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

Homelessness - 'Humans of Leamington Spa'

‘We are all human no matter what our circumstances.’

What was the issue?

Our project focuses on the issue of homelessness, predominately within Leamington Spa in Warwickshire, United Kingdom.

Homelessness is an issue because the lifestyle can be brutal. Both mental and physical health problems can develop and an inability to gain employment can exacerbate already substantial financial issues. Lack of self-esteem, confidence and skills can make it hard to sustain a tenancy or gain housing. Some homeless people have also been involved in sex work as well as unwanted sexual relations. The Salvation Army informed us that they strive to break the cycle of homelessness by helping people to take control of their life circumstances.

Prior to beginning our project we spoke to members of society who expressed negative connotations and a lack of understanding or support towards the homeless. These negative views have been built on further due to the confirmation bias. If people see a homeless individual taking drugs or consuming large amounts of alcohol they are more likely to remember this and therefore strengthen their already negative view. However, if they see a homeless person working or studying then they are likely to forget this and not pay attention to it because it doesn’t conform to their original views (Nickerson, 1998). This makes attitude and behaviour change quite difficult.

Our aims included reducing prejudice and providing better understanding towards the homeless and their circumstances. Ultimately, we aim to increase support for the homeless and donations to The Salvation Army. In particular, we wanted to stress the variety of reasons that can lead to homelessness and show how those unfortunate events could happen to YOU.

Within the 2016 homelessness review Warwick district council states that; “The council received 705 applications from people applying as homeless in 2015/16….an increase of 132% on the number received in 2009/10 compared to a 29% increase nationally over the same time period.”

Chart 1: Incline in number of homeless applicants (obtained from:

Table 1: The 5 main causes of homelessness in different years (obtained from:

What did we do?

Firstly, we got in contact with The Salvation Army; a charity based in Leamington spa which helps the homeless. They offer a place to do laundry, have a wash, access new clothes and toiletries and also provide an opportunity to have a cooked meal. The Salvation Army also aids the homeless by providing them with advice by signposting them to services and support and the opportunity to talk and be respected.

Image 1: The Salvation Army Logo

Members of our group were inspired by their work and decided to volunteer with The Salvation Army at their drop-in sessions each week for 7 months. This enabled us to get a real in-depth appreciation of the charity as well as the struggles homeless people encounter. These drop-in sessions provide homeless people with important respite from the stress of their daily lives on the streets and help reduce how lonely or isolated these people feel.

After 7 months of volunteering, we were able to obtain several interviews with people who currently are or previously were homeless. They confided in us and spoke about their life stories, families and achievements, the difficulties they face every day as well as the help they receive from The Salvation Army. We decided the most powerful tool for changing attitudes would be a video incorporating; images, statistics, footage in Leamington, music and testimonies of homeless individuals. In our video we emphasised the contrast between living in ‘North’ Leamington, the wealthier part represented by consumer culture against the isolated, forgotten spaces where homeless people seek refuge. This was achieved through various filming sessions, where we obtained footage within Leamington Spa.

How did we achieve our aims?

Within our video we used many different persuasion techniques in order to change behaviour and attitudes, hopefully resulting in a decrease in prejudice and an increase in donations. These techniques are included in more detail within our subsequent essays. However, to summarise:

Availability: The phrase ‘this could happen to you’ was repeated throughout the video. According to the availability heuristic this makes it more likely to be easily recalled and more emphasis is put on the message (Tversky & Kahneman, 1973). This effect is also exaggerated when people share and re-watch our video on social media. This helps draw parallels between all members of society and the homeless and shows how many different people from different backgrounds can be affected. Ultimately, the aim here is to break down stereotypes associated with homelessness.

Mere Exposure: Zajonc (1968) suggests that we prefer what we are exposure to more. Many people have limited interactions and knowledge of homeless people but by exposing them to more information about homeless people through our video helps them to appear in a more positive light and helps breakdown the associated stereotypes.

Cognitive dissonance: This video helps to reduce the stigma towards homelessness. Pre-existing negative views or thoughts about the homeless are challenged by our video, forming conflicting attitudes and information. This therefore needs to be resolved and is most likely to be done by creating new, more positive behaviours and thoughts in line with the messages from our video (Festinger, 1962).

Contrast effect: We used juxtaposition to contrast different areas of Leamington. This helped highlight how different parallel lives can be from one another and helps with our aim to raise awareness of homelessness.

Source relatability and credibility: The video helps show similarities between the homeless and other members of society. The case studies provide relatable, personal accounts of an individual’s homelessness and their circumstances. Within the video much of the information and experiences comes from homeless people and therefore provides a credible source. Research has found that having a relatable and credible source can increase the level and success of the persuasive message (Hovland et al., 1953).

Just Ask: Simply by asking people if they would be willing to do something such as donate increases the likelihood of them doing so (Clark & Hatfield, 1989). We ask people to consider helping the homeless by challenging their negative views or by donating to The Salvation Army throughout the video.

Commitment: Towards the end of our video we included some questions. These start with small commitments such as by saying hello and build to bigger, more time consuming requests. This use of graduated commitment makes it more likely that the larger requests to help the homeless will be agreed to and carried out. The foot-in-the-door technique is also used here, whereby a very simple request of saying hello is used first which many people would agree to doing (Freedman & Fraser, 1966). This again increases that likelihood of subsequent requests being agreed to. This helps create behaviour change and help the homeless due to the nature of our requests.

Emotion: The emotion of guilt is likely to experience whilst watching our video and has been found to increase charitable giving and behaviour change (Hibbert et al., 2007). For example, we show a damp, dark doorstep and ask if you would like to sleep there? This question is rhetorical and obviously the answer would be ‘no’. This may evoke feelings of guilt due to viewers realising that homeless people have no choice, whereas you do.

Norm of reciprocity: Our video features a homeless man playing the bongo drums. Here the norm of reciprocity is acting (Gouldner, 1960). This is because many people walk by listening to him playing his music and feel a need to give something back in return, often money.

Social Learning Theory: We often learn through observations of others and subsequently adapt our behaviour (Bandura & Walters, 1977). Observing other sharing, commenting and liking the video on social media increases the likelihood that other individuals will also replicate these actions. This is particularly due to vicarious reinforcement from the positive reactions to donations and comments of others.

Social Proof: Our video was shared on social media sites and apps, such a ‘Facebook’. This increased the number of potential viewers. The positive reaction from viewers (demonstrated by ‘liking’ or sharing our video) helps create social proof and increases the numbers of subsequent positive reactions and attitude changes from others (Cialdini, 1987).

Image 2: The video being shared on social media (Facebook)

Was there a measurable impact?

Our video was viewed hundreds of times and received many likes and positive comments in the process. The video was also shared multiple times onto a variety of different sites, from personal pages to more public university society or hall pages. Ultimately, we believe that this will have had a positive impact on the lives of the homeless, whereby donations are increased due to more commitment being forged from smaller commitments such as saying ‘hello’ and potential stigma is reduced.

Please watch our video and consider making a positive difference to the lives of homeless people within Leamington Spa and beyond.

To donate to ‘The Salvation Army’, please use the link below:

“Without The Salvation Army – Many of us here would be dead.” Andrew (Bicester drop-in centre)


Bandura, A., & Walters, R. H. (1977). Social learning theory.

Cialdini, R. B. (1987). Influence (Vol. 3). A. Michel.

Clark, R. D., & Hatfield, E. (1989). Gender differences in receptivity to sexual offers. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality2(1), 39-55.

Festinger, L. (1962). Cognitive dissonance. Scientific American.

Freedman, J. L., & Fraser, S. C. (1966). Compliance without pressure: the foot-in-the-door technique. Journal of personality and social psychology4(2), 195.

Gouldner, A. W. (1960). The norm of reciprocity: A preliminary statement. American sociological review, 161-178.

Hibbert, S., Smith, A., Davies, A., & Ireland, F. (2007). Guilt appeals: Persuasion knowledge and charitable giving. Psychology & Marketing24(8), 723-742.

Hovland, C. I., Janis, I. L., & Kelley, H. H. (1953). Communication and persuasion; psychological studies of opinion change.
Nickerson, R. S. (1998). Confirmation bias: A ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Review of general psychology2(2), 175.

The Salvation Army. Retrieved March 14, 2017, from

Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive psychology5(2), 207-232.

Warwick District Council. Homelessness Review 2016. Retrieved March 14, 2017, from

Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of personality and social psychology9(2p2), 1.

Jane Wackett 

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