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, March 12, 2015

Elections, elections, elections

Photo by Ann Yip

I am sure you must have noticed the different techniques used in the Election Week for the SU officer positions here at the University of Warwick. It’s a funny thing really, because it seems that not a lot of students are extremely interested in the future of the SU policies, but still, if somebody reminds us, we’ll vote. So how do students who have barely listened to candidates’ speeches and promises decide who to vote for? My belief is that one of the deciding factors is the number of posters put up during election week.

In fact, repetition has been found to be a good persuasion technique. And to a certain extent, this could be related to Zajonc’s (1968) mere exposure effect. He demonstrated in his study that exposing participants to a stimulus several times made them rate that stimulus more positively than other stimuli (which the participants had not been exposed to as much).

Instead of choosing nonsense words like previous researchers had chosen (Johnson, Thomson, & Frincke, 1960), Zajonc (1968) chose to expose his participants to Turkish words. At first, the participants were told that they only had to pronounce the foreign words. The words were first pronounced by the experimenter, and were shown on cards for two seconds, and then the participants had to pronounce them as well. In the second part of the experiment, the experimenter told the participants that these words were in fact Turkish adjectives, and that they had to indicate on a 7 point good to bad scale whether they thought these adjectives were positive or negative. The stimuli the participants were asked to rate consisted of the words they had had to pronounce, and of two other Turkish adjectives they had never seen before.

Figure 1. Average rated affective connotation of nonsense words exposed with low and high frequencies.

As you can see on Figure 1, participants rated the more frequent stimuli significantly better than the other stimuli which they had not seen before or had not seen as often.

In the context of the University of Warwick, candidates for SU positions might significantly increase their chances of being elected if they spend time putting up posters and giving out flyers to other students.

Norah Cotterall-Debay

Johnson, R., Thomson, C., & Frincke, G. (1960). Word values, word frequency, and visual duration thresholds. Psychological Review, 67, 332-342.

Zajonc, R. (1968). Attitudinal Effects of Mere Exposure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9, 2, 1–27.

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