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, November 3, 2016

How to Get Your Housemate to Do Your Washing-Up For You

Many of you will live with housemates. A lucky few of you will have housemates with whom it would feel cruel to practice your newly learned methods of persuasion on; those who already do your washing-up on a regular basis just because they're such sickeningly wonderful exemplars of the human species. 

Fortunately for me, my housemate is the type that's always busy doing important things with important people, with no time to spare doing unimportant things, such as washing-up, for unimportant people, such as myself. I knew this endeavour would be no easy feat. Putting the rule of reciprocity to it's greatest test yet, I attempted to get my housemate to do my washing-up for me. 

Not too many nights ago, my housemates and I had pre-drinks at ours with around 20 people from all our friendship circles. Needless to say, the kitchen/lounge was left a complete mess with bottles and cans littering every surface. The next morning, whilst my housemate slept and recovered from the night before, I took it upon myself to begin the first step in subjecting her to the social pressure that is reciprocation. 

I tidied and cleaned the entire kitchen/lounge before she woke up, angelically sitting bright eyed and beaming when she arose and came down for breakfast. My housemate was so thankful and stunned, little did she know the sense of future obligation had been planted. 

Dennis Regan (1971) practically demonstrated the rule of reciprocation in an experiment. In this study, a confederate, Joe, made participants eager to help him out in buying some raffle tickets as a result of his doing them a favour previously in buying them a bottle of Coke. This small favour led to the participants to feel as though they owed Joe, and this sense of obligation caused these subjects to buy twice as many raffle tickets as those subjects who did not receive the prior favour. 

With Joe as my inspiration, I proceeded to test the rule later the next day. Through tidying the lounge I had done the equivalent of buying my housemate a coke, a small gesture that would hopefully instil in her a sense of obligation to repay the favour in the future. With this in place, I went ahead and asked my housemate if she wouldn't mind doing my washing up for me whilst I ran a few errands. To my utter delight, with a smile she willingly agreed and my washing up was all done when I returned a few minutes later. 

Studies show that simply asking actually produces a higher level of consent than a lot of people realise (Clark & Hatfield, 1989). To really put the rule of reciprocity to the test, I should've asked my housemate straight out initially if she would do my washing up for me. Assuming she would deny this request (being the busy, important person she is and despite the social influence of asking), my pseudo experiment would have more weight to it, as it is more likely the rule of reciprocity was taking effect, rather than the confounding variable of simply asking. 

Cialdini, R.B. (2013) Influence: Pearson new international edition. 5th edn. Harlow: Pearson Education
Hills, T. (2014) ‘If You Want More Out of Life, Just Ask’, Psychology Today
Regan, D.T. (1971) ‘Effects of a favor and liking on compliance’, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 7(6), pp. 627–639

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