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.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sneaky WBS


Warwick Business School applies techniques to artificially improve the feedback on one of its core modules. The mandatory module ‘Critical Issues in Management’ requires students to write a ‘Learning Diary’ about the course, describing what they have learned and how the course has contributed to their personal development. Even though it is not illegal to state criticism (as a matter of fact the module outline left specific leeway to do so), a strong incentive was created to give positive notes since the assignment is graded and counts towards our final grade for the course.

The findings of Festinger & Carlsmith (1959) suggest that students on average would rate the course better due to the required assignment. In their famous experiment the researchers designed a rather dull and boring task for participants to undertake. In the control condition, participants were not told to report about the task to someone, i.e. participants filled out the questions on the interview without interference. In the One Dollar condition, participants were given one dollar to report to a waiting subject that the tasks were interesting, enjoyable, and lots of fun. In the Twenty Dollar condition, subjects were asked to do the same thing at the higher compensation. The table below outlines the result of the three conditions:


Given that students of the aforementioned module in WBS were implicitly asked to report positively upon their experience (i.e. weak condition), the effect may be similar as in the Festinger & Carlsmith (1959) study. Students face the challenge to reduce internal dissonance. The implicit pressure to report positively may be describe as weak, since negatives are allowed but may be rewarded lower. Students may thus reduce dissonance through perceiving their liking of the module to be higher. Consistently with the seminal experimental investigation, if coercion was strong (negative evaluation is strictly punished), reported liking of the module may have been lower.

Conclusion: WBS manipulates its students (deliberately or not).


Festinger, L., Carlsmith, J.M., 1959. Cognitive Consequences of Forced Compliance. Journal of Abnormal Social Psychology, Vol. 58, pg. 203-210.


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