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.

Monday, February 3, 2014

I know what I'd do

This advert is certainly one that makes us stop and think. It shows the aftermath of a car crash where two boys are slumped lifeless in the front seats. It then shows their ‘angels,’ one of which disappears to heaven, with the other one staying with the boy who has kept his seat-belt on. At the end of the advert the boy who had his seat-belt on wakes up and the advert ends with ‘Heaven Can Wait.’ Apart from the shock tactics that this advert adopts, which were mentioned by the previous writer, this advert also takes you on an emotional roller-coaster and uses multiple techniques to do so.

Using emotion as a persuasive technique can be very effective as it can impact choices and judgements (Lerner & Keltner, 2000) and can motivate a change in behaviour to avoid negative feelings (Festinger, 1957).  One of the most blatant techniques that this advert uses is Fear. It does this by linking an action (not fastening your seat-belt) with a negative consequence (dying in an accident). Fear has been found to be especially effective when a specific recommendation for overcoming it is offered, and the target believes that it is easy to overcome (Maddux & Rogers, 1983). In this advert a very simple solution is offered to avoid death; do up your seat-belt. Surely any idiot could do this right? And if it saves your life there is surely no reason not to do it.

This advert also adopts a form of anticipatory regret. This is when someone experiences the negative emotion that a decision you make will be irreversible. This advert it shows the viewer what could happen if you don’t put your seat-belt on. It could only be one slip up, but you will never be able to change that. Hetts et al (2000) tested this effect using a gambling game with participants. When the experimenters emphasised the regret they would feel if they lost their stake, they were more likely to take out insurance for their money. This perceived regret will be amplified by the creator’s clever use of contrast. Tormala and Petty (2007) have found that contrast can be an extremely effective persuasive technique.  Although this advert may not be an obvious use of the technique, it is a powerful one. By using two people, who either use their seat-belt or don’t, and then showing the different outcomes for the two men, amplifies the effect that wearing a seat-belt could have. Okay, so he doesn't come away unharmed, but the guy with the seat-belt lives while the other doesn't. I’d say that’s a pretty big contrast and thus makes his outcome seem brilliant compared to what could have happened.

This advert continues to make us think by using empathy. By making us aware of the fact that this situation could easily happen to us, it makes it seem more real and therefore more threatening. Empathetic concern for another can make a person more likely to agree to a request (Batson et al, 1981). The fact that the boys in the advert are like us will also make it more effective. A considerable amount of research has shown that similarity increases persuasion and influence.

In conclusion, this advert uses a multitude of shocking and emotional tactics, leading most viewers to think twice about safety. I certainly know what I’d do.


Batson, C.D., Duncan, B.D., Ackerman, D., Buckley, T., & Birch, K. (1981). Is empathetic emotion a source of altruistic motivation? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40, 290-302.

Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Hetts, J.J., Boninger, D.S., Armor, D.A., Gleicher, F., & Nathanson, A. (2000). The influence of anticipated counterfactual regret on behavior. Psychology and Marketing, 17, 345-368.

Lerner, J.S., & Keltner, D. (2000). Beyond valence: Toward a model of emotion-specific influence on judgement and choice. Cognition and Emotion, 14, 473-493.

Maddux, J.E., & Rogers, R.W. (1983) Protection motivation and self-efficacy: A revised theory of fear appeals and attitude change. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 19, 469-479.

Tormala, Z.L., & Petty, R.E. (2007). Contextual contrast and perceived knowledge: Exploring the implications for persuasion. Journal of experimental social psychology, 43, 17-30. 

Laura Clarke- Blog 2

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