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.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Free Trials: are they being nice, or are you stuck?

Free Trials – Reciprocity and Consistency

As previously mentioned, this advertisement is a very clear example of the reciprocity weapon of influence – they give you a month, and four short weeks later you sign over your life savings. However, another reason for why this kind of advertising may work is due to the fact that, unbeknown to you, you are now locked into a psychological contract with the movie company.  If we put aside how notoriously difficult it is to unsubscribe from these websites (and often how little we can be bothered to try), you can see the underlying problem that they have snuck their way into our minds (and bank accounts) by making sure that you make that original little commitment of signing up for just one month.

Commitment works because of the consistency it creates in human behaviour – research shows us that we endeavor to remain consistent as is it valued by our society and helps us to make automatic decisions. Decision making becomes easier when you have an automatic response ready to be used, so deciding whether to continue with Netflix will be influenced by the fact that you have already signed up (making a small commitment), you do not need to think of an alternative option to aid your movie watching habit and you wish to remain consistent with the fact that you must have liked Netflix to sign up in the first place. You now no longer have to waste your energy analyzing this decision – it has effectively been made for you; you have committed and you are going to remain consistent.

Moriarty (1975) illustrated the power of consistency by getting a subject to ask a stranger on the beach to watch their belongings. Following this, a thief steals an item. When asked to watch the belongings, people were significantly more likely to stop the thief compared to those who hadn’t been asked. Alongside this, commitment techniques such as that of the  ‘foot in the door’ idea have been tested by many (Freedman & Fraser, 1966; Howard, 1990), which illustrate how people are more likely to say ‘yes’ to something if they have been asked to make a smaller commitment beforehand.

So next time you think you’re genius for milking big companies for all of the freebies you can get (and usually never use), remember how much effort it is to unsubscribe. This goes for the gym membership you never use too, by the way. 


  • Freedman, J. L., & Fraser, S. C. (1966). Compliance without pressure: The foot-in-the-door technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 195-202
  • Howard, D. J. (1990). The influence of verbal responses to common greetings on compliance behaviour: The foot-in-the-mouth effect. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 20, 1185-1196  
  • Moriarty, T. (1975). Crime, commitment, and the responsive bystander: Two field experiments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 370-376

1 comment:

  1. Great Louise, you haven't covered loads of techniques, but you have done one properly. As a result it reads well.


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