of the problem, he makes his audience believe the situation is far worse and more real than anyone imagined.  The use of ‘fear appeal’ is argued to be successful in changing attitudes when the plea invokes fear and outlines a plausible way to overcome this fear by changing behaviour; in this instance, by doing something as simple as recycling (Pratkanis, 2007).  As well as arousing fear, the photos Gore used shocked and stunned audiences and a study by Dahl, Frankenberger & Manchanda (2003) found that using shock tactics in an advert enhances attention, increases memory, and more often leads to a change in behaviour.

Gore also uses guilt to try and change the public’s attitude and behaviour by emphasizing how this was an avoidable problem that was caused by our irresponsible behaviour.  Therefore, it is our duty to stop global warming from getting even worse.  Even the trailer for the movie uses the guilt tactic with the statement ‘If you love your planet, if you love your children, you have to see this film.’  This implies that if you do not watch the film and listen to its message, you do not love your children or care about their survival or the planet they live in, thereby laying on a ‘guilt-trip’ if they do not watch the film.

Gore also uses a scientific basis to support his argument and draws inferences from peer-reviewed scientific articles.  He had previously been campaigning for a change in behaviour to prevent climate change, and with his knowledge on the subject, he presented himself as an expert-unknowing public altercast.  Research has shown that when an ‘expert’ presents a message, it is more likely to be accepted as the truth as the general public feel they have inferior knowledge on the subject.  Moore (1921) found that the opinion of an expert was more influential than that of an average individual in causing a change in a decision.

One of the most effective techniques Gore used was inducing a misleading inference in regards to the relationship between global warming and hurricane Katrina.  The destruction caused by Katrina was still prominently in the forefront of most Americans’ minds and Gore reminded them about the devastation it caused and explained how global warming will cause devastation on a much greater scale.  He implies that global warning was the cause of the hurricane without explicitly saying so, as there is no evidence to support this claim – but the mere implication plants the idea into the minds of his audience, making his technique effective in influencing a change in behaviour as the public would want to prevent anything that might bring about another ‘Katrina.’  Research supporting this technique has been found in a study conducted by Harris (1977) as participants were unable to discriminate between explicitly stated claims about products and claims that were only implied.  Therefore, consumers falsely assumed a relationship existed between two statements when they were presented together.  


Dahl, D. W., Frankenberger, K. D. & Manchanda, R. V. (2003). Does it Pay to Shock? Reactions to Shocking and Nonshocking Advertising Content among University Students. Journal of Advertising Research, September 43, 268-280.

Harris, R. J. (1977). Comprehension of pragmatic implications in advertising. Journal of Applied Psychology, 62, 603-608.

Moore, H. T. (1921). The comparative influence of majority and expert opinion. American Journal of Psychology, 32, 16-20.

Pratkanis (2007). The science of social influence: Advances and future progress. Psychology Press.

1 comment:

  1. gore uses fear, guilt, inferences while distorting and presenting misleading science, admitted by the writer/analyst, all to convince people of something that is not factual. yup. nothing but bunk. this is also called propaganda.

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