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.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Protect Syria's Children

At the centre of any war lie the innocent civilians being injured and killed. The Syrian civil war which has lasted for almost three years has been no exception. Since the start of the conflict, 3 million people, reported to be mostly women and children, have fled the country while over 200,000 have died.

The tragic events have rightly been matched by a sizeable charity drive seeking to protect these innocent victims. In April 2014, Disasters Emergency Committee reported to have risen £27m for the Syrian crisis. One basis for this successful appeal lies with tact altercasting, where the receiver of the message is placed into a role as a result of the source. In the instance of the picture below and much of the Syrian appeal, the receiver is placed into the role of the protector where a donation can help those in need.


Figure 1. Unicef appeal for donations to help aid in Syria.

While previous research showed credibility of the source to be a main effect, Pratkanis and Gliner (2004-2005) provided an altercasting theory whereby persuasiveness is dependent on a message-source interaction. In their study, students received either a message on nuclear disarmament or the existence of a tenth planet from either a child or an expert in the field. The participants were then asked to complete a 9 point agreement scale for five statements arguing the strength or weakness of the argument they received. The results of message effectiveness are illustrated in Figure 2.


Figure 2. Mean message effectiveness as a result of changes in source and message type.

The results show that instead of source credibility being the most important factor in message persuasion, an interaction is present where the source and message type combination influences effectiveness level. Pratkanis and Gilner found that the nuclear disarmament message is made more effective by the child placing the recipient in a role of protector. If the same message was being provided by an expert, the recipient is placed in an "unknowing public" role instead. Praktanis and Gilner argue that with becoming a protector, the recipient feels more responsibility to act upon the message.

This runs true for the Syrian appeal which has raised a considerable amount. The use of children to portray the message places those in a more privileged situation to “protect” by donating.


Pratkanis, A. R., & Gliner, M. D. (2004-2005). And when shall a little child lead them? Evidence for an altercasting theory of source credibility. Current Psychology, 23, 279-304.

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