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.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Greed is good

This persuasive speech from the film 'Wall street' has a strong impact for a number of reasons; firstly it uses repetition of the word ‘greed’.  Greed has negative connotations but is used within a positive context – ‘greed is good’. Immediately the audience pays attention to this juxtaposition. In the context of the elaboration likelihood model (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986), this may result in the audience processing the information via the central route. In order to understand why greed is being portrayed as good the audience must use a lot more thought than if they used the peripheral route. They may therefore be more likely to interpret the message as convincing. 

The constant repetition of ‘greed’ encourages the acceptance of the idea that ‘greed is good’, when an idea is repeated and emphasized, other ideas come second to this, it promotes clarity and understanding. For example Cacioppo and Petty (1979) found that message repetition led to increasing agreement and decreasing counter argumentation. In two experiments, participants heard a communication either 0, 1, 3 or 5 times and then rated their agreement with the position of the argument. Agreement increased with the more times they heard it. Cacioppo and Petty (1979) suggested that the message repetition effects had a two stage attitude modification process; repetition of the message provided more opportunities to elaborate cognitively upon them and realise they had positive implications. This provides an explanation to why the central route is more likely to be taken in processing the speech. 

Repetition of ‘greed is good’ could also be understood by the robust, mere exposure effect (Zajonc, 1968). This is the tendency to develop a more positive feeling towards something that an individual is repeatedly exposed to.  It is possible that the repetition of the word ‘greed’ may result in the audience feeling more positively towards the message being communicated. The speech repeats the word greed with rising momentum until the final hard hitting statement is left to the audience to contemplate. ‘Greed will not only save Teldar Paper, but that malfunctioning operation called the USA’. The audience is left with the feeling that greed is for the greater good. The use of ‘mark my words’ at the end of the speech shows a public commitment and responsibility for the statements he had just made and in turn produces a convincing argument.  

Cacioppo, J., & Petty, R. (1979). Effects of message repetition and position on cognitive response, recall and persuasion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 97-109.

Petty, R., & Cacioppo, J. (1986). Communication and persuasion: Central and peripheral routes to attitude change. New York: Springer. 

Zajonc, R. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9, 1-27.

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