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.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Our dream: getting everyone to clean

We aimed to tackle the unhygienic behaviours of students at the University of Warwick, primarily targeting first year students in on-campus accommodation. In order to do this, we created a series of posters aiming to encourage hygienic behaviours.

These posters were uploaded to social media, on the 'Warwick Uni Freshers 2015-16' page and a selection of first year accommodation pages on Facebook. 

We hoped that the persuasive methods used in the posters, such as responsibility, reciprocity, contrast effects, rhetorical questions, repetition and personal identity,  would encourage students to engage in cleaner behaviours.

This is believed to be an important area in which to achieve behaviour change, especially as research has shown that students rate cleanliness as the fourth most important factor impacting personal learning during higher education (Campbell & Bigger, 2008). Also, ineffective waste disposal and poor food storage leads to the invasion of insects and rats, and contributes to the spread of diseases (Krieger & Higgins, 2002). We predicted that highlighting these facts would increase the salience of the issue, ultimately motivating individuals to engage in cleaner behaviours.

In order to gain a more in-depth insight into how big the problem was we contacted Warwick Accommodation requesting the total number of complaints in the last academic year (2014-2015), as well as the number of complaints from this academic year so far (2015 – March 2016). The complaints were from either staff (including cleaners) or students concerning the uncleanliness of the on-campus accommodations. Then, to determine whether our posters had made an effect, we compared this initial data with the number of complaints made during the week after our posters had been posted (week 10 of term 2, 14th -20th March 2016). 

To look for differences before and after the posters being made public, we worked out the average number of weekly complaints to compare with the complaints received during week 10 of term 2. Across all accommodation blocks there was not a reduction in the number of complaints received. However when focusing on the accommodation blocks that were exposed to the posters there was a reduction in the number of complaints (Figure 1.)
Figure-1: Number of weekly complaints on cleanliness for on-campus accommodation exposed to the persuasive posters
Of course by comparing only 1 week with the 19 preceding weeks and 30 weeks from the previous year we cannot be certain that our posters alone lead to such a dramatic change. Students and staff simply may not be complaining about uncleanliness during week 10 as it is the final week of term, and so complaining at this late stage is unlikely to improve the situation as desired. Additionally complaints may have not been submitted before we obtained the data regarding number of complaints. 

It would be interesting to see what effect the posters would have once students are living more independently off-campus, as students no longer have the luxury of a cleaner, and so relationships and cooperation with housemates become somewhat more important. In this situation the posters may be more effective. 

Campbell, J. L., & Bigger, A. S. (2008). Cleanliness and learning in higher education, Facilities Manager, July-August, 28–36.
Krieger, J., & Higgins, D. L. (2002). Housing and health: Time again for public action, American Journal of Public Health, 92, 758-768.

Anna Hadjivassiliou, Natalie Croome and Rebecca Dooley

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