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 29, 2015

Will you contribute to child labour?

  This advertising campaign was created by Unicef (the United Nations children's fund) in order to persuade viewers not to purchase products of certain brands which contribute to child labour. By showing the child in the leg-iron and the scar of a burn which shows the Nike brand (accused of using child labour), this advert attempts to evoke guilt in viewers about buying goods from that famous brand. 

  This persuasion technique of emotional appeal is known as a 'guilt appeal'. Research suggests that there are three types of guilt: existential, anticipatory and reactive guilt (Rawlings, 1970). Individuals feel existential guilt when one feels more fortunate and has a more sense of well-being than others. Anticipatory guilt occurs when one believes that he/she will violate a value or norm in the future with unacceptable behaviour. Reactive guilt is experienced in response to an overt act of infringing a social norm. According to the above definitions, it seems likely that the possible type of guilt message receivers of the advert may feel is anticipatory guilt.

  Renner and colleagues (2013) conducted a study investigating the distinct effects of anticipatory versus reactive guilt appeals. Their participants all received a call for blood donation which contained the expectation of the guilt appeals and reference group manipulations. Participants in the reactive guilt scenario heard the message that low blood donation rates were because individuals like themselves did not donate blood, whilst those in the anticipatory guilt scenario were told that if they stop donating blood in the future there won't be enough blood in blood banks. Participants heard the messages either from people with a special expertise in the field of blood donation or from those with no expertise. After exposure to the blood donation appeal, they completed a questionnaire examining their attitude toward the appeals.

  As shown in the figure above, it was found that people exposed to the anticipatory guilt appeal had a more positive attitude toward the appeal than those told the reactive guilt scenario. But whether an expert tells individuals the message or not, their attitude toward the appeal was not significantly different. If the present advertising campaign had used reactive guilt appeals to persuade people it would not have been a more effective way.


Rawlings, E. I. (1970). Reactive guilt and anticipatory guilt in altruistic behavior. In J. Macaulay & L. Berkowitz (Eds.), Altruism and helping behavior (pp. 163–177). New York, NY: Academic Press.

Renner, S., Lindenmeier, J., Tscheulin, D. K., & Drevs, F. (2013). Guilt appeals and prosocial behavior: An experimental analysis of the effects of anticipatory versus reactive guilt appeals on the effectiveness of blood donor appeals. Journal of Nonprofit & Public Sector Marketing, 25, 237-255.

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