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.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get!

Note. From “Innocent recycle tip.” by M. Koster, 2010, retrieved from

This is a message on an Innocent smoothie carton which states, ‘Please recycle this pack’. This uses the persuasive technique of simply asking for an action to be carried out.

Flynn and Lake (2008) carried out a study which illustrates the effectiveness of asking for what you want. Participants were required to ask strangers to complete a 5-10 minute written questionnaire for them. They were instructed to stop once five strangers had complied. Before they started, half of the participants also had to provide an estimate of how many strangers would need to be asked before these five responses were gained.

Figure 1. Bar chart to show the mean predicted and actual numbers of strangers who needed to be asked before five strangers had complied with the participant’s request.

Figure 1 shows the results from this study. The number of strangers that participants predicted would need to be approached was significantly higher than the number of strangers that participants actually needed to approach in order to gain five responses to the questionnaires (mean = 20.5 and 10.5, respectively; standard deviation = 12.3 and 3.9, respectively).

These findings show that asking for what you want is more effective than people believe it to be. Also, approximately 1 out of every 2 people who were asked for the favour complied, which indicates that asking is very persuasive.

Therefore, the persuasive technique of simply asking the reader to recycle the Innocent smoothie carton is likely to be effective, as the above study shows that approximately half of those who read the message on the side of the carton are likely to comply with its request.


Flynn, F. J., & Lake, V. K. B. (2008). If you need help, just ask: Understanding compliance with direct requests for help. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 128-143.
Koster, M. (2010). Innocent recycle tip. Retrieved from

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