Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Life Story: A New Perspective


Barnardos 'Life Story' advertisement uses perspective and point of view to enforce a situational attribution to the main actor's disruptive attitude (in the middle of the advertisement) and give a thematic view of attitude development in troubled youths through Barnardos help. An experiment by Storms (1973) investigated the use of perspective in attributing causes (dispositional/situation) supporting Barnardos use of this persuasive technique for this powerful advertisement.

An investigation into perspective and point of view by Storms (1973) placed 120 Yale undergraduate males into 30 groups of 4, with each individual being assigned the role of: Actor 1, Actor 2, Observer 1, Observer 2. Each observer was matched with an actor and would therefore have to specifically observe their chosen actor for the first part of the task. Actor 1 and 2 were instructed to have a brief (5-minute) conversation on a ‘small-talk’ topic of their choice. After both the actors and observers partake in the primary stage of the task, videos are played to all participants depending on which condition they are in. These are: 1. Actor-same (actor 2 sees video of same participant he’s seen in real life), 2.Actor-new (actor 1 views tape of himself), 3. Observer-same (video of same actor seen in real life) 4. Observer-new (video of different actor than one observed/matched). The control groups were not shown any video and were asked to complete the subsequent questionnaire by assumption.


The questionnaire consisted of filler items, a page of instructions and an evaluation of key dependent measures of attribution presented. Participants were asked to describe their own (/matched actor’s) behaviour along four standard dispositional dimensions of personality: friendliness, talkativeness, nervousness, and dominance. Subjects indicated how much influence they thought personal characteristics and characteristics of the situation had on each of these dimensions. The results were scored through a dispositional-situational index. The higher the index value, the higher the subjects’ dispositional attribution.

The table below depicts these results, detailing the index for each condition:

Figure 1.

The table shows that visual orientation powerfully influences actors and observers views on the causes of the actor’s behaviour. The actor’s attributions of own behaviour showed a significantly lower dispositional-situational index than that of the observers’ attributions of matched actor’s behaviour within the same orientation condition. This evidence supports the idea that observing from one perspective (viewing actor 1) attributes situational causes as opposed to dispositional.

Barnardos manipulates these findings to attract potential donors through expressing the story of a Barnardos patient from their perspective (backwards) throughout stages in development. Through manipulating the point of view of the advert, placing the viewers as the ‘observer’ and the patient as our corresponding actor, we experience a thematic representation of his experiences. As in Storm’s (1973) experiment, the aim of the advert is to realise and appreciate the situational causes that developed the actor’s behaviour. We therefore are more empathetic towards the actor than if we had viewed the situations from a dual/different perspective. Here the manipulation of perspectives makes the advert an effective form of persuasion through which we may sympathise with the character on screen, and therefore realise the good work Barnardos can do over time. 

Henrietta Esme Bennett

Storms, M. (1973). Videotape and the attribution process: Reversing actors' and observers' points of view. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology27(2), 165-175. doi:10.1037/h0034782

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