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

Humans of Leamington Spa

The problem

Homelessness is on the rise in the UK and social stigma is not helping.

With 3,569 people sleeping rough each night in England (The Salvation Army, 2017) and twice the number of young people between 18-24 years old sleeping in the streets of London since 2009 (Comic Relief, 2017), we knew we wanted to change society’s attitude towards this issue.

Indeed, society currently has a tendency to alienate, stigmatise and blame homeless people for their situation instead of considering economic and social factors that can lead to a quick slip into homelessness (Belcher & DeForge, 2012).  Stigmatisation has two main damaging effects. Firstly, society treats itself as the in-group and those who are homeless as an outgroup (Becker, 1963). According to the Social Identity Theory (Tajfel, 1981) people prefer and help those who they feel are similar to them while maximising the difference with those considered outsiders. This tendency has alarming consequences, indeed Corrigan, & Wassel (2008) found that those who are stigmatised are aware of it and thus are likely to internalise it which contributes to drug and alcohol struggles (Room, 2005).

Belcher et al. (2012) proposed that the best way to break the cycle is by breaking the stigma. The good news is people want to help (Link et al., 1995).

Our solution

Through our behaviour change project, we focused on breaking these barriers: we hypothesised that making homeless people more relatable and introducing them as part of the in-group would encourage society to help them. Additionally, we ensured our video would give people the means to safely and frequently help those who are homeless, starting with a simple acknowledgement, “hello!”, to a donation towards the Salvation Army.

Steps 1, 2 and 3…

The first step our group took was contacting the Salvation Army in Leamington Spa to hear their ideas and thoughts on our project. Following the Yale Attitude Change Approach (Hovland, 1953), it was clear an authoritative and credible source was key to a persuasive message. After scheduling meetings with managers at the Salvation Army it was agreed that we would volunteer weekly at the drop in sessions and after gaining the trust of those using the Salvation Army’s services, we would conduct short informal interviews. The interviews with Shushi and Mel were purposely kept relaxed and informal in order to capture a real picture of the parts of their lives they were willing to share. Having real testimonies was another source of authority in our project. In fact, research showed that contact with homeless people increased people’s sympathy towards them (Farrell, & Link, 2004).

 In parallel, we had several filming days where we walked around Leamington Spa filming clips representing the wealthy consumer culture and contrasting them to the more isolated places in which homeless people seek refuge. We put together a powerful and informative video combining images, statistics, a voiceover and music.

Our clear message

The Yale Attitude Change Approach (Hovland, 1953) emphasises the importance of a strong message in order to increase persuasiveness. Therefore, our message was clear: “This could happen to You”. We emphasised this using repetition throughout the video. All elements in our video were directed towards one underlying message: homeless people are not so different from you. They do their laundry, have families, experience loneliness, live on the same street: they are “Humans of Leamington Spa”.

Our targeted audience

Lastly, as part of The Yale Attitude Change Approach (Hovland, 1953) we tailored our message to a specific audience in mind: students, in particular students living in Leamington Spa. Indeed, our title “Humans of Leamington Spa” would have more effect on them. Additionally, we hypothesised that those students would recognise the places shown in the video and thus feel more positively about the project. Our audience was easily reachable through the University’s numerous Facebook groups, we proceeded to share our video on the different pages dedicated to halls, degrees, Freshers, etc. The way we spread and shared our video was based on social loafing. Indeed, Weaver et al. (2007) found that a message heard several times was perceived as a more popular opinion, therefore we ensured that students would view the video message through multiple channels.

Our strategic format

We choose to create a video for our project such that we could share it on social media and our targeted audience could interact with it, leveraging two behaviour change techniques: consistency and foot-in-the-door technique. Indeed, once finalised, our video was shared over Facebook alongside the various captions “please watch, like and share”, “help us break stigmas by liking”, “want to help us break the stigma? Like this video!” etc. Firstly, according to the foot-in-the-door technique, people are more likely to accept a bigger request if they previously accepted to do a smaller one (Freedman & Fraser, 1966). In this context, first liking our video would be the smaller request and we hope that in the near future, people will start saying a quick “hello!” to the homeless they encounter and that this would quickly escalate to buying the big issue and donating to the Salvation Army. Indeed, according to Bem’s Self-perception Theory of Attitudes (1972) people seek to be consistent across their attitudes and behaviours, therefore having supported the homeless on Facebook, people would be more likely to commit to doing it on the streets.

Our measurable impact

Our video was shared more than 15 times on Facebook. It reached 200 views and accumulated over 40 likes. We are confident that our project will have an immediate impact on people’s behaviour, indeed while students are more reluctant to donate money, starting by acknowledging the presence of the homeless with a simple “hello!” could quickly escalate to sharing a coffee, buying the big issue and donating to the Salvation Army.

Alexandra de Buchet


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Zajonc, R. B. (2001). Mere exposure: A gateway to the subliminal. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10, 224-228.

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