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.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Gambling Success Story

The Economist (2014) cited Singaporeans as the second-biggest gamblers in the world, losing over US$7 bn per resident adult. With the 2014 World Cup likely to be incredibly enticing, and possibly detrimental for potential gamblers, the government decided to attempt to tackle the problem. They released the above advertisement, which showed a child worried about losing his life savings because of his father's gambling. The ad was clearly trying to tug on the heart strings of would-be gamblers, showing them how their problem affects those around them, especially their loved ones, and asking them to seek help. Clearly, the ad was trying to induce a sense of guilt.

According to Carlsmith and Gross (1969), inducing guilt increases the likelihood of complying with a request. In their study, participants were asked to test a confederate learner’s responses, and flick a switch if they made a mistake. In the nonshock condition, this switch sounded a buzzer, while in the shock condition, it administered a painful electric shock. At the end of the experiment, this confederate requested a favour from the participant – to help them make up to 50 phone calls.

It did not matter whether the learner was of a low or high status, or if the experimenter was present or absent when the punishment was given. The only factor that significantly affected the likelihood of complying with the learner’s request was which condition the participant had been in. 75% of the participants in the shock condition agreed to make phone calls, compared to only 25% in the nonshock condition. The number of phone calls made can be seen in Table 1 below, and is significantly higher for the shock condition than the nonshock condition (t = 1.94, p < .10).

However, as the exact reason for this disparity was unclear, the researchers conducted a second study. This study had 4 conditions - the control condition, which was identical to the previous nonshock condition; the restitution condition, in which the participant gave electric shocks to the learner, who later made a request; the generalized guilt condition, in which the participant gave the learner electric shocks, but was made a request by a witness; and the sympathy condition, in which the participant watched the learner receive shocks and was later made a request by the learner.

The results were clear – participants who were responsible for administering the electric shocks and thus causing the learner pain made over 3 times as many phone calls as those who were not personally responsible for giving the shocks. Specifically, those in the generalized guilt condition made significantly more calls than any of the other conditions (t > 2.05, p < .05). The average number of calls made per condition can be seen below in Table 3.

The experimenters thus demonstrated that eliciting feelings of guilt was significantly more likely to result in compliance than feelings of sympathy or even the desire to make restitution (i.e. repair a tainted image). This seems fairly relevant to what the gambling advert was trying to achieve. It aimed to make individuals prone to gambling feel guilty about the consequences of their actions, and to comply with their request to “Stop Problem Gambling”. While it perhaps would have been beneficial to pick a team that didn’t end up winning, the use of this technique is likely to, and hopefully did, play a role in helping the gambling problem in Singapore.

Carlsmith, J. M., & Gross, A. E. (1969). Some effects of guilt on compliance.Journal of personality and social psychology, 11(3), 232.

The Economist (2014). The house wins. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 22/1/2015].

Shareen Rikhraj

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