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.

Friday, March 13, 2015

There's NO excuse for violence against women. It's rubbish.

The above sign was part of a campaign run by The City of Sydney to raise awareness about White Ribbon Week and ending violence against women. While some have argued that this trivializes the severity of violence against women, I believe the ad manages to grab onlookers' attention while making a clear, negative association between violence and rubbish.

Staats and Staats (1958) conducted a study that showed how creating associations through classical conditioning could influence attitudes. In Experiment I, participants were equally split into 2 groups and given 2 types of stimuli: visual (words written on a screen) and verbal (words presented orally, that participants had to immediately repeat). The words were either national names or familiar masculine names. Participants then had to learn five visually presented national names, and 33 verbally presented words. They were presented with 12 pairs of words, and had to identify which of each pair they had seen before.

6 new national names were visually displayed on a screen as part of the conditioned stimulus. 1 second after each word was shown, another word was verbally presented as part of the unconditioned stimulus. Participants were asked to silently learn the visually presented words, but to repeat the verbally presented words aloud. The words were visually displayed 18 times and accompanied by different verbal stimuli. However, 2 of the national names were repeatedly paired with words with evaluative meaning e.g. Dutch was paired with words with positive evaluative meaning while Swedish was paired with words with negative evaluative meaning for Group 1 and vice-versa for Group 2. Finally, participants were tested on how many visually presented words they could remember and asked how they felt about each of the words.

In Experiment II, this was repeated with masculine names as the conditioned stimulus. For Group 1, Tom was paired with words with positive evaluative meaning and Bill with words with negative evaluative meaning. The opposite was true for Group 2.

The results were significant for both words in Experiment I and II. A within-subjects comparison revealed that conditioning had occurred as participants now had significantly different attitudes towards each of the conditioned words in both  Experiment I, F(1) = 5.52, p<.05, and Experiment II,F(1) - 10.47, p<.05. As shown in Table 1 below, words paired with positive evaluative meanings were now associated with lower, more pleasant attitude scores than words paired with negative evaluative meanings.

Thus, the study demonstrated that participants could be conditioned to find words more or less pleasant by having them paired with words with pre-existing pleasant or unpleasant connotations. This is likely to be the mentality behind the There's NO excuse for violence against women. It's rubbish.” campaign, as “attitudes evoked by concepts are considered part of the total meaning of the concept" (Staats & Staats, 1958, pp. 37).

Staats, A. W., & Staats, C. K. (1958). Attitudes established by classical conditioning. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 57(1), 37.

Shareen Rikhraj

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