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.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


  Sports England has recently launched a campaign to inspire and motivate women around the world to enjoy sports and become more physically active. The core message of the video is that women need to overcome their fear of being judged and take a step towards a healthy lifestyle. In this particular video, advertisers accomplish this goal by featuring plain looking, regular women rather than models and athletes. These women are shown to face similar challenges as would any other ordinary woman while they exercise. They are sweating profusely and have make-up running down their faces and yet they do not seem to care about their appearance while they work out. The persuasive strategy applied here is called ‘similarity altercasting’, also known as ‘plain folks’ technique. This video targets an audience of women who do not have a great body image of themselves or are scared of looking awful while they exercise. This hinders their participation in the kind of sports they enjoy. Demonstration of high levels of similarities between the viewers and the characters in the advertisement makes it more likely that the audience will identify with them and model their behaviour.
  Identification with media characters together with perception of positive outcomes of their actions can increase the probability of a behaviour being modelled (Nabi, 2009). In this video women are shown to be taking pleasure in a range of activities. Cultural assumptions about femininity do not seem to prevent them from engaging in all kinds of sports. As a result the audience would associate exercising with positive emotions like happiness and enjoyment rather than negative feelings like embarrassment and therefore indulge more in it.
   This similarity altercasting effect was observed in a study where school children were exposed to an adult who was either very similar or dissimilar to them in his attributes. He told half of the group of children that he was a very skillful deep sea diver, while to the other half he described himself as lacking in those skills. He also told them about his inclinations relevant to deep sea diving. Children assessed themselves on these skills before and after meeting the adult and also indicated their preferences.
    Table 3 shows that participants who shared a higher number of first similar attributes (FSAs) with the model were more likely to accept his preferences as their own.In the high similarity condition, the  mean number of model's preferences chosen by the students was higher (m= 4.93) as compared to in the low similarity condition (m=4.13).Results show that children who perceived themselves as more similar to the adult were more likely to agree with his preferences (Burnstein, Stotland & Zander, 1961).

Condition of Similarity

                                Attributes of model
Both types of attributes combined
High similarity
Low similarity
Significance of difference between rows by one-tailed t-test



Table: Mean numbers of model’s preferences chosen by subjects in high similarity and low similarity condition.

The take home message is that the audience tends to be persuaded by a message if they find it easier to identify with its source (i.e. media characters).


Burnstein, E., Stotland, E., & Zander, A. (1961). Similarity to the model and self-evaluation. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology,62,257-264.

Nabi, R. L. (2009). Cosmetic surgery makeover programs and intentions to undergo cosmetic enhancements: A consideration of three media effects theories. Human Communication Research, 35, 1 – 27.

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