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 28, 2015

Join Thousands Of Others...

The two images above are both examples of social consensus being used to persuade other people to participate in some activity. In both cases the images refer to a large amount of other people who are already engaging in the activity in an attempt to show that it is a widely accepted activity and thus one that the reader should partake in. This technique to promote engagement can be explained by reference to the pressure of social consensus. The social consensus theory or the 'Bandwagon theory' as Pratkanis (2007) calls it states that the more it appears that other people are doing something or supporting some action, the more likely others will join in and agree.

This was evidenced in an experiment conduced by Milgram, Bickman, and Berkowitz in 1969. In this experiment confederates were positioned on a busy New York street and were instructed to look up at a building. The experiment looked at how the number of passerbys conforming to this activity would be affected by the size of the confederate crowd.  The experiments found that as the crowd of confederates increased so did the number of people joining in to look. While only 4% of the pedestrians stopped and looked in the case where there was only one confederate looking, 40% of pedestrians stopped when the stimulus crowd was 15. This shows that as the number of people engaging in an activity increases so does the likelihood of on-lookers (or people not already participating) joining. There has been two suggested reasons for why this occurs; firstly social consensus provides information about what to do and what to think as people often take it to be the case that: “If other people are doing it, it must be correct.” Secondly, social consensus provides social pressure to go along with the group for fear of seeming abnormal.

 The influence of the stimulus crowd was not limited solely to those who stopped and looked. In fact a much greater proportion of passerbys partially adopted the behaviour by looking up in the direction, while not, however, choosing to stop and join the crowd. Once again as the crowd size increased so did the influence on the passerbys. Whilst one person induced 42% of the people to look up, the crowd of 15 caused 86% of people to look up.The results of this study show that the number of people who will mimic the behaviour of a crowd is related to the number of people the crowd contains.

As you can see from the graph above, as the stimulus crowd increased so did the number of people conforming to the behaviour. Thus the reason the original images referred to thousands of others was to try and attract other people to follow the social consensus and join in as well.


Milgram, S., Bickman, L., & Berkowitz, O. (1969). Note on the drawing power of crowds of different size. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 13, 79-82

Pratkanis, A. (2007). The science of social influence : advances and future progress. New York: Psychology Press.

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