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 4, 2014

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.

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