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, March 16, 2017

Combating perceptions of sexual assault on university campuses

Our behaviour change project addressed the issue of sexual assault. We looked specifically at the crime itself, as well as the effects of the stigma put upon the victims. Because this issue is so commonplace, especially amongst university campuses, and yet still holds such a large amount of lawful ambiguity and disregard, we believed it was an important topic to create a medium of discussion for. Statistically, around 85,000 women and 12,000 men throughout England and Wales are raped every year. On top of this, it is said that only 15% of those victims end up actually reporting the crime. Because of the controversy behind victim blaming (in regards to provocative clothing, or inebriation), as well the empirical evidence issue regarding the reporting of the perpetrator, those that commit the act generally continue to retain the attitude of the behaviour being acceptable.
Often misinformation about the issue can come from assuming that a general reduction in violent crime over time can be used for prophetic predictions, something Pinker (2006) said to be mindful of. This is in support of our choice of focusing on sexual abuse instead of other issues: the decreasing trend observed so far should not lull work done in favour of future decrease of rapes on campuses.

Because of these jarring statistics, we felt it was important to target the general student population (hopefully encompassing the potential offenders and victims) to try and inform the populace of the dangers and implications of the act itself, as well as the effects of the crime and the stigma on the victim.  Our project took form as an installation placed in central campus. We obtained a bed, dressed it to elude to a form of sexual activity (messy duvet, open condom packet), signposted multiple relevant statistics regarding sexual assault, presented people with a sexual assault story we created based off multiple real life accounts, as well as presenting multiple A3 sheets of paper proposing potential solutions for the issues. These sheets were titled with the question “Where do we go from here?” to prompt input from visitors.

We hoped to try and implement this through multiple persuasion techniques to encourage behaviour change, with the victim account being our main tool to reduce misinformation. The techniques used were:
Installation set up

1. Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB)
The TPB (Azjen, 1991) helped us plan our project, as so far its application improved predictability of intention in fields such as condom use, leisure, and diet, which are difficult to influence (Azjen & Driver, 1993; Conner, Kirk, Cade & Barrett, 2003; ill & Taylor, 1999). This is the idea that attitude, subjective norms, and perceived behavioural control create intentions which then lead to actions. Various reports claim that our collective attitude towards sexual assault focuses on victim blaming (Ullman, 2010). This could mean that we think victims have control over whether they’re assaulted, which is a false assumption. We wanted to challenge this attitude with our installation. Around the bed posts and the gazebo over the bed we have attached an account of a victim of sexual assault which focused on absolving the victim of all blame, as well as showing that anyone can be a victim. This aimed to challenge the norm of victim blaming and is discussed later in the blog. We also gave readers some perceived behavioural control to change the situation by offering them a chance to write suggestions of what can be done to reduce the risk of sexual assault on campus, which quite a few did. We felt that an interactive installation would challenge the attitudes and norms effectively, as a bed in the middle of the piazza is more difficult to ignore than a leaflet or a video which can be ignored and scrolled past.
Some next steps mentioned by students

2. Empathy
Because empathy formed a big part of inducing behaviour change, we created a first – person account that could be read to interact with the installation. Research has shown that reading often increases empathy (Mar, Djikic, & Oatley, 2008), an effect Steven Pinker (2011) reports majorly contributed to the decrease in physical violence during the period “Humanitarian Revolution”. During this time the expansion in the availability of the epistolary novel, depicting everyday lives in real time and in the words of the protagonist was a key driving force behind the fresh outrage felt over human right abuses (Hunt, 2008). We aimed to utilize this effect by installing an account of a survivor of sexual abuse on six separate A4 sheets at eye level on the four legs of the gazebo. The single continuous story was compiled from multiple anonymous accounts retrieved from various websites, and thus being 4 pages long it provided the opportunity for the observer to immerse themselves into the thoughts of the survivor, meanwhile walking around the bed which formed the centre of the installation. Using real accounts yet creating a fictional piece of literature out of them is supported by a 2009 study by Dijkic, Oatley, Zoeterman and Peterson. The researchers provide evidence that reading an artistic version of a story compared to the same story in documentary form results in significant differences in the change of emotions and Big Five traits measured before and after reading the respective stories. By eliciting an emotional response and allowing for first-person perspective taking to happen, we aimed to facilitate that which Peter Singer (1981) called the expansion of the empathy circle, the group of people whose interests we can value comparably to our own.
3. The mere exposure effect

We aimed to choose a date for setting up the installation with maximising exposure in mind. Considering Zajonc’s (2001) study on the robust effects of mere exposure, we opted for the 9th of February, which was the day preceding a theatrical performance was performed at the Warwick Arts Centre with sexual abuse as its theme. Experience of repetition enhances positive affect if negative stimuli are absent, Zajonc (2001) writes, and he states that this affect can attach not only to the stimuli to which the subject was exposed to, but to distinct stimuli as well. We hypothesised that in this case, the repeated exposure to the issue of sexual abuse on campus, presented in personal, approachable and artistic ways instead of as raw statistics and graphic representations can contribute to not only increased awareness to, but a more positive perception of sexual abuse survivors on campus.

Close up of the victim account 
4. Hovland-Yale Model
With regards to developing the message itself, the Hovland-Yale model was useful (Hovland, Janis & Kelley, 1953). It’s been shown that we are more easily persuaded when we think the message is not deliberately intended to persuade or manipulate us (Walster & Festinger, 1962). Therefore, we made sure that the victim account wasn’t explicitly challenging the audience’s views, but instead we edited the account to elicit empathetic concern for the victim. Empathy has an indirect effect on persuasion as it mitigates psychological reactance (Shen, 2010), so we knew it was a better alternative than aggressively challenging the norm of victim blaming.
5. Framing
Previous related awareness and discussion inducing campaigns such as the ‘I Heart Consent’ workshops have been prominent of the Warwick’s campus, with some finding them controversial resulting in further discussion on the issue itself (National Union of Students, 2015). Though they have been successful, the problem with many campaigns is that facts and statistics are mentioned in ways that may not be clear enough and so lead to confusion. Because of this, framing was a persuasive method used for our installation to present information that was clear and understandable. Framing refers to altering the perspective displayed by information through presenting it in a different way to evoke a desired response and emotions (Kahneman, 2011). Research on visualising and understanding risk has shown that poor presentation of information can lead to people making poor decisions. For instance, when doctors were asked to calculate the probability of a patient developing breast cancer from information containing percentages, two-thirds gave the wrong answer. Instead, reframing the information through using fractions is a more effective way to present statistical data (Gigerenzer & Edwards, 2003). Therefore, our installation used few statistics, but those that were used were presented in the form of fractions too, to show how high the occurrence of assault was on campuses. An example is the “1/3 of female students in Britain have experienced sexual assault or unwanted advances” statistic (Goldhill & Bingham, 2015). We signposted the statistics next to the suggestion sheet to aid prompting of ideas for improvement, on the bed to as a symbol of how damaging rape can be as well as by the victim account. This presented information in a quick and easily digestible manner for those walking by and coupled with the use of survivor stories to show the reality of dealing with assault which spiked curiosity and engagement.
Example of statistics used

6. The interactive template
The creation of the installation was based on a behaviour change technique known as the ‘interactive template’ where people can engage with the set-up enabling them to visualise what the situation could look like (Goldenberg, Mazursky & Solomon, 1999). It’s often used for advertisements such as the two page Peugeot magazine spread that had an image of a front facing view of a car and asked readers to press the small inflated air bag where the image of the steering wheel was (Oetting, 2015). Readers could press the airbag and the goal of this was to show the importance of it and the positive effect it can have, the fact that a Peugeot car had one of these must mean their cars are well made. In our project, we used the ‘imaginary experiment’ version of the technique where people could touch any part of our installation such as the bed with unkempt sheets and condom wrappers as well as the printed story. People would use these objects as tools to imagine and think about the severity of the topic and so encourage behaviour change which could occur through writing suggestions for things the university can do to solve the problem on materials provided. Essentially, the purpose of this was to immerse visitors into the experience.
Students providing their suggestions for change

7. Social Proof
Further means of our project influencing behaviour change is through the model social proof. Social proof, within the context of our installation, is the form of informational social influence that capitalises on peoples need and desire to confidently navigate a social environment. Aronson, Wilson and Akert (2015) clearly define it as a belief that other people’s interpretation of an ambiguous situation is more accurate than your own; therefore, adopting their behaviour and/or attitude is the perceived appropriate course of action. We placed our installation in a public space intentionally, so individuals would see passersbys interacting and discussing the topic and implications of sexual assault, thereby initiating the form of informational influence in regards to the damaging effects on victims of assault as well as the potential ambiguity of consent (an apparent theme made clear within our hypothetical story we sign posted around the installation). Social proofing is also in effect through more negative means that are out of our control. Through the likes of those misinformed about the topic or those that endorse the act, the misinformation around identifying the crime itself and the misinformation regarding a sex positive environment creates a perception that sexual assault could be normalised or even acceptable (Hellmuth, 2016). Because of peoples’ reluctance to be plain about committed sex crimes (Abel & Rouleau, 1990), this form of negative social proofing is difficult to prevent. However, with our installation, we hoped to target those susceptible to this form of misinformation within the university population and present them with an alternative opportunity to interact and consider the attitude of not only those that contribute a sex positive attitude to the discussion, but the potential victims, whose struggle we hoped to justly represent through our hypothetical story and visual aid (the bed).
8. The Snowball effect
Van Avermaet’s Snowball Effect (1996) outlines a form of social influence that could potentially come from our installation having taken place. As well as the likes of a production about sexual assault taking place on the university campus the next day, these means of conversing and discussing create opportunities for social proofing and the subsequent sharing of attitudes. The Snowball Effect outlines the process where the influenced attitudes or behaviours from the appropriately informed minority increase in influential effectiveness and scale. This process is continuous to the point where the informed minority potentially become the informed majority. This majority will hopefully consist of the previously misinformed perpetrators or advocates of sexual assault. This would contribute to our goal of spreading a sex positive attitude to individuals at risk of becoming offenders, as well as creating a more empathetic population on our university campus for sexual assault victims; all by providing students with a medium to share ideas, stories, attitudes and beliefs.
Essentially, the purpose of this project was to challenge attitudes and beliefs around consent in regards to rape and its impact in the university context. Through effectively utilising persuasion techniques for behaviour change we hoped to raise awareness on the lack of support for students but also providing them with a platform to have their views and ideas expressed to fix the problem. We understand that there could’ve been improvements to our installation and its implementation however we received positive feedback and were able to spark discussion on a topic that’s often considered taboo. More importantly we were able to motivate students who visited the installation to consider an alternate perspective resulting in the demystification of myths and motivating them to take action.

Authors: Nida Ahmad, Ollie Butler, Marci Csörgő and Joanna Stankiewicz

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