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.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Did you know...?

Just after the New Year, I received an email form Warwick Sport which started as below:

'Did you know physical inactivity is the 4th largest cause of disease in the UK and is more likely to kill you than smoking? Join us in our goal to get everyone on campus more active, everyday.  

It’s never too late to put activity on your New Year's Resolutions list and we have some Great Offers to help you achieve it. 


For a limited time only, Try Us For Free and start your active journey for 2015. Numerous Sports Centre facilities will be available to use from 10am to 4pm, this Friday 9th to Sunday 11th January. Just quote “Warwick Sport Free Trial” to gain free entry and take advantage of our offer. If you’re already a member, why not bring a friend and encourage them to join?'  

There’s a lot going on in this email; from shock statistics, rhetorical questioning, links to personal resolutions as well as a special offer of a free trial.

I was interested as to why they presented the first sentence as a question rather than just as a statement.

Ahluwalia and Burnkrant (2004) came up with a model of rhetorical question effects, as below.

This model was then tested and supported in a series of experiments. In Experiment 1, participants responded to different versions of an advert for an athletic shoe, which varied the strength of the argument and the salience of the question. They found that if the deviation was not highly salient, persuasion was determined by the strength of the message, whereas for highly salient deviations, the participants focused on their previous interpretations of the source and whether these were positive or negative.

In the context of the email I received, the model suggests that rhetorical questions draw your attention to the content of the message. For the email from Warwick Sport there is low salience because there is only one question and it is right at the start of the message. The model then follows that people reading the question will answer it e.g. no, I didn’t know that physical inactivity is the 4th largest cause of disease in the UK and is more likely to kill you than smoking. By answering the question, this directs our attention to the message content. Then, if the content is strong, then the rhetorical headline will increase persuasion.


Ahluwalia, R., & Burnkrant, R. E. (2004). Answering Questions about Questions: A Persuasion Knowledge Perspective for Understanding the Effects of Rhetorical Questions. Journal of Consumer Research, 26-42.

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