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.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"Now buy me some biscuits"

A neat example of the lowballing technique was used by my friend the other day to persuade me to buy some biscuits for when she came round to mine to do our data analysis. The text conversation went something like this:

Friend: "Okay, lets say 2 :) Mine or yours?"
Me: "2 is good :) Come here!"
Friend: "I'll come if you have biscuits"

This persuasive series of texts fits in the lowballing technique of persuasion. In lowballing, the target (me) first makes a commitment to perform a course of action. In this case, by my friend asking me if we should work at mine or hers, I obviously said at mine (as she probably predicted I would). I therefore committed myself publically to the idea that I wanted her to come around mine, instead of going around hers. In the second phase of lowballing, the action or behaviour the target is to perform is then switched to a more costly behaviour. In this instance, it was switched from simply her coming around, to her only coming round if I bought biscuits! This technique works because the target (me) is more likely to perform the costlier behaviour as a result of the earlier commitment. Knowing that I had already committed myself to working round mine, I felt that I had to go and buy biscuits!

Burger and Cornelius tested the effect of the lowballing strategy on students who were presented with an initial request and then either allowed to respond or not (manipulating commitment levels). The experiment involved a confederate phoning students who lived on campus, and asked them to get involved in a charity fundraiser by walking 3 miles for charity. They were then given the opportunity to agree or disagree to taking part in the charity walk (the lowballing condition) or not given the opportunity to respond (the interrupt condition). Participants were then told that the walks were either on a weekend morning at 8am, a costly behaviour for students. Participants in the control condition were told the dates and times of the walks and then asked if they would like to take part. They found that the rate of compliance in the lowballing condition was significantly higher than in the interrupt condition or control condition. The graph below shows the percentage of participants who complied (agreed to take part in the charity walk) in each condition. The graph clearly shows that more participants agreed to take part in the lowballing condition (23/58), than in the interrupt condition (10/69) and control condition (14/89).


The results of this study clearly suggest that getting someone to make a public commitment to an act or behaviour and then increasing the cost of that behaviour, increases compliance more than if the individual did not make a public commitment to the behaviour or if the costly behaviour was proposed before the individual was asked to make a public commitment. This is exactly what occurred in my example, as I made a commitment to work round mine before the behaviour became more costly (by having to buy biscuits).

Burger, J.M., & Cornelius, T. (2003). Raising the price of agreement: Public commitment and the lowball compliance procedure. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 33, 923-934.

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