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.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Neglected 'invisible' children

This remarkable and thought-provoking billboard campaign comes from the Australian Childhood Foundation in 2009 and dramatizes the issue of neglect. The aim of the poster is to prompt people to get better at noticing and reporting this sometimes overlooked type of abuse. This message is strikingly conveyed by the billboard as the poster itself has been plastered over a child-sized mannequin who is dressed up in children’s clothing with only the legs and feet sticking out of the bottom. The image is a somewhat unsettling, literal portrayal of the message printed that 'neglected children are made to feel invisible'. The campaign is deliberately disturbing as it intends to shock the viewer into noticing the message as well as creating a lasting impression which persuades them to take action. Shock is a highly influential persuasion tactic as it grabs the viewer’s attention due to the presence of an unexpected factor. Furthermore, it is effective as the message is deeply imprinted causing people the desire to act upon it.

Empirical research has supported the idea that shock can increase processing.  Pyszczynski and Greenberg (1981) found that individuals use more attributional processing for unexpected events than they do for expected events. Participants viewed a confederate being asked either a small favour (compliance expected) or a large favour (refusal expected). The confederate would either confirm or refute the participant’s expectations by complying or refusing the request. Participants were then given permission to look at a selection of items from a questionnaire the confederate had supposedly completed. Whether or not participants chose to view helping items was taken as a measure of the participant’s motivation to discover and process information that might explain the confederate’s response to the helping request. Pyszczynski and Greenberg found that participants chose more helping-relevant questions when their expectations had been disconfirmed. This supports the notion that surprise may inspire further cognitive activity as people are motivated to understand the cause of their surprise. This additional processing of advertisements, caused by shock, therefore promotes comprehension and elaboration, as the viewers are compelled to understand the advert and produce message-related thoughts (Greenwald and Leavitt, 1984).

Additionally, I believe what makes this campaign particularly effective is that it provokes an immediate reaction and forces the viewer to interact with the billboard. It cleverly compels people to pay attention to the poster and its message, as by ignoring it, the viewer is simply proving the message true – that these children are allowed to be ‘invisible’. The campaign has created a scenario whereby the abused children are neglected by their caregivers, literally by the poster itself and also by the ordinary passerby if they fail to notice.The billboards were installed in popular places around Sydney, at ground level, meaning that thousands of people every day walked past them and were shocked into noticing, thinking, and hopefully acting on this message. In fact, immediate action was perhaps encouraged as in a clever twist the campaign prepared for and almost invited the expected vandalism. If and when the poster was torn and the mannequin removed, left behind was the emotional message “Thank you for noticing me”. 

Greenwald, A. G., & Leavitt, C. (1984). Audience Involvement in Advertising: Four Levels. Journal of Consumer Research, 11, 581-92.
Pyszczynski, T. A., & Greenberg, J. (1981). Role of Disconfirmed Expectancies in the Instigation of Attributional Processing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40, 31-38.


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