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, April 20, 2015



On Wednesday’s, as all Warwick students know, is POP!! At approximately 11pm, our friend was not allowed in, due to having her ticket on another person’s card. The easy option would be to say “ok”, and walk away but instead we decided to ask! We asked the manager, “please can you let our friend in,” and after about 10 minutes he was convinced and she was let in. This means, we used, slightly intoxicated, the Just Ask principle and it worked!

Evidence for the Just Ask principle comes from Flynn & Lake (2008). They conducted 3 experiments. The first experiment asked 42 university students to ask a stranger (in person) for a favour, to complete a quick questionnaire.  Half of the participants were also asked to estimate the likelihood of those they approached would comply. The second experiment, replicated the first experiment but also used 2 alternative requests, such as borrowing a cell phone and asking for an escort to a specific destination. Experiment 3, tested a sample of volunteers to solicit donations on behalf of a charity and also predict how many people would comply. The researchers hypothesise that people underestimate the likelihood of compliance after directly asking.

This was exactly what they found. In experiment 1, participants overestimated the amount of people they would need to approach to complete the task, of getting 5 strangers to complete the questionnaire. In experiment 2, participants predicted they would need to ask on average 7.2 people to walk them to the gym before 1 person agreed, but in reality they only needed to ask 2.3 people. Participants in the cell phone group predicted they would need ask 10.1 people to complete the task of getting 3 people to agree to their request, but actually they only needed to ask 6.2 people. This was also replicated in study 3. The results are presented in the graph.

Therefore, this shows that people overestimate the amount of people they will need to ask, in order to fulfil their task and underestimate the amount of compliance. This can explain why the bouncer allowed our friend in to POP, because we just asked! Asking does work if you need help!

Flynn, F. J. F. & Lake, V. K. B. (2008). Just ask: Underestimating compliance with direct requests for help. Journal of personality and social psychology, 95, 128-143.

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