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.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Once you’ve got a queue jump, there’s no going back


So it’s that time again, when we are all going our separate ways for 5 weeks of hard core Easter revision. So that means there is only one last thing to do… go on a BNO (Big Night Out for all you non-party goers). And despite being in third year (which means I kind of have to do work now), this year was going to be no different. So off my friends and I will go on our annual adventures to Leamington’s local nightclub Smack (voted 7th best club in the world if you haven’t heard – can we all just take a moment to appreciate that).

I started planning well in advance for this night, as there are always those flaky people who are like “Oh but I’ve got so much work to do,” and “I need to finish this reading” and “Oh sorry I can’t come, I’ve got to wash my hair,” (you know who you are)! So I decided to go in early with the simple technique of Commitment Trap. This is where you get an individual to identify with a behaviour and bind themselves to completing that action (e.g. going to smack on Thursday) (Pratkanis, 2007). Breaking a promise to complete an action that you previously publicity committed yourself to doing, will trigger internal tension. Consequently, this will make you feel concerned that people will think you are unreliable.

Previous research by Wang and Katzev (2006) studied the effect of Commitment Trap on encouraging paper recycling. This was conducted over 11 weeks in 3 phases. In phase one, the baseline recycling behaviour of 24 older adults in a retirement home was observed. This was done over a 3-week period. Recycled paper was weighed every second day by the experimenters. In phase two, subjects were approached by an experimenter to discuss the environmental and economic benefits of recycling. Experimenters asked subjects to sign a commitment pledge to recycle paper for the next 4 weeks. The commitment form read:

“We, the residents of the 2nd floor, are willing to participate in the paper recycling project sponsored by the Reed College Environmental Group. It is understood that any recyclable paper can be placed in the “Recycle” garbage can. We commit ourselves to participating in this recycling project for the next 4 weeks.”

Paper recycling in the recycling bin was weighed by experimenters 14 times during this period. In a follow up phase, subjects received a letter from experimenters explaining that they were no longer committed to recycle. However, subjects were told that for the next 4 weeks, paper recycling would still be weighed. Results can be shown in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: Pounds of paper received in the recycling bin and the number of pick-ups of recycling done by older adults in a retirement home, during a 3-week baseline phase, after 4-weeks of publicly committing to recycling, and during a follow-up phase 4-weeks later.

As Figure 1 reveals, during this group commitment to recycling phase, subjects recycled 47% more paper than they had during baseline conditions. Subjects continued to recycle at a higher level than baseline, during the 4-week follow up period, even when commitment was removed. This shows that once subjects have made a public commitment to a certain behaviour (e.g. recycling) they will act consistently, and continue acting out this behaviour.

This can be applied to the Commitment Trap example mentioned earlier. In this case, I asked my friend if she wanted to go to Smack well in advance so she would say yes, (before she had time to think about how much work she had, and how her hair needed washing). By publicly committing to the rest of the group that she would be going, she found it difficult to later say that she couldn’t go. And to top it all off, she even went to meet the man of the moment, queue jump Gav, to pick up the queue jumps for Smack. This further enforced her commitment to go, because once you’ve paid Gav £6 for your queue jump, there’s no going back…


Pratkanis, A. R. (2007). The science of social influence: Advances and future progress. Hove: Psychology Press.

Wang, T. H. & Katzev, R. D. (1990). Group commitment and resource conservation: two field experiments on promoting recycling. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 20, 265–275.




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