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.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Inoculating Prospective Students

For the past month I have worked once a week as a ‘Student Ambassador’ for the Psychology Department. This involved meeting prospective students who were offer holders at the University, answering any questions they had and touring them around the Psychology Department. The whole Open Day is a form of persuasion which the University relies upon in order to ensure that offer holders accept their offers. Arguably I use a range of persuasion techniques (unconsciously) when talking to offer holders.

When people ask me why I picked Warwick I might say something along the lines of; “well I was considering the University of Surrey as it provides a placement year which Warwick does not. But then in general I decided that Warwick was a better University as Surrey seemed to be selling itself purely on its placement year and Warwick provides opportunities to get work experience without having to do a year abroad”.

This could be seen as an example of an inoculation technique. Szybillo and Heslin (1973) demonstrated the persuasive effects of inoculation techniques. They presented participants with the belief that ‘all new cars should be installed with air bags’. They were then either in a refutation condition, in which they asked to read a statement including counter arguments to having air bags but these counter arguments were refuted. Or they were in the defense condition in which they were given further information on why air bags should be used with no mention of any opposing argument. The subject’s belief in the statement before and after their exposure to the conditions was used to analysis belief score and whether it had changed. It was found that there was a significant difference in the mean belief scores between those in the refutation condition and those in the defense condition. This can be shown in Table 1. Those in the refutation condition had a greater belief in the importance of air bags being fitted in new cars. This demonstrates that being exposed to arguments against a statement which are then refuted made the statement for persuasive to participants.

Post attack belief score

Table 1: the post belief score means for participants in refutation and defense conditions.

The argument I have used above could be seen as an inoculation technique because I have provided a potential argument against going to Warwick (no placement year) but then refuted this argument (placement year isn’t the only reason to go to University, Warwick is better). This could then be called upon by the offer holder themselves when they weighed up which University they should choose and provide them with the ability to refute any arguments they themselves might have against Warwick.

Szybillo, G. J., & Heslin, R. (1973). Resistance to persuasion: Inoculation theory in a marketing context. Journal of Marketing Research, 10(4), 396-403


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