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 30, 2015

Chance to think?

The above advert from the Lung Cancer alliance aside from a shock tactic employs the disrupt then reframe (DTR) persuasion technique. Here’s how it works. First, you disrupt your audiences routine thought process. Then, while their brain is taken aback and is processing this disruption, out comes the reframe/ intended message or appeal! The audience will have less resistance to the reframe because their brain is otherwise occupied by the initial disruption or still thinking about it as a natural continuation.

In this example then, the BIG BOLD letters immediately draw attention to the statement “The genetically privileged deserve to die” which sounds like nonsense and contrary to what the average sane person thinks. Someone reading this ad might think … “wait what, that doesn't make sense. Let me think about this” prompting initial confusion "why on earth would they say that". Then after reading the rest of the poster “ many people believe that people who have lung cancer deserve this somehow" , and "join the cause to help put an end the stigma" (the reframe) the resulting request seems like a quick natural progression- the answer is given to them to resolve their confusion and comply. Baffle them with nonsense then dazzle them with the request (the purpose of the ad/what you want them to accept) that overcomes it or leads on from it.

This technique has also been effectively demonstrated in the area of product sales by Davis and Knowles (1999) who first coined the term, after a series of studies. The experiment in the study consisted of the following scripts and various testing conditions.
In study one the researchers attempted to sell note cards, often Christmas ones, door-to-door for a worthy charity but manipulated what the salesperson would say after asking potential buyers if they’d like to know the price. The authors created a new influence technique involving a small but strange disruption to the standard sales script (stating the price of a package of note cards in pennies rather than dollars – (“The price of these cards is 300 pennies”) and then a direct reframing (saying, “It’s a bargain") or a statement not following the DTR script.
The conditions (what the salesperson would say) were as follows (see table below for precise wording):

1)      Disrupt then reframe-  make a confusing statement that disrupts thought and then reframe
2)      Price Only – state just the price normally
3)      Reframe - State the normal price and the reframe
4)      Disruption only- give the initial confusing statement but no reframe follow-up
5)      Reframe then disrupt- First reframe then confusing statement

As can be seen in Table 1 all four studies showed that a disrupt-then-reframe (DTR) technique was influential in getting household residents to purchase cards supporting a local charity. Davis and Knowles (1999) provided evidence that both the disruption and the reframing were necessary conditions to increase compliance (almost double compliance rates in each study and by far the highest). It was both steps of initial confusion and then reframing that provided the most effective strategy. It’s interesting to note from the figures that the sales do not really increase if the disruption is made at the end (Reframe then disrupt- Tactic no.5). It must be in the exact order of disrupt and then reframe to work. The importance of disrupting people’s thoughts early on seems to be key here, perhaps because only then does being critical of reframing techniques become difficult for buyers.

When carried out in this way the effects of DTR can be highly persuasive, not just in sales of products but also in being more receptive of and accepting of ideas. After all when you really think about it the disruption of cognitive thought hits you so hard and fast, even the subtle ones, you hardly have time to recover before the ‘knockout’ blow of reframing, and stating the real purpose of the persuasive message, comes along...You hardly had a chance to clearly think. Don’t you think?


Davis, B. P., & Knowles, E. S. (1999). A Disrupt-Then-Reframe Technique of social influence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 192−199.  

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