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, January 21, 2015

Can I get a light?

Once this particular advert ‘Smoking Kid’, created by ThaiHealth, surfaced on the television it was very quick to circulate all over the internet and swiftly became suggested as the ‘best ever anti-smoking advert. One such persuasive technique used in this advert is the effect of self-generated persuasion.

This persuasive technique suggests that when an individual is in a situation where they are made to generate arguments for a given position, then they are more likely to persuade themselves and, consequently, change their attitudes to be inline with it. In this case, the situation has been carefully designed using the vulnerability of children and manipulated so that, when the children ask for a ‘light’ for their cigarette (which is socially unacceptable), the individuals are forced to argue against the act of smoking and are generating their own arguments why smoking is bad. According to the theory, these arguments for not smoking are then going to persuade the individuals themselves to stop smoking and alter their attitudes accordingly. 

Support for the effectiveness of self-generated persuasion comes from Miller, Wozniak, Rust, Miller & Slezak (1996) in which 71 psychology students were asked to either write an essay which argued an opposing position to their current attitudes (Counter-attitudinal), read a counter-attitudinal essay or just simply learned about the essay topic in a lecture setting (control). The participants’ degree of agreement with the essay topic was assessed before and after the task (Pre/Post test). In other words, they wanted to assess to what degree had their attitudes changed due to the different conditions. 

As seen in Figure 1, results showed, regardless of condition, there was an increase in the mean rating of agreement. However, those who wrote the essays showed the greatest significant difference in attitudes compared to those who read an essay or the control group. Therefore, this suggests that having to generate their own arguments, was the most effective technique in changing students attitudes on the essay topic. 

All in all, this shows that thinking about counter arguments (often without actively intending to), can question your current logic on a given topic especially when your logic is also questioned by others. You begin to question your current attitudes and as result are persuaded to change them. It could be argued that this effect is increased even more when we know our current attitudes could be harmful to us or others we care about; just like smoking. 


Miller, R. L., Wozniak, W. J., Rust, M. R., Miller, B. R., Slezak, J. (1996). Counter-attitudinal Advocacy as a Means of Enhancing Instructional Effectiveness: How to Teach Students What They Do Not Want to Know. Teaching of Psychology, 23, 215 - 219. 

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