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.

Monday, March 13, 2017

#ItIsYourFuture - 'Cos Alzheimer's Disease can affect any one of us

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, and at 84,767 deaths a year, you’re almost as likely to die from Alzheimer’s as you are from a stroke. This year, 225,000 will develop dementia – this is one every three minutes – and this number is predicted to rise to 115.5 million by 2050. Moreover, the devastating disease affects sufferers’ families – two thirds of the cost of dementia is paid by people with dementia and by their families (Alzheimer’s Association, 2016).  

Currently, Alzheimer’s has no cure, but treatments to temporarily slow the effects of the disease are available. However, with the help of donations scientific research can inform and improve treatments and a cure might be found. Delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s by five years would halve the number of deaths from the condition, saving 30,000 lives per year.

The aim of our project was to raise awareness of the negative consequences of Alzheimer’s Disease and to encourage individuals to actively participate in spreading awareness and to donate to Alzheimer’s Research. The persuasive content message was that Alzheimer’s disease can affect any one of us in the future and therefore we must act now and invest in our futures while we are young. Our targeted audience was young adults and through the use of social media, we were able to easily communicate and educate this cohort in an interactive and fun way.

We launched a Facebook Page called “Growing Old Gracefully” where we encouraged people to use a face-aging app to actively get involved and send in their own photos of their aged-selves along with an interesting fact they’d found about Alzheimer’s Disease. To further educate our followers on the prevalence and consequences of Alzheimer’s disease, we also shared videos and articles from other Alzheimer’s related pages. Our page was public, therefore anyone with an active Facebook account could view and invite others to like and follow the page. Once you have liked/followed the page, you would get notifications every time something new was posted. Therefore more posts meant more frequent reminders to get involved as well as further exaggerating the importance of the issue. We introduced the hashtag: #ItIsYourFuture as our unique slogan, ending each post with the hashtag. This acted as a reminder and further enforced our persuasive content message. Our targeted behaviour was the active participation through liking/following our page, posting an aged photo or donating to Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Figure1: Facebook page

To further spread awareness we targeted a second social media platform creating an Instagram account called “G.O.Gracefully”. This additional medium was also public and further increased our exposure. On here, we posted the aged images and provided links to promote our Facebook page. We follow and are followed by dementia related accounts, allowing our project to reach broader communities.

Figure 2: Instagram account

As opposed to just launching an informative campaign, we encouraged active participation and built a community to spread awareness. Because young adults today are increasingly dependent on technology and are always on their phones and on the Internet, social media has been an effective way of reaching the targeted audience and we are seeing great success with this project.

Our Facebook page has 122 likes, 118 followers and the highest number of people reached on a single post is 672 people. Our posts have been liked by large networks, such as ‘BBC South Today’ and we have received visitor posts including a post by ‘Consumerwatchfoundation’.

Figure 3: BBC South Today
Figure 4: ‘Consumerwatchfoundation’ Visitor post

We currently have 330 followers on Instagram and our most liked photo has 47likes. We are followed by over 30 Alzheimer’s/Dementia/Homecare related accounts and individuals who have family members/relatives currently battling the disease. Through this platform, organisations and individuals have contacted us to commend us on our work and our initiative. A direct message from @alzheimers_inspiration said; “Thank you for being an Alzheimer’s Disease advocate!”.

Figure 5: Direct message from @alzheimers_inspiration

Future Self-continuity Hypothesis
Future self-continuity is the feeling of identity stability and psychological connectedness to one’s future self (Hershfield, Garton, Ballard, Samanez-Larkin & Knutson, 2009). This connection influences your decision-making. If you’re not connected to your future self, you see your future self as a different person and are less likely to invest in your future and make choices that benefit you in the long run. Hershfield, Wimmer & Knutson (2009) found that the same neural patterns are activated when you think about your future self and when you think about a stranger. Bartels, Urminsky & Rips (2010) found that self-continuity decreases the further the distance between your present and future selves.

Future-Orientated Behaviour
Hershfield et al. (2009) proposed that increased self-continuity can promote future-orientated behaviour such as saving. Self-continuity can be increased by viewing age-progressed renderings of the future self (Hershfield, Goldstein, Sharpe, Fox, Yeykelis, Carstensen & Bailenson’s, 2011). When participants viewed an aged-photograph of themselves they displayed increased saving behaviour compared to participants who viewed a photograph of their current selves. Moreover, when participants could interact with photo-realistic age-progressed renderings of themselves through immersive virtual reality hardware, they allocated 2 times as much money towards their retirement account. Increased self-continuity and identification with your future self leads to greater allocation of resources for the future.

Our approach
Donating to Alzheimer’s research is choosing to invest money in a long-term reward as opposed to an immediate one. Young adults are less likely to choose to contribute and donate to Alzheimer’s research because they are less connected to their future selves. They perceive their older selves suffering with dementia in the same way they perceive a stranger suffering with the disease.

Our project increased self-continuity and psychological connectedness through providing individuals with a visual representation of their future aged selves (using the aging booth app). We hoped to find an increase in future-orientated behaviour – i.e. greater donations towards Alzheimer’s research. We asked individuals to also post an interesting/surprising fact about Alzheimer’s along with their photo to further exaggerate the consequences of Alzheimer’s disease and emphasize the value of future rewards. This provides a link to the idea that your future self will either benefit or suffer based on your choice to donate or not.

Foot-in-the door
This technique involves getting someone to agree to a small initial request, followed by increasingly larger requests, until the individual is far more invested and committed than they initially intended. This is more effective than starting out with the desired level of full-blown commitment as the individual is more likely to agree willingly to a larger request if it’s gradually implemented (Freedman & Fraser, 1966).

In our project we used this through initially asking friends and family for a photo of themselves using the aging booth app. This small initial request became a larger commitment as the person’s aged face was now tied to a fact about Alzheimer’s that was publicly accessible to anyone using Facebook. The person’s commitment to our cause of educating young people about Alzheimer’s was escalated and would make them more likely to agree to larger requests from us, such as donating to an Alzheimer’s charity.

Social Proof
Once our following and number of posts began to increase, social proof came into play. This is the phenomenon that when we are unsure of what to do, we turn to the views of others to decide what is acceptable and expected; what others are doing influences your own beliefs and behaviour. Research shows that three people is enough to create a ‘majority’ view that others are more likely to conform to (Asch, 1955).

Across our Instagram and Facebook page we posted a total of 20 different aged faces. Based on the research, this is more than enough to give the impression that most people support research into Alzheimer’s Disease, encouraging others to conform to the group behaviour and support the cause. This is evident from our project as our Facebook page following increased with the more aged photos we posted.

Figure 6: Cover photo & Hashtag

Availability Heuristic
The availability heuristic suggests that people judge the frequency of an event and its importance with the ‘ease with which instances come to mind’ (Tversky & Kahneman, 1973; Kahneman, 2011). Through regularly posting pictures with facts on both our Facebook page and Instagram, we gave our followers constant notifications and reminders of our presence.

Firstly, through repeating the same message with the use of our hashtag, #ItIsYourFuture, we engrained the message into people’s memories. This made retrieval of the message easy and should therefore result in people considering it to be important and relevant. The more cognitive ease in accessing information, the more likely people are to believe it occurs regularly and is an important topic. Secondly, through posting often we regularly placed Alzheimer’s Disease at the forefront of people’s minds. People find it easier to retrieve information they’ve seen recently, causing them to perceive this information as important. This is known as the recency effect. A study by Schwartz et al (1991) demonstrated this effect as people rated themselves more assertive if they easily retrieved 6 instances in which they were assertive, as opposed to the more difficult task of retrieving 12 instances.

Figure 7: Notification to all followers whenever we post/share a link

To conclude, Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease both for sufferers and their families, and we are proud to have had the chance to promote it. With enough funding Alzheimer’s Research UK is committed to spending at least £150 million over the next 10 years on research (Alzheimer’s Association, 2016). We hope that the young continue to raise awareness towards this worthy cause and see it as an investment in their own futures because Alzheimer’s can affect any one of us. Everyone must act now, before we do too little too late. #ItIsYourFuture

By: Gemma Crook, Daisy Parker & Lily Trinh


Alzheimer’s Association. (2016).  Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures. Alzheimer’s & Dementia. 12(4), 459-509.
Asch, S.E. (1955). Opinions and Social Pressure. Scientific American (5), 31-35.
Bartels, D. M., Urminsky, O., & Rips, L. J. (2010). How the Perceived (Dis) Continuity of Identity Underlies Intertemporal Choice. NA-Advances in Consumer Research, 37, 246-249.
Cialdini, R. B. (2008). Influence: Science and Practice (Vol. 5). Boston: Pearson Education.

Ersner-Hershfield, H., Garton, M. T., Ballard, K., Samanez-Larkin, G. R., & Knutson, B. (2009). Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow: Individual differences in future self-continuity account for saving. Judgment and Decision Making, 4(4), 280.

Freedman, J. L., & Fraser, S. C. (1966). Compliance without pressure: The foot-in-the door technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 4, 145-203.

Hershfield, H. E., Goldstein, D. G., Sharpe, W. F., Fox, J., Yeykelis, L., Carstensen, L. L., & Bailenson, J. N. (2011). Increasing Saving Behavior Through Age-Progressed Renderings Of The Future Self. Journal of Marketing Research, 48, S23–S37.

Hershfield, H., Wimmer, G. E., & Knutson, B. (2009). Saving for the future self: Neural measures of future self-continuity predict temporal discounting. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 4(1), 85-92.

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking Fast and Slow. London: Penguin Books.

Schwartz, N., Bless, H., Strack, F., Klumpp, G., Rittenauer-Schatka, H., & Simons, A. (1991). Ease of Retrieval as Information: Another look at the availability heuristic. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 61(2), 195-202.

Tversky, A. & Kahneman, D. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive Psychology , 5(2), 207-232.

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