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.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Law Abiding Negotiator


This is a scene from one of the greatest movies ever made; Law Abiding Citizen. Family man Clyde Shelton (Butler) is interrogated by Nick Rice (Foxx) over a suspected count of double homicide. Initially you see the suspect being compliant and cooperative with Rice as you would expect to see someone respecting and being obedient to an authoritative figure. Yet it was all a rouse and Shelton has clearly done his homework. He somehow manages to reverse the roles each member plays within the interrogation. Typically the prosecutors are the ones to offer a deal to suspects: “Sign this confession and the judge will go easy on you…” but here Shelton is the one controlling the ropes… the question is; how?!

Mr Shelton is clearly an intelligent man (as made evident by almost every element of the film) and in this particular scene his success comes from knowing the value of what he has to offer; a fully signed confession. Without this piece of evidence the prosecution have nothing and this is something he is well aware of. This piece of knowledge is one of the most important tools that can be used for almost any negotiation. As Thompson and Hastie (1990) demonstrate, you are more likely to succeed in negotiating if you can accurately perceive where the other party’s interests lie from an early outset.

At the same time Shelton deploys the win-win method of negotiation – where both parties can benefit from such bargaining; in this instance a confession for a bed – everyone’s happy so it should be a sure thing right? I mean the demand Shelton makes is pretty minimal in the grand scheme of things… That being said, this small request is interesting as much of the research suggests that you should aim for something higher than what you are willing to accept so the other party can see that you are willing to concede to some of their demands (see for example Cialdini et. al, 1975; and O’Keefe & Figge, 1999). Presumably because Shelton knows that the other party have no other alternatives at this point in time, he has no reason to resort to this technique and can simply go straight for what he wants to get out of the whole thing.

Cialdini, R., Vincent, J., Lewis, S., Catalan, J., Wheeler, D., & Darby, B., (1975). Reciprocal concessions procedure for inducing compliance: The door-in-the-face technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31(2), 206-215.

O’Keefe, D., & Figge, M., (1999). Guilt and expected guilt in the door-in-the-face technique. Communication Monographs, 66(4), 312-324.

Thompson, L., & Hastie, R. (1990). Social perception in negotiation. Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 47, 98-123.


Jamie Hart.

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