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 23, 2015

Management trainee. Aged 42.

Some of you may have seen the posters created by the Economist, a lot of them quite witty. This one, however, is a subtle advertisement for the magazine, provoking the so-called effect of 'jeer pressure', aimed to induce conformity and fear of failure.

To understand why, it is important to know that the Economist is a publication that targets highly educated readers with high aspirations. In fact, it is often recommended to students as essential reading to prepare for dreaded commercial awareness interviews at top firms.
So why don't we all follow the example of the individual currently in employment, and never read the Economist?
The subtle message hides in the age of the 'quoted' individual. Management traineeships are programmes offered to graduates just after university, to prepare them for a job at the firm. The individual in question, however, is significantly older than a typical management trainee, which might suggest that for a very substantial period of time they were unable to secure a role available to fresh graduates. This is meant to induce the fear among those who see the poster, of finding themselves still performing an entry role at a much later age, and being ridiculed for it.

The jeer effect is examined by Janes and Olson (2000). The two experiments conducted as part of the study tested the effects of ridicule on people observing it, namely on their conformity, fear of failure and creativity.

The results of the first experiment, which involved the participants observing others being ridiculed, as well as self-ridicule, and no target humour, and consequently performing tasks, show evidence for the hypothesis of ridicule increasing conformity and fear of failure. The Table 1 below illustrates that the mean ratings for Conformity, as well as Fear of Failure while performing assigned tasks were significantly higher in the condition of observing others being ridiculed, as opposed to self-ridicule and no-target humour.

The second experiment, involving the same measures of Conformity, Fear of Failure and Creativity, but more realistic ridicule, followed by performing tasks, provided further support for the hypothesis of increased conformity and fear of failure when observing ridicule of a target. Again, the mean ratings for participant Conformity and Fear of Failure measures proved significantly higher in the condition of observing ridicule, as shown by Table 2.

Thus, the hypothesis that observing ridicule has an inhibiting effect in terms of increasing observant conformity and fear of failure, was confirmed.
The effect of jeer pressure was used by the Economist in creating an advertisement that is in essence ridiculing an abstract individual for never having read the publication.

Janes, L. M., & Olson, J. M. (2000). Jeer pressure: The behavioral effects of observing ridicule of others. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin26(4), 474-485.

- Masha Okun 

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