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.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Using Sex to Sell Not-So-Sexy Information

Upworthy has a lot of interesting work on influence.

Here's one using 'sexy' to sell not-so-sexy information.

And here's another on how brands use gender because you use gender to make decisions.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Sparking a Child's Thirst for Knowledge and Exploration

Growing up and advancing through the education years of our lives, we as students don’t usually appreciate how much work goes in to being our teachers. Especially at a younger age, students cause all sorts of havoc in and out of the classroom that is relevant to and affects our teachers’ ability to impart their knowledge onto us. As someone who has tutored academically and coached sports to children of all ages, as well as with learning disabilities, I know first hand how disruptive children can be. Despite this I want to continue my work with children and continue to learn how to become a fun, effective, successful teacher. The goal is to be able to spark each child’s thirst for knowledge and exploration. To do this I need to better arm myself with techniques that can gain each child’s attention, help change their behaviour for the better, so that I can have the chance to make a difference in their lives. Applied behaviour analysis can help me do that.

Let us look at a situation in a primary school where a new year is beginning and I am receiving a new class of students for the year. The scenario worked through here is a common occurrence and shows how I could use applied behaviour analysis to reach my goals as a teacher. I soon learn that there is one particularly disruptive child and he distracts the majority of the class completely, with a few still managing to work but who are quite significantly disturbed. I talk to his previous teacher and she tells me she used to send him to sit in the principles office for a while every time he disrupts the class. Whilst this solves the problem for the rest of the class and the teacher, this does not help change the child’s behaviour, as he wants to not be in class and it goes against my goal of helping him spark a natural curiosity for learning. Sending him out of the classroom during lesson time acts as a positive reinforce for him. This leads me to change the consequence of his usual disruption from something he wants, to something he very much dislikes. Instead of sending him out in class time I get him to stay during his breaks where he wants to be playing, and finish the work he didn’t do during the class time. A study by Sulzbacher and Houser (1968) showed that by reducing the time a child has for his breaks leads to a decrease in the identified target behaviour. This acts as a response cost which has been found to be effective when working with children (Falcomata et al., 2004). Many teachers also use positive reinforcers to increase desired behaviours in children. It is common to have a star or point system within primary schools that are awarded when a child performs to a certain level academically, elicits desired behaviour that is uncommon to someone of that age (going out of their way to help a friend) etc. These systems help us measure a student’s academic and behavioural progress. Using these to motivate the misbehaving child, and adding an incentive such as chocolate if he reaches a certain number of stars can help as positive reinforcers to the desired behaviour. Hoffman et al. (2009) showed that by using these reinforcers as rewards for students, teachers can increase desired behaviours so that they are the norm within the classroom.

I have used bed time snacks being given or not given as both a positive reinforcer to desired behaviour, and a response cost to undesired behaviour in a summer camp environment and at certain ages it worked very well. These methods are just a few ways in which applied behaviour analysis can be used within my future career working with children.


Falcomata, T. S., Roane, H. S., Hovanetz, A. N., Kettering, T. L., & Keeney, K. M. (2004). An evaluation of response cost in the treatment of inappropriate vocalizations maintained by automatic reinforcement. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 37, 83-87.

Hoffmann, K. F., Huff, J. D., Patterson, A. S., & Nietfeld, J. L. (2009). Elementary teachers' use and perception of rewards in the classroom. Teaching and Teacher Education25(6), 843-849.

Sulzbacher,S., & Houser, J. (1968). A tactic to eliminate disruptive behaviours in the classroom: Group contingent consequences. American Journal of Mental Deficiency, 73,88-90.

Door In The Face

Robert Cialdini and his colleagues conducted a study in 1975, investigating the compliance tactic called rejection then moderation. This is more commonly known as the door in the face technique. The foundations for their study started by looking at the foot in the door technique which describes a situation where a small favour is asked first, and after complied with, a larger favour is asked of the helper. Studies showed that this tactic shifted peoples self perception so they see themselves as those who are helpers, who comply to requests for things they believe in. This makes them more likely to comply with a larger request (Freedman & Fraser, 1966). The next step towards the study in question was to purpose that another effective technique is doing those things the other way round. This theory was based on work concerning the concept of reciprocation. Gouldner (1960) stated that the norms of reciprocity exists in all societies, and describes it in its simplest form as: “You should give benefits to those who give benefits to you.” This leads on to a related aspect of the norm of reciprocity which is that you should make concessions to those who make concessions to you. Mutual concessions and compromise is essential to any negotiation. Studies have shown that a concession by one party increases the likelihood of a concession by the other leading to a successful compromise (Benton et al., 1972). This leads on to the basis for the study in question. By the analysis of Benton et al. (1972) it seems likely that by offering an extreme favour initially, and then asking for a smaller favour after it is rejected, you will see an increase in the likelihood of compliance than when compared to just asking for the smaller favour outright.

Cialdini et al. (1975) carried out three experiments to investigate the door in the face technique. The first was designed to see the effects of the rejection-moderation technique and also prove that the effect seen was not mediated by a perceptual contrast effect. The conditions of this experiment were the rejection-moderation condition where the participants were asked to perform the target favour after previously rejecting the larger favour. The exposure control where participants heard a description of both the larger and the target favours and then asked to pick one. The last was the target favour only condition where they were only asked to perform the target favour. Results showed no significant difference between the two control conditions showing that the effect was not mediated by a perceptual contrast effect. They also showed a significant increase in compliance for the target favour in the rejection-moderation condition compared to the control conditions. The table below shows the percentage of participants complying with the smaller request.

Percentage of Subjects Complying with the Smaller Request: Experiment 1

% Compliance
Rejection-Moderation condition
Exposure Control
Smaller Request Only Control

The next experiment tested the need for the participants’ perception that the requestor has made a concession on their own concession. The first condition was where the participant was asked to perform a favour by a single requestor. The second was where the participant was asked to perform the target favour after rejecting the larger favour by the same requestor. The third was where the participant was asked to perform the target favour by one requestor after rejected to perform the larger favour by a different requestor. The results were the same in that there was no significant difference between the control conditions and there was a significant difference seen between the controls and the experimental condition. The table below shows the percentage compliance for this experiment.

Percentage of Subjects Complying with the Smaller Request: Experiment 2

% Compliance
Rejection-Moderation condition
Two Requestor Control
Smaller Request Only Control

The third experiment aimed to show that the rejection-moderation condition results seen in the previous experiments were solely due to a persistent requestor and the participant subsided to the request due to this persistence. The findings of this experiment was in concurrence with the first two, showing that the rejection moderation technique, or the door in the face technique is effective, and is due to the rules of reciprocation created when someone perceives the requestor to be making a concession, and so they feel they should make a concession themselves.


Benton, A. A., Kelley, H. H., & Liebling, B. (1972). Effects of extremity of offers and concession rate on the outcomes of bargaining. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology24(1), 73.

Cialdini, R. B., Vincent, J. E., Lewis, S. K., Catalan, J., Wheeler, D., & Darby, B. L. (1975). Reciprocal concessions procedure for inducing compliance: The door-in-the-face technique. Journal of personality and Social Psychology31(2), 206.

Freedman, J. L., & Fraser, S. C. (1966). Compliance without pressure: the foot-in-the-door technique. Journal of personality and social psychology4(2), 195.

Gouldner, A. W. (1960). The norm of reciprocity: A preliminary statement.American sociological review, 161-178.

The Magic of Disney: A new Analysis

Disney World - A Magical Place

This is a short advert for Disney World. The previous blog entry looked at a few key techniques used in this advert such as human salience, priming affect, and targeting affect. There are a few others that we can attribute to this advert. Firstly let us look at social consensus. This basically states that the more people are observed to support a particular position or be doing something, the more likely others will join and agree. Milgram et al. (1969) placed confederates on a busy street and had them look up at a building. They found that passers by copied this behaviour and looked up as well. As more people looked up, this increased conformity. In this video, seeing numerous clips of parents telling their children they are taking them to Disney World, increases the likelihood of the viewers to do the same. It even increases the likelihood of them recording the event as seen in the video. This way Disney World gains more homemade videos for future adverts without even asking for them.

This leads on to the next technique that is closely related to social consensus. It is called multiple sources. This advert is made up of multiple clips of parents telling their children that they are taking them to Disney World. In each of these numerous clips, it is seen that the children’s reactions are all extremely positive, and this is recreated over and over again with children of varying ages, both boys and girls. Seeing just one family have such positive reactions is quite persuasive, but by showing numerous ones, this advert becomes even stronger. Harkins and Petty (1981) showed the effects of multiple sources compared to one on persuasion strength. They showed that using three different speakers for three different arguments, was more persuasive than having just one speaker for all three arguments. This finding was replicated using synthetic voices as well by Lee and Nass (2004). These experiments showed that increasing the number of sources, increased the amount the recipients of the message thought about them. When the arguments are strong this increases persuasion. In this case the fact that the children’s positive reactions were so strong is very compelling and persuasive.

A third lesser technique used in this advert, which comes about as a by-product of the previous two is repetition of a message. Repeating a message over and over again generally increases it’s believability and increases people’s acceptance of said communication. Message repetition works by creating a liking for the object or product through the exposure effect. This is shown in a study by Zajonc (1968). Message repetition also increases the validity of facts stated within the message, which is seen in a study by Boehm (1994). In this video, the slight difference is that the message caption, revealing the meaning of the message, comes after the message evidence itself. The message of happiness, or ‘magic’ as the caption labels it, that Disney World brings, is repeated over and over again in the form of the homemade reaction video clips.

All of these, as well as the ones described in the previous analysis contribute to the successful persuasive power of this Disney World advert.


Boehm, L. E. (1994). The validity effect: A search for mediating variables.Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin20(3), 285-293.

Harkins, S. G., & Petty, R. E. (1981). The Multiple Source Effect in Persuasion The Effects of Distraction. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 7(4), 627-635.

Lee, K. M., & Nass, C. (2004). The multiple source effect and synthesized speech: Doubly disembodied language as a conceptual framework. Human Communication Research, 30(2), 182-207.

Milgram, S., Bickman, L., & Berkowitz, L. (1969). Note on the drawing power of crowds of different size. Journal of personality and social psychology13(2), 79.

Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of personality and social psychology9(2p2), 1.

Give me $400!

(Joey's Fridge)

This video is a compilation of clips from an episode of Friends, where Joey tries to convince the gang they owe him four hundred dollars for his fridge. He obviously has no reason to ask any of them for money, and so expectedly most of them turn him down outright. Joey tries many unsuccessful ways of convincing his friends, but the one negotiation I am going to look at here is the one where Phoebe convinces Joey he actually owes her money. Joey asks to call it even and comes away feeling like he has saved money. The first thing Phoebe does is say yes to Joey’s request, which even he is surprised at. She then initiates something called intimates (friends) altercast. By stating Joey owes her six hundred dollars for sending out happy thoughts on his last ten auditions, Joey feels a certain obligation to pay back his friend, over the need to buy a new fridge. This creates a feeling of guilt, which makes him even more likely to oblige and pay Phoebe back. This also leads to a well known phenomenon called the norm of reciprocity. An experiment by Kunz and Woolcott (1976) showed that after sending a Christmas card to a sample of strangers, the majority of them sent one back to them despite having no idea who they were. Using questionnaire data Roloff et al. (1988) tested three measures of intimacy related to the obligation to grant requests. Their study showed that increased intimacy with a potential helper increased obligations to grant requests and obligations to offer resources. They also found that with increased intimacy, the requests needed less elaboration, lower frequency of explanations for the request, and fewer inducements. Vangelisti et al. (1991) showed that by reminding people of their obligation to a relationship, and by listing the sacrifices one has made for the other, you could induce and increase the feelings of guilt within conversation.  This is what phoebe did by stating she had sent out happy thoughts on Joey’s last ten auditions. Their experiment showed that increased intimacy was positively associated with the likelihood of using guilt in conversation as a method of persuasion. This guilt crated a stronger motivation for the friend to comply with a request.

Another phenomenon seen in this situation is called emotional seesawing. This is when a person receives either good or bad news, and then it is quickly taken away. This is what happens when Phoebe says yes to Joey’s request for money, but then immediately states he actually owes her more money than she owes him. Dolinski and his colleagues (Dolinski & Nawrat, 1998; Dolinski et al., 2002) showed that when this occurs, people are more likely to comply with a request. He explains this by saying that emotions invoke a specific plan of action, and when the emotions are quickly taken away, the person has not made a new plan of action. It is in this confusion, that the person is more likely to comply with with a request. In this case, Joey feels emotions such as relief and happiness about the fact that Phoebe has agreed to give him the money to buy a new fridge. When he is told he actually owes her more money, the emotions are taken away and in this confused state, he is more likely to find a way to comply with the request of paying her what he owes her. This scenario ends with him rescinding the request for Phoebe’s money as a way of restoring the debt.

A lesser affect seen in this negotiation is one of psychological reactance. This is when an individual (in this case Joey) perceives that his freedom of behaviour is restricted. It is an aversive tension state that motivates behaviour to restore his freedom. Here we see Joey’s ability to take Phoebe’s money and buy a new fridge restricted by the fact that he owes her more than she owes him. He can’t afford to pay Phoebe and the only way he can be free from his obligation to pay her is to rescind his request for four hundred dollars, and ask if they can call it even. This is the behaviour that was motivated to restore the closest level of freedom he can. He might not be able to pay for his new fridge but he is no longer indebted to Phoebe. This motivation and behaviour to restore freedom was seen in a number of experiments (Brehm, 1966; Brehm & Brehm, 1981) with personal and impersonal threats.

In a very short space of time, Phoebe has managed to use multiple arts of persuasion to convince Joey that she is in fact doing him a favour by not paying him for his new fridge. He feels relief and freedom from obligation after her ‘rejection’ of his request for money, compared to increased stress and tension between Joey and his other friends. If anything, Phoebe can later use the fact that she let Joey off from paying her the two hundred dollar difference to persuade him to do something else for her.


Brehm, J. W. (1966). A theory of psychological reactance. New York.

Brehm, S. S., & Brehm, J. W. (1981). Psychological reactance: A theory of freedom and control (pp. 327-343). New York: Academic Press.

Dolinski, D., & Nawrat, R. (1998). “Fear-then-relief” procedure for producing compliance: beware when the danger is over. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology34(1), 27-50.

Dolinski, D., Ciszek, M., Godlewski, K., & Zawadzki, M. (2002). Fearthenrelief, mindlessness, and cognitive deficits. European Journal of Social Psychology32(4), 435-447.

Kunz, P. R., & Woolcott, M. (1976). Season's greetings: From my status to yours. Social Science Research5(3), 269-278.

Roloff, M. E., Janiszewski, C. A., McGRATH, M. A. R. Y., Burns, C. S., & Manrai, L. A. (1988). Acquiring resources from intimates when obligation substitutes for persuasion. Human Communication Research14(3), 364-396.

Vangelisti, A. L., Daly, J. A., & RUDNICK, J. (1991). Making people feel guilty in conversations. Human Communication Research18(1), 3-39.