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, December 11, 2016

The Pledge of Consistancy

Donald Trump led voters in a pledge of allegiance to vote for him as president, at a rally in Florida State. As one of America’s swing states, which “coincidentally” voted in his favour, Florida was a key state to win support. This video illustrates Trump utilising one of the most powerful persuasion tactics; commitment and consistency (Cialdini, 2007). Cialdini argues that a powerful motivator of behaviour is the desire to be, and to be perceived as, consistent.  Festinger’s Cognitive Dissonance Theory speaks to this concept and identifies discrepancy between cognitive states as psychologically uncomfortable (Festinger, 1957). In response, we utilise a number of manipulations in order to neutralise this state of dissonance i.e. readjusting one of our cognitive states to be consistent with others. In terms of manipulating behaviour the encouraging of individuals to make a commitment induces the desire to be consistent with that commitment. This idea is powerfully illustrated by this video.

Baca-Motes et al conducted a field experiment to assess the impact of inducing commitment in hotel guests to the hotels environmentally friendly policies. Guests read a card expressing a commitment to these environmental policies. The act of checking yes or no designated them as committed or not committed. Two other manipulations were also implemented. Firstly this commitment was either general or specific. The specific cards stated the particular policies of which participants had committed to engage with i.e. “save water and energy by reusing my towels”. The general commitment card omitted this specificity. Secondly, half of the participants who designated themselves as committed received a pin as a symbol of his or her commitment. Whether guests hung their towels for reuse was measured to assess the effects of these manipulations.  The results found that those exposed to the specific and pin conditions increased the overall reuse of towels by 40%.

It is clear from this figure that specific commitment in conjunction with receiving a pin is more effective at inducing consistency than when implemented alone. This is possibly because the symbolic reminder increases saliency of that commitment. In the context of Trump’s attempt to lead this pledge of allegiance, we witness demonstrations of both specific commitment and physical symbols of this commitment. The use of phrases such as “to vote ... for Donald J Trump for president” and “ No matter how I feel, no matter what the conditions” highlights the pledge’s specificity. Visual symbols such as posters and other merchandising acquired during the rally hold similarities with the pin which guests are provided with i.e. both increase saliency for themselves and others of their commitment. Furthermore, this commitment was made in front of a global audience. This video has been broadcast on sky news and forever circulates the Internet via social media such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. The public setting in which this commitment is made is fundamental in ensuring that the participants feel the social pressure to be consistent, with millions of people viewing their pledge and creating this societal pressure.


Baca-Motes, K., Brown, A., Gneezy, A., Keenan, E. A., & Nelson, L. D. (2012). Committment and behaviour change: Evidence from the feild. Journal of Consumer Research , 1070-1084.

Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Influence: The Psychology of pursuasian. New York: Harper Collins.

Festinger, L. (1957). Cognitive dissonance theory. 1989) Primary Prevention of HIV/AIDS: Psychological Approaches. Newbury Park, California, Sage Publications.

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