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.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Winston Churchill’s Iconic Speeches

“… If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour."”

This famous speech by Churchill in the summer of 1940 has become iconic when we look back to our history.  It was his speeches that encouraged a nation to continue in their efforts and ultimately defeat Hitler. He effectively turns the present battle into a memory of the past; a memory in where we have won.  It is clear from the audio and transcripts that his aim was not to convey the truth but persuade a nation.

In this particular segment, Churchill is exploiting a two-sided refutation message.  Above, in the first few lines he highlights the dark consequences of failing. By using ‘ifs’ he is providing the audience with a subtle choice.  However, this provision of an alternative is an illusion and it is this same use of ‘ifs’ that lead the audience to understand that winning is attainable.  By telling the audience what they are going to do (‘let us’) and the heroism that will come from it he is ascertaining the shame that will come if individuals don’t do their part.

From his vigorous argument, he successfully counters the other side and in reality does not give the alternative of opting out of the battle instead, he effectively precludes to one choice; ‘fight’.

In a meta-analysis by Allen (1991) the use of technique was shown to be most effective when the counter argument was refuted.  Churchill, as seen above, implicitly belittles any plausibility of a counter argument.  He also is able to advantageously use an audience that is already well informed and is able to process the message.

Allen, M. (1991). Metaanalysis comparing the persuasiveness of onesided and twosided messages. Western Journal of Speech Communication, 55, 390-404.

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