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, March 12, 2015

Can you clean the kitchen because it's Tuesday?


For this week's blog I decided to try out one of the persuasive techniques we've learnt about on one of my unsuspecting housemates.
In our house we have a weekly chores rota for chores like cleaning the kitchen, tidying the living space and taking the bins out which we all rotate around. We complete these chores on a Tuesday evening normally because that's when the bins need to go out.
This week I was down on the rota to clean the kitchen.
I decided to take inspiration from Langer and colleagues (1978) to try to avoid my chore for the week.
In Langer et als (1978) study, a confederate approached adults who were queuing to use a photocopier and asked one of three questions:
1) "Excuse me, I have five pages. may I use the Xerox machine?"
2) "Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies?"
3)"Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I'm in a rush?"
Question 1 was a request only condition, question 2 used placebic information and question 3 used real information. The results table is below:


For question 1, 60% of participants complied with the request, for question 3 this rose to 94%. However for question 2, even though the information was completely irrelevant, the compliance was still very high at 93%.
This shows that simply giving a reason, no matter how irrelevant can still aid you in persuading people to do as you ask.
I therefore decided it would be most fun to attempt using irrelevant reasoning.
I spent a while deciding on what my reason would be e.g. "because it's a Tuesday"/"because you cleaned the kitchen last week" etc. However the line I ended up using was:
"Hi Megan, could you clean the kitchen today because I took the bins out last week?"
This was irrelevant information because similar to the "because I need to make copies" reason, it's just stating information. My reason had nothing to do with this week, why I should not clean the kitchen, or why she should.
However to my complete surprise she replied "yeah sure, no problem"! Therefore, this was a good example of how powerful the word "because" can be.
However, this did then backfire, due to me feeling bad that she was doing a chore that I should have been doing, therefore I ended up helping her anyway. But nevertheless, it was still quite exciting to see that the technique worked!


Langer, E., Blank, A., & Chanowitz, B. (1978) The Mindlessness of Ostensibly Thoughtful Action: The Role of "Placebic" Information in Interpersonal Interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 635-642.

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