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.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Bieber fever is back...and it's contagious!

“What do you mean?” I hear you ask. Don’t worry, I’ll show you – or tell you (get it?).

Prior to collaborations with the likes of Travis Scott, Diplo and Skrillex, Canadian-born Justin Bieber produced music considered teen pop. Beliebers, self-professed fans, were generally teen girls during this initial rise to fame, bonding and squirming over the innocent baby-face behind hits ‘Baby’ and ‘One Time.’

Bad-boy Bieber is now all grown up. He has new friends, new music and a new style. Most importantly, he has new fans – including myself, I’m not afraid to say. Reason being? We have a connection… Let me explain. When he’s not partying with Kevin Hart or the Kardashians, he’s in the studio with Big Sean or Chris Brown. Failing this, he’s busy modelling for Calvin Klein, a brand endorsed by Eva Mendes, Miranda Kerr and Kate Moss.

Bieber has a huge circle of celeb pals from various groups – a fact he doesn’t hesitate to share. Being present in different groups means different audience exposure, but it's more than that. Audience attraction to a specific celebrity group occurs due to a perceived similarity or set of shared beliefs, resulting in a sense of belonging. They too are part of the group. An ingroup bias then exists, which is the tendency for individuals to prefer those within their ingroup compared those who are not (Brewer, 1999). Kappen (2000) illustrates this through two studies looking at the effect of ingroup or outgroup  and weak or strong arguments on persuading individuals to acknowledge racial privilege. Both studies revealed ingroup members were more successful in causing someone to acknowledge the privilege of a certain group – a privilege they did not have to work for.

By becoming a part of so many ingroups (e.g. that of models, RnB artists and House artists etc.), Bieber has produced an automatic, in some cases unconscious, liking or preference for his music in the identifying ingroup audiences. This is the connection I was referring to. The new preference ingroup members hold for him results in a behaviour change, as they subsequently begin to play his music more. They have been influenced.

This can also be linked to the theory of cognitive dissonance which states we prefer to have consistent cognitions and behaviours (Festinger, 1957). Possessing multiple inconsistent thoughts at once results in unwanted cognitive dissonance which can only be resolved by a) changing one thought so it concurs with the others, or b) reducing the importance of one thought. By producing music considered as House or RnB on his new album Purpose, Bieber has not only immersed himself into new ingroups as mentioned, but he has created cognitive dissonance in those who like these genres but do not like him. Let’s use myself as an example. Previously, I held two thoughts:
1.  I like RnB.
2. I do not like Justin Bieber or his music.

*Cue radio playing Purpose* New thoughts:
1.  I like RnB.
2. I like Justin Bieber’s new music.
3. I do not like Justin Bieber.

Unfortunately, thought number three is not consistent with thought number one or two. I must change my beliefs so that they fit. They are now as follows:
1. I like RnB.
2. I like Justin Bieber’s new music and so will continue to listen to it.
3. I like Justin Bieber.

*Purpose is now on repeat* In this case, my behaviour and thought changes were both (very) conscious. It was a slow and painful process, but the dissonance caused by not liking Bieber whilst constantly playing his tracks didn’t sit well. I therefore accepted defeat so that I could continue singing along happily. 

Dickerson, Thibodeau, Aronson and Miller (1992) show this effect of cognitive dissonance on behaviour change in a study on water conservation. Participants were either asked to be mindful of their water wastage, to make a public commitment asking others to spend less time in the shower or to do both after being reminded of their past water wastage. The latter was known as the “hypocrisy” group. If those in this group did not reduce their shower lengths, an unwanted dissonance would exist due to their actions disagreeing with what they were telling others. Results, shown in Table 1, revealed that those in the “hypocrisy” group took significantly shorter showers than controls, supporting this idea that behaviour change occurs in order to allow for consistent cognitions. Methods of persuasion which create this dissonance in an individual, causing them to restore consistency through a change in behaviour (i.e. the preferred behaviour of the persuader), are therefore very effective.

Unlike myself (and the rest of the world), you may still not be totally won over by the first artist to have a single at Number 1, 2 and 3 in the UK charts at once. Despite this, I can guarantee that the persuasive techniques outlined have resulted in you listening and singing along to his new music more than you ever did before!

Brewer, M. B. (1999). The psychology of prejudice: Ingroup love or outgroup hate? Journal of Social Issues, 55, 429-444.

Dickerson, C. A., Thibodeau, R., Aronson, E., & Miller, D. (1992). Using cognitive dissonance to encourage water conservation. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 22, 841-854.

Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Kappen, D. M. (2001). Acknowledgement of racial privilege, endorsement of equality, and feelings of collective guilt via ingroup versus outgroup influence. Information & Learning, 61, 5056.

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