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.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Divide and Conquer

The story of the Game of Thrones character, Daenerys Targaryen, is an impressive one and it easy to see why fans watch her on the edge of their seat, because we love an underdog. She goes from a young girl sold into marriage with nothing to winning followers, an army, becoming a queen and conquering cities. To do something like that Daenerys has had to be very persuasive, and over the seasons she’s become a bit of an expert at getting what she wants from others.

The perfect example can be seen in her speech to the mythical city of Meereen as she is about to invade it. Daenerys managed to persuade the slaves of Meereen to cut their chains, kill their masters and open the gates to herself, her terrifying army and pet dragons – definitely a hard sell!
How does she do this? Check out the clip and see. She immediately separates her audience, making the in-group and out-group salient between the masters and slaves. Suddenly they are no longer one unified city being invaded, they are two distinct groups:

“Your masters have told you lies about me, or they may have told you nothing. It does not matter. I have nothing to say to them. I speak only to you.”

Daenerys makes it very clear to the slaves that the out-group are the enemy. She follows it up by reminding them that the out-group are her enemy too and that her army is made up of freed slaves, both statements effectively joining herself with the slave in-group.  Crucially throughout her whole speech Daenerys makes the distinction between the groups she’s created relevant to her request by highlighting the harm the masters have caused and how agreeing to her request will give them freedom from this.
Back in the real world, we can see the evidence to support this technique. Wyer (2010) conducted an experiment showing that individuals are more persuaded by messages from their in-group, and furthermore that the in-group message would be most persuasive when the group membership was meaningful or relevant to the attitude or issue.

They divided participants according to their political party and were then shown either a relevant persuasive message on legalizing euthanasia or an irrelevant message. They were told that the message was written either by someone in the same political group as them or a different political group, making membership salient to their decision. Once read, they rated their attitudes towards the topic. Participants were most persuaded to believe in an issue if it came from their own political party than from another party regardless of the stance, so when the messaged opposed they had more negative attitudes and when it advocated they had more positive attitudes, as shown in the table below.

Interestingly, when it came to the irrelevant message of course credit procedures, something totally unrelated to political stance, the participants were persuaded equally by in-group and out-group sources whether the message was for or against changing the college procedures. So if you if you find yourself ever trying to persuade a group, be more like Daenerys:

1. Divide and Conquer
2. Remember the importance of relevance!

Wyer, N. A. (2010). Selective self-categorization: Meaningful categorization and the in-group persuasion effect. The Journal of social psychology, 150, 452-470.

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