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, February 1, 2016

Guilt tripping: Liking isn’t helping

This is an advert from a campaign series by Publicis Singapore for Crisis Relief called ‘Liking isn’t helping’. Crisis Relief is a Christian disaster relief organisation that aims to encourage volunteers to help in crises around the world, with its “Be a volunteer. Change a life” tagline. This particular advert, one of three in the campaign, contains a real press image entitled ‘War’, with a mother holding her injured child in her arms. Surrounding this scene are a number of thumbs ups, to represent the use of the ‘like’ button on the social networking site Facebook.

The advert plays on the emotions of the individual viewing it and is an example of invoking guilt as a means of persuasion. It highlights the fact that a simple click of the ‘like’ button on Facebook will not actually help the pain and grief suffered by the victims of these crises. It is in this way that Publicis Singapore hopes to encourage the individuals to become volunteers to help in these situations, as those who experience guilt are often motivated to try and alleviate the feeling, often through prosocial behaviour. For example Regan, Williams and Sparling (1972) found that inducing guilt in women by making them believe they had broken a camera, later resulted in them helping an indivudal with a broken grocery bag. More importantly in this case, it has also been shown that guilt is associated with an individual's intention to donate to charity (Hibbert, Smith, Davies & Ireland, 2007).

In terms of guilt and volunteering behaviour, Yinon, Bizman, Cohen and Segev (1976) investigated whether inducing different levels of guilt would affect what level of volunteering participants were willing to carry out. Participants were either given a low-guilt, moderate-guilt or high-guilt inducing leaflet about the fact they had not already volunteered for the civil guard. A control group did not receive any leaflet and therefore no guilt was induced with this group. After reading the leaflets, participants were given a list of six alternative amounts of volunteering for the civil guard, ranging from a high level of volunteering, to refusal to volunteer. The results showed a curvilinear relationship between the level of guilt induced and the level of volunteering chosen. Those who had received the moderate-guilt leaflet were most willing to do more volunteering for the civil guard, compared to the no-guilt, low-guilt and high-guilt groups (see Table 1).

Table 1. Means* and standard deviations of amount of volunteering to civil guard according to the experimental conditions
*Note: the higher the number, the less volunteering
This research shows how inducing guilt can influence an individuals' volunteering behaviour. Therefore, the Crisis Relief advert guilt to make the indiviudal question why they are liking the image on social media instead of helping the cause. This may consequently motivate them to volunteer in such crises.


Hibbert, S., Smith, A., Davies, A., & Ireland, F. (2007). Guilt appeals: Persuasion knowledge and charitable giving, Psychology and Marketing, 24, 723-742.
Regan, D. T., Williams, M., & Sparling, S. (1972). Voluntary expiation of guilt: A field experiment, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24, 42-45.
Yinon, Y., Bizman, A., Cohen, S., & Segev, A. (1976). Effects of guilt-arousal communications on volunteering to the civil guard: A field experiement, Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 7, 493-494.

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