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.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Meet the Superhumans

This is the advert by Channel 4 for the London 2012 Paralympic Games. In the past, the Paralympics have not exactly been anticipated by most of the world, and the network wanted to change that for 2012.

The most apparent mode of influence the trailer uses is the association with the Olympics. For example, brief clips of the Olympic Park are shown towards the beginning of the advert and the athletes wear their Team GB uniforms, the same as all the Olympics athletes had done. Given the huge success of the games just weeks before the Paralympics began, getting viewers to associate the two events increased positive feeling and likelihood of people tuning in. The effects of positive associations have been shown in empirical research, for example Staats and Staats (1958) found that positive feeling could be transferred to names of people by pairing them with positive words. Millions of people tuned into the Olympics and therefore explicitly associating these events is an effective way to reach a wide audience. The campaign outside this trailer, namely billboards with “Thanks for the Warm-up”, took this a step further by giving the message that the Paralympics would be even better than the Olympics had been.

The trailer is especially powerful because it changes the meaning of an object category. Previous research (e.g. Susman, 1994) had shown that stigma against disabled people is common and that they are often seen as vulnerable. However, throughout the video the Paralympians are portrayed as strong athletes; from the shots of them looking straight at the camera to the depiction of them in training. This is important in changing perceptions of disabled people, as if they are put in the same category of “athlete” as Olympians, they will be seen as less different to non-disabled people. This is supported by Rothbart et al (1997), who found that participants rated job candidates as similarly suited to a job if they were presented in the same category. By placing people even in an arbitrary category, they are perceived as similar. Towards the end, two messages beginning with “forget everything you thought you knew about...” are shown- a clear signal that by watching the coverage, people will have their perceptions changed.

Finally, the advert leaves viewers with a clear take-home message. Although studies are varied, there has been research to show that it is more influential to give an explicit conclusion (e.g. Hovland & Mandell, 1952). This is particularly important in this advert because after 90 seconds of hard-hitting scenes to persuade viewers to watch the Paralympics, they need to pay attention to when to tune in. Therefore the message is clear- watch on 29.08.2012: Meet the Superhumans.


Hovland, C. I., & Mandell, W. (1952). An experimental comparison of conclusion-drawing by the communicator and by the audience. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 47, 581-588.

Rothbart, M., Davis-Stitt, C., & Hill, J. (1997). Effects of arbitrarily placed category boundaries on similarity judgments. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 33, 122-145.

Staats, A. W., & Staats, C. K. (1958). Attitudes established by classical conditioning. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 57, 37-40.

Susman, J. (1994). Disability, stigma and deviance. Social Science & Medicine,38, 15-22.

Emma Barry

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