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.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Keen bean

Just last week I was asked if I was free to spend an evening or two distributing fliers and putting up posters around campus to promote a mental health organisation I volunteer for in Leamington. Week 10 is coming to an end and the stress is already kicking in from all the work and revision to be done during Easter break. I could have politely declined the request, but I didn’t.

A possible reason for my compliance was because of commitment and consistency (Cialdini, 2001). According to this persuasive tactic, we are motivated to appear consistent in our behaviour and attitudes. Consistency is a desirable trait. Appearing inconsistent gives off a bad impression that we are somewhat unreliable and untrustworthy. Commitment is often used as a motivator to drive consistent behaviour. Through commitment we give off a certain image of our self, we are driven to keep this image up and so act in a way that is consistent with this image. After volunteering at the organisation for more than 6 months I appear very much committed to the organisation. I felt I had to keep up this pro-social “always happy to help” image of myself through accepting the request, otherwise this label would be less fitting for myself. The volunteer coordinators may have taken advantage of this, they know I’m a “keen” committed volunteer and so I SHOULD help them out, and so asking me to distribute fliers and posters all around campus would get an immediate “yes”.

A study conducted by Vaidyanathan and Aggarwal (2005) investigated the use of this tactic. They wanted to find out if making a commitment to an cause would influences the people to purchase a product related to this cause. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions. For the first condition, participants made a commitment to an environmental cause (preservation of rainforests) by completing a questionnaire- rating statements about the cause with “I agree” or “I disagree”. This purpose of this questionnaire was for the participants to express a commitment (if any) to the cause. They were then shown an advertisement for a product (a laundry detergent), of which $1 of the profit made from the purchase would be donated towards preserving rainforests. For the second condition, participants did not complete the questionnaire and so made no commitment the cause, but they were exposed to the same advertisement. For the third condition participants filled in the questionnaire but were shown a different advertisement- of a product where the proceeds went towards to juvenile crime prevention.  

The table above taken from the study shows the results from the experiment. Vaidyanathan and Aggarwal (2005) found those in condition 1, who made a commitment to rainforest preservation were significantly more willing to purchase the cause-related product than participants in condition 2 who did not make a commitment to the cause. Compared to those in condition 1, participants in condition 3 who made a commitment to rainforest preservation, but were shown an advertisement supporting juvenile delinquency were less willing to buy a product related to this cause.

Vaidyanathan and Aggarwal (2005) conclude that commitment does increase compliance and purchase intention. An explanation as to why participants were more willing to purchase an item relevant to the cause after making a commitment was because of consistency. They wanted to remain as consistent people and so confirmed this position by donating to the cause.  This study demonstrates just how powerful and persuasive the technique of commitment and consistency is in influencing a behavioural change. Powerful enough for me to spend an evening putting up posters around campus, when I could be revising or working on my project report!


Cialdini, R. B. (2001). Influence: Science and practice. Boston: Allyn & Bacon

Vaidynathan, R., & Aggarwal, P. (2005). Using commitment to drive consistency: enhancing the effectiveness of cause-related marketing communication. Journal of Marketing Communications, 11(4), 231-246.

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