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.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Does making a commitment really change your opinion?

We know that making a small commitment is likely to persuade us into making a bigger commitment in future. But does this vary between individuals and if so, why? Stimpson (1970) took evidence that people with low self-esteem are susceptible to persuasion (Janis, 1953), and that there is a positive relationship between commitment and attitude change (Davis & Jones, 1960), to create a framework combining the effects of self-esteem and commitment on persuasibility.

Stimpson (1970) hypothesised that those with low self-esteem (cells C & D; see Figure 1) and those with high commitment (cells A & C) would be more persuadable than those with high self-esteem and low commitment. Therefore, cell C should be the most persuadable, and cell B the least persuadable group.

 After completing a self-esteem questionnaire, participants were told that their following visual acuity task had gone wrong so were asked to take part in another task making tape recordings about public health issues. Participants were asked about their desire to have annual chest X-rays (to which there was an almost unanimous desire for) but then told the health department needed to cover all angles so were asked to make a recording AGAINST their opinion.

Participants were assigned to commitment conditions: the “high commitment” condition were told that they did not have to participate and were free to leave – therefore to stay and make a film disagreeing with their personal belief was their choice; the “low commitment” condition were not given any choice about leaving – they had not chosen to commit, they were forced to. Just before making the tapes, participants were given exaggerated feedback from their self-esteem questionnaires (those with high self-esteem received extra positive feedback and those with low self-esteem received extra negative feedback) and asked about their opinions of having chest X-rays again. Participants did not actually make the tapes, only their attitude change about chest X-Rays was measured.

Results confirmed the hypotheses: those with low self-esteem, regardless of commitment, showed greater attitude change than those with high self-esteem at p<0.05, see Figure 2. The high commitment condition had greater attitude change than the low commitment condition at p<0.06 (marginally significant). Furthermore, high self-esteem individuals reported less perceived choice than low self-esteem individuals when their behaviour and attitudes were discrepant. This suggests high self-esteem meant attitudes were not changing, participants were merely contributing because they felt they had to, whereas low self-esteem individuals changed their attitudes.

In essence, this study looked at self-esteem as a factor influencing commitment to a request. Low self-esteem individuals changed their attitude, whereas high self-esteem individuals just changed their behaviour. Interestingly, there was no effect of commitment strength on attitude change, suggesting there may be factors more important than the feeling of commitment in persuasibility. 


Davis, K. & Jones, E. (1960). Changes in interpersonal perception as a means of reducing cognitive dissonance. Journal of Abnormal & Social Psychology, 61, 402-410.

Janis, I. L. & Field, P. B., (1959). Sex differences and personality factors related to persuasibility. In C. I. Hovland & I. L. Janis (Eds.), Personality and Persuasibility. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp. 55-68.

Stimpson, D. V. (1970). The influence of commitment and self-esteem on susceptibility to persuasion. The Journal of Social Psychology, 80, 189-185.

Katherine Stevens

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