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.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Bavarian Politics at its Best: Edmund Stoiber Promoting the Transrapid

Edmund Stoiber is the former Minister President (equivalent to prime minister) of Bavaria (1993-2007). The German politician is famous for his ‘confusing’ speeches. At the New Year’s Reception 2002 in Munich he delivered his now legendary speech about the Transrapid project in Munich. The magnetic levitation train was supposed to connect Munich Central Station with Munich Airport, and reduce the transit time from 45 minutes to ten.

Note: The following clip is in German language. The speech starts at 0:30 and contains English subtitles. It is real and has been shown in national TV, i.e. it is no fake!

His focus on the 10 minutes transit time alone may have been an attempt to set the agenda. The argument is repeatedly mentioned, making it appear important (Plott & Levine 1978). The researchers have determined that “within a range of circumstances it appears to be possible to control a group’s decision by controlling only the agenda”. The hypothesis was tested by engaging students in an alleged decision-making experiment, involving groups which use the majority rule and a prearranged agenda without prior meetings or contact time and clear individual attitudes towards a decision alternative.

The (supposedly) narrative character of the speech may indicate the intention of storytelling. Rather than discussing facts about the Transrapid, Edmund Stoiber tries to illustrate the matter from the perspective of a traveller who only needs 10 minutes to reach the airport. Pennington and Hastie (1988, 1992) illustrated the narrative bias by investigating juror decisions. Easier to construct stories through plausible presentation orders resulted in more verdicts of the easier-to-reconstruct story. In the case of promoting the train connection, the technique may yield broader support in favour of the project when presented in a narrative style compared to a statistical style.

The speech shows clear signs of confusion. Listeners are left with an ambiguous impression of what the intention of the speech was, or even more what the politician actually meant to say. Kardes et al., 2007 carried out a study to investigate the disrupt-then-reframe influence technique. In essence, the technique builds upon confusing the recipient of a message, and then offer a solution. The authors illustrated the technique in experiments yielding higher retails sales in a supermarket, increasing willingness to pay to join a student interest group, and raise student support for a tuition increase. 

If Edmund Stoiber intended to make use of the aforementioned technique, he may simply have forgotten the second part of the theory. In the end, the project has never been build. Although monetary resources were available, broad support for the project was not mobilised, and various local interest groups successfully deterred its realisation.

Plott, C.R. & Levine, M.E., 1978. A model of agenda influence on committee decisions. American Economic Review, pp.146–160.

Kardes, F.R. et al., 2007. The Role of the Need for Cognitive Closure in the Effectiveness of the Disrupt‐Then‐Reframe Influence Technique. Journal of Consumer Research, 34(3), pp.377–385.

Pennington, N. & Hastie, R., 1992. Explaining the evidence: Tests of the Story Model for juror decision making. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62(2), p.189.

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