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.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sex, drugs and... chicken wings?

I'm not sure whether it's going to do my reputation as an international party animal any good to share this story with the world, but hopefully others can learn from my mistakes.

I was recently at a house party when one of my friends talked me into doing something that, in retrospect, I don't understand why I did. To paraphrase our conversation, my friend was hungry and wanted to get chicken wings, and wanted me to go with her. I was not particularly invested in the chicken wings, and didn't want to leave the party. In spite of this, I ended up walking with her for 15 minutes to the takeout, waiting with her for the chicken wings, walking back 15 minutes to the party while she ate the majority of the chicken wings, and then returned to the party shaken and confused by what had just happened.

I imagine the feeling I was left with was something akin to leaving a cult.

I think I've pinpointed the point in our conversation where she persuaded me to grant her ridiculous request. Up to this point, she has basically been repeating that she is really hungry and wants chicken wings but then...
(she only agreed to let me use this if I changed her name, so I've chosen Gertrude as most fitting to her character).

Me: Ok then go

Gertrude:.... you're going to make me go alone?

Me:.... why would I come?

Gertrude: so your friend doesn't have to walk alone in the dark.

Me: you'll be fine

Gertrude: it's late I don't want to walk by myself, I asked because I thought you'd come with me.

Me: but...

Gertrude: Please? I'd do it for you.

And so I was manipulated by my 'friend' into escorting her to the chicken shop, because apparently that's how friendship works.
I feel this is a good example of the intimates altercast, 'altercast' being particularly fitting as clearly this is not my friend - friends don't drag friends to chicken shops at 3 am.

The intimates altercast works as we feel obligated to put the needs of people we have close relationships above our own, as failing to do so can create feelings of guilt. So when my 'friend' made it clear to me that she needed me to accompany her on her mission for chicken, I felt obligated to ignore my need to not do something that ridiculous and do what she asked.

The power that those we share intimate relationships have to persuade us to do things we don't want to do was tested by Roloff, Janiszewski, McGrath, Burn & Manrai (1988). Participants were asked by a stranger, an acquaintance or a friend to complete favours that would put them out to varying levels. The results of this study can be found in the table below, taken from the original paper.

As can be seen in this table, the mean obligation felt by participants is higher for all the favours asked when the request is made by a friend, rather than an acquaintance or a stranger. The researchers explained this as representing that we feel more obligated to people we share close relationships with than those we do not, and so we are more susceptible to persuasion by them when the request is something that will help them out. And so, when my friend asked me to help her with her deep need for chicken wings, there was never any hope for me to escape.

Roloff, M. E., Janiszewski, C. A., McGrath, M. A., Burns, C. S., & Manrai, L. A. (1988). Acquiring resources from intimates - When obligation substitutes for persuasion. Human Communication Research, 14, 364-396.

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