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, November 6, 2016

This Girl Can

I expect many of you have seen various forms of ‘This Girl Can’ campaign over the past few years since it was launched in January 2015.  Most likely from the short video, pictures floating around social media, or right here at the University of Warwick.

‘This Girl Can’ campaign was launched with the simple aim- ‘To get more women from the ages of 14-40 regularly active and into sports and to keep them playing’, Sport England (2014). In doing so, positive social attitudes are formed which play a part in sustaining this new healthy behaviour change.

A survey poll conducted by Women in sport (2014) found that out of the thirteen million women surveyed, six million of them are not currently engaging in regular exercise. Further research by Sport England (2014) found that one of the determining factors for not taking part in regular exercise is the fear of judgement from others. Irrational as this sounds, many women are refraining from engaging in activities that will indefinitely improve their health and wellbeing, because they think others are judging them, when in fact is anybody really judging us other than ourselves? Probably not, no.
 This campaign depicts ‘normal’ women, (and by this I mean, not Britain’s next top model, in a sexy two piece looking flawless), demonstrating the reality of exercise. ‘Sweating like a pig’, red in the face, finding it tough but being resilient, and tackling those irrational beliefs.
Figure 1. Example of the poster adverts used in this campaign

The theory of planned behaviour proposed by Ajzen (1985) can be used to explain the success of this campaign in influencing the behaviours of women to exercise more often and overcome any irrational preconceived beliefs. This is a framework underlying the process of behaviour. When these three factors are combined this can influence our subsequent actions. These components are; attitudes, perceived behavioural control (self-efficacy) and normative subjective norms. These influence our intentions which precede our subsequent behaviour.
Figure 2. Theory of planned behaviour, Ajzen (1985)

Subjective norms

According to Ajzen (1988) normative beliefs and subjective norms are expected ways to behave and beliefs we think others have of us, which exist in a society. For example, how we should behave so we are aligned with others behaviour (the majority), this can sometimes be unhelpful.

Unfortunately, in Western culture, we are presented with a false sense of what the ‘norm’ of body image is. Fitness magazines, big brand ambassadors bombard the media with images depicting beautifully sculpted women, but also Cusumano (1997) points out the changing nature of body image standards, so leaving no consistent ‘norm’. Consequently, we have no clear or realistic ‘norm’, or when we are presented with these images they can seem a little unrealistic, at least for the majority of the population. With these unrealistic norms in place many women might not exercise regularly because this goal is just unattainable, and moreover because they might not look like these pre-existing ‘norms’, this might lead to fear of judgement by others. Although, for some women, this could be a motivator.
As a result of these somewhat impractical goals set out to aspire to be similar to, this co-insides with perceived behavioural control (the belief we can achieve goals). Having a goal which seems so elusive could mean many women become stuck at not attempting to try to get stuck in with regular exercise because of the unrealistic reality.
Figure 3. An example of a fitness magazine portraying the 'norm'

‘This Girl Can’ campaign has tackled this straight on. The women shown in the video are women from a variety of different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, who have various different body shapes and some with a disability. Through presenting a variety of women, this is modifying the subjective norm, and women are redefining what the norm is for body image, something that is more attainable. This fits in with the next component of behaviour change, perceived behavioural control.
Figure 4. Encouraging women to love their body

Perceived behaviour control

This element of the theory as mentioned before is about how well we think we can achieve certain goals. In other words, our self-efficacy. Studies have shown that if we believe we can do something, and that we ourselves have the inner resources to complete the necessary task then we are more likely to get this done, Bandura (1977). Research alongside this has also shown that watching another person akin to you engaging in a task, then your self-efficacy increases and you will believe you have the control to fulfil the required behaviour, or change your behaviour, Fox (2009). Furthermore, in Fox (2009) study into role modelling and exercise behaviours, he concludes that similar role models to individuals can help in new health practices or maintaining already existing ones.
Many women may feel they have inadequate skills and so are unable to get stuck into activities such as those in the video. Thinking like this would no doubt make you feel incompetent, thoughts such as, ‘I’m not going to be able to do that, I haven’t been practising or training since I was young’ frame of mind. These unhelpful thoughts would make anyone think that they wouldn’t be able to achieve certain health goals because they are comparing themselves to other women such as fitness models or sport brand ambassadors, who they think are very skilled.
Through using this natural comparison fallacy that we are all susceptible to, ‘This Girl Can’ advert portrays a wide variety of sports- swimming, running, Zumba, netball and Football. Through seeing like minded people engaging in these ‘fun’ sports then this is likely to influence their perceived behaviour control because this becomes realistic. Going to an hour Zumba class with friends is suddenly achievable, instead of an hour mundanely running on a treadmill at a gym, which would require gym memberships, signing up fees as so forth.
Figure 5. Another 'this girl can' mantra

Furthermore, if the desired behaviour is punishing then they are unlikely to believe they can do this. Thereby showing behaviours such as the lady jogging (at a reasonable pace), or goofing around in a Zumba class, this takes away the aspect of difficulty, and replaces it with attainable goals, that seem fun and maintainable. 
Figure 6. Example of perceived behavioural control, the speed doesn't matter


Figure 7. Advert rejecting the stereotype that boxing is a male specific sport

Attitudes are what you think about the behaviour. There are many misconceptions surrounding exercise which are tackled in this advert. One attitude that particularly stands out regards certain types of exercise as gender specific, such as boxing, which because of its connotations to aggression and fighting has been categorised as a sport which only men engage in, Koivula (1995). This is also true for other sports such as football. These sports are in no way specific to a particular gender, and maybe women who endorse these stereotypes prevent themselves from participating in a sport that they could find gratifying. The statements that are presented in these adverts such as ‘I kick balls. Deal with it’, ‘Under these gloves, is a beautiful manicure’, immediately reject previous stereotypes that these sports are for men. Demonstrating you don’t have to be a tomboy to enjoy or take part in boxing, you can be whoever you want to be and engage in whatever sport that satisfies you most.
Figure 8. Another advert changing attitudes with attitude

I particularly like the statement ‘I kick balls.. deal with it’, this has an element of humour to it, which in the sense of attitudes, is giving an attitude itself of ‘I don’t care what you think, I’m doing it anyway’ kind of impression. Which is exactly what this campaign is good for- tackling preconceived ideas/stereotypes about sports and challenging these beliefs to encourage more women to exercise.
What is also commendable about this advert is that they don’t ‘sugar-coat’ or try to make exercise something that it is not. It shows the true nature of it. Through the advert you are exposed to real women sweating, but persevering. Yes its hard, yes its sweaty and exhausting. But… it’s fun.  This is key to the attitude change as well, showing it in a positive light. ‘Sweating like a pig.. but feeling like a fox’- sums this up well. Yes, you will be sweaty and hot but you’ll feel fantastic! This advert captures smiles and laughs which is useful in constructing a positive mind-set. Furthermore, knowing that other people are finding it just as enduring as yourself makes you feel ‘normal’ as a result of informational social influence.
It is important for these positive attitudes to be shown to viewers, especially those targeting stereotypes because these are all accessible attitudes to have, and the more accessible these attitudes are, the more likely they will be endorsed, (the availability heuristic).

Since ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, it has captured the attention of Universities and sport organisations around the country. Right here at the University of Warwick there have been events set up funded by Warwick sport such as dance workshops, box-skip fit classes and many others free of charge. This is a direct result of this campaign, and even Warwick sport have created their own version of this girl can.


Ajzen, I. (1985). From intentions to actions: A theory of planned behaviour. In Action control (pp. 11-39). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: toward a unifying theory of behavioural change. Psychological review84(2), 191.
CUSUMANO, D.L. and THOMPSON, J.K., 1997. Body Image and Body Shape Ideals in Magazines: Exposure, Awareness, and Internalization. Sex Roles, 37(9), pp. 701. 

Fox, J., & Bailenson, J. N. (2009). Virtual self-modeling: The effects of vicarious reinforcement and identification on exercise behaviors. Media Psychology12(1), 1-25.
Go Where Women Are - Sport England. (n.d.). Retrieved November 6, 2016, from

Koivula, N. (1995). Ratings of gender appropriateness of sports participation: Effects of gender-based schematic processing. Sex Roles33(7-8), 543-557.

Reading, A. V., & Hansson, J. This Girl Can.

Resources Archive - Women In Sport. (n.d.). Retrieved November 06, 2016, from

Sport, B. (n.d.). This Girl Can. Retrieved November 06, 2016, from

This girl can - This Girl Can. (n.d.). Retrieved November 06, 2016, from

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