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, February 12, 2015

WARNING: Explicit Content!

It is no secret that the animal rights organisation, PETA, have tried to create some effective campaigns using shock tactics as a persuasive technique. However, a number of their campaigns have created such outrage and controversy within the population, with their over the top shock tactics, that they have had to be taken down. It is clear that their attempts to grab people’s attention have backfired as their message is often lost behind their explicit use of highly sexualised innuendos, hyper-masculinised culture, objectivity of women & erotic violence against women. 

In this specific example above, it is clear that PETA are trying to utilise shock tactics to persuade people to stop drinking dairy products. They have paired the slogan ‘some bodily fluids are bad for you’ with a picture of a shocked woman covered in a mysterious white liquid and the following catchline of ‘Don’t Swallow. Ditch Dairy’. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that PETA are trying to shock people by blatantly referring to an explicit sexual act, playing on the words ‘bodily fluids’. The population were so outraged by this billboard that it was taken down after just one day. This is another example of how PETA has unsuccessfully used the shock factor to persuade. People are directing all their focus on the indecency of the sexual act reference and, as a result, are oblivious to their main campaign message. 

One persuasive technique which has shown effectiveness in changing people’s behaviour is Manded Altercast. A manded altercast is where you specify a particular role to be taken by telling people who they are (or who they are supposed to be) by attributing a specific identity/role to them. Support for this technique comes from Lieberman (1956) who studied 139 workers in a company they named the Rockwell Corporation. Workers were put into one of four possible conditions. Twenty three workers were promoted to a supervisory position (Foremen) and 35 workers were promoted to union stewards. The rest of the workers made up two control groups (1 for management and 1 for the union) where they remained in their current work role. After 10 months, participants were tested on their attitudes towards management and the union. In other words, they wanted to see if their attitudes had changed due to the particular role they had been cast into (compared to a control group).

As seen in Table 1, results show that those workers who had been cast into the role of foremen had significantly more ‘pro-management’ attitudes compared to the control group. Results from Table 2 show that workers cast into the role of union stewards also showed significantly more ‘pro-union’ attitudes compared to the control group. Both experimental groups’ attitudes had changed to be inline with the new role they had been cast. This suggests that being cast into a specific role (manded altercast) can effectively change people’s attitudes and, subsequently, their behaviour. 

In conclusion, using over the top shock tactics is not successful at persuading people to change their attitudes and behaviours as people’s attention are in the wrong place. These campaigns are being remembered for the wrong reasons and their main message is often lost and most likely forgotten. According to these results, if people are cast, for example, into the role of an animal lover (who would not stand for the cruelty of animals in order to consume what they produce) they will change their attitudes and, later, behaviour to be in line with their casted role. Therefore, if PETA were to adopt the use of manded altercast, instead of shock tactics, they should be able to effectively change people’s attitudes and behaviour without losing the focus of their main campaign message.


Lieberman, S. (1956). The effects of changes in roles on the attitudes of role occupants.  Human Relations9, 385-402.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.