Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills 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

Grab your ice, grab your buck(et)s!

On a bright sunny afternoon, rather than counting her millions on a beach in Mexico, Oprah Winfrey was being video taped pouring a bucket of ice water over her head to raise awareness and funds towards Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Motor Neurone Syndrome. This social media frenzy she participated in, known as the “Ice Bucket Challenge” (IBC), involved pouring ice cold water over one’s head, posting it on social media, and challenging friends to do same and donate for the ALS cause. The movement had over 17 million people participating; a large number of whom contributed to the national donation of $115 million, a world record for the largest fund raising event outside disaster relief (Bonifield, 2015).
With the IBC propaganda of summer 2014 encompassing Cialdini’s principles of persuasion and influence, it is not surprising that the ALS association raised funds in millions; a clear example of the power of authority and social proof put forth in 'Influence: Science and Practice'.

Authority: The creator of the IBC was a former baseball player recently diagnosed with ALS, Peter Frates. His role as both a celebrity and a seeming expert in the world of ALS drew media attention to the cause (Cialdini, 2009). With time, other celebrities ranging from teenage sensation, Justin Bieber, to adult favourites, Steven Spielberg, participated in the challenge thus influencing regular individuals to partake in the movement. Empirical support to this real-life phenomenon comes from research by Lefkowitz, Blake and Mouton (1955) confirming that high status figures have great influence in promoting conformity in society. In an experiment with 2,103 naive pedestrians as participants, the researchers made observations near a traffic signal to test hypothesis on whether individuals are more likely to violate prohibitions when a perceived high status individual violated them. The experiment was a 2 x 2 model such that there were either high status or low status dressed confederates, as well as confederates who obeyed or disobeyed the traffic signal. The control condition was made up of naïve participants from the exact same locations as those in the experimental conditions.

The results, depicted in table 1, showed a significant effect of high status confederate violation on participants such that by merely changing the clothes of a confederate from soiled jeans to a suit representing high status, participant behaviour emulation increased by 10% at the 1% level of significance. Similarly, the IBC showed a significant increase in participants and donation after billionaire, Bill Gates, as well as many other famous individuals, participated in it (Bonifield, 2015).

Social proof: Cialdini (2009) accurately points to the fact that individuals base their actions on “who else is doing it” as well as social image. When an individual gets tagged in a public IBC post to promote a cause, they have more or less no choice but to participate so as not to be viewed negatively. The social consensus, also known as bandwagon effect, thus took full force in the propagation of the IBC.
In an experiment supporting the social proof phenomenon by Milgram, Bickman and Berkowitz (1955), it was hypothesized that the number of persons who stop along a crowd is a function of size of the crowd. Hence, on two winter afternoons in New York, the researchers recorded data on naïve participants as they passed a sidewalk with a confederate(s) looking to the top of a building. There were 6 experimental conditions, all varying in number (1, 2, 3, 5, 10, 15) of confederates.  Motion pictures were taken during the experiment to examine the number of people that passed the sidewalk in comparison to the number of people that looked up while walking and those who completely stopped to look up with the confederates. 
The results, as depicted in figure 1, showed 40% of passer-by stopped alongside a confederate crowd of 15 compared to 4% when a there was a single confederate. Using an analysis of variance, research indicates that stimulus crowd significantly affects proportion of passer-by who stop to observe. In addition, the research suggested that if something of interest was occurring where the confederates were looking, passer-bys looked for longer. In this vein, the IBC grew exponentially popular as a result of the increasing crowd that engaged in it. It also remained popular for over 4 summer months because of its attractive and exciting nature (who doesn't like a cold splash on a 40 degree day?). This radically different marketing strategy to fundraising highlights to other companies, the need to embrace exciting social media advertisements built on verified experimental data and principles. Set the pace and individuals would blindly push your cause for free!

Bonifield, J. (2015, July 16). One year later, your ALS ice bucket money goes to. CNN. Retrieved from
Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: Science and practice. Boston, MA: Pearson Education.
Lefkowitz, M., Blake, R. R., & Mouton, J. S. (1955). Status factors in pedestrian violation of traffic signals. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 51(3), 704-706.
Milgram, S., Bickman, L., & Berkowitz, L. (1969). Note on the drawing power of crowds of different size. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 13(2), 79-82.

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