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.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Associations in a political email

Recently I registered to take part in the upcoming general election. During the registration process, I seem to have inadvertently opted-in/ not opted-out of joining the email lists of the main parties.

Last week I got the below 'polling' email send to me by the Labour Party...


They seem to have made it their mission here to try to put as many techniques as they can manage into one short email, but I will be focusing in this blog on the use of Association.
In this email, the current government are referred to as "uncaring", "out-of-touch" and 'have shown they'll never build a better Britain for all'. The Labour party, however are described as "fairer".

Staats and Staats (1958) paired names with positive or negative words and found that the positive/negative meaning was transferred over to the original names.
93 students viewed a projection screen showing national names (German, Swedish, Italian, French, Dutch, Greek) whilst hearing orally presented words which the participant repeated out loud once they'd heard it.
The national names were never paired with the same word more than once so that no stable associations formed with a specific word. 108 different words were used.
The names Swedish and Dutch were always paired with words with evaluative meaning (e.g. happy, ugly), the others without (e.g. chair)
In Group 1, the word Dutch was paired with words with positive evaluative meaning (e.g. gift, sacred, happy) whilst Swedish was paired with words with negative evaluative meaning (e.g. bitter, ugly, failure). This was reversed in Group 2.

After this, each participant was given a page with 6 rating scales, one for each of the national names. Each scale was a 7-point scale from pleasant to unpleasant.
The same procedure was then replicated using male names (Harry, Tom, Jim, Ralph, Bill, Bob) with Tom and Bill replacing the roles of Dutch and Swedish.

The results table is below:
This table shows that conditioning occurred in both cases. The conditioned attitudes were significant to the .05 level in Experiment 1 and to the .01 level in Experiment 2. This means that the participants rated Dutch and Swedish/Tom and Bill significantly differently on the rating scales for pleasantness.
From these results, the authors suggest that attitude formation and attitude change can occur through conditioning.

This technique of pairing names with positive or negative words is very clear in the email I received, with the current government being paired with very negative words and the Labour party being paired with more favourable words. However, for whether or not this technique will work in a large scale political election, and what the effect is of various parties using similar techniques, we'll have to wait until May to find out...


Staats, A. W. & Staats, C. K. (1958). Attitudes established by classical conditioning. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 57, 37-40.

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