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, May 3, 2018

Read The Label: Promoting Healthy Food Choices

The Problem 

Obesity has become a huge problem around the world with many people describing it as the ‘New World Syndrome’. Obesity rates have doubled over the past two decades, and according to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), 63% of adults in the UK are overweight (OECD, 2017). Obesity and being overweight is linked to significant health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer (Andreyeva, Sturm, and Ringel, 2004). Obese patients are also at a higher risk of morbidity and mortality compared to those with ideal body weight (Manson et al., 2012). This can also be problematic to the nation as a whole as it adds to a nation’s overall health care costs. For example, in the U.S., obesity –related health problems raise the U.S annual medical cost per person by $2,741 or by $860.4 billion overall each year (Cawley and Meyerhoefer, 2012).

Since consuming too much food, particularly unhealthy food, is a huge contributor to obesity, changing people’s eating habits is important in reducing obesity rates. As a result, policy-makers have implemented various policies aimed at promoting healthy food choices and/or discouraging unhealthy food choices. For example, there have been ‘fat taxes’ on foods high in sodium, fat and sugar and ‘thin subsidies’ on vegetables and fruits (Kuchler, Tegene, & Harris, 2005). Another policy that has been implemented is making the calorie content of foods more obvious to the consumers through labelling (Downs, Lowenstein, & Wisdom, 2009). Some studies have shown that calorie-content labelling is a successful way in promoting healthy food choices, particularly through the traffic light labelling system (Thorndike et al., 2014). However, some studies have found that such labelling systems have minimal effect, and this is because with the traffic light system consumers are confused and the system is seen as ambiguous to consumers (Leek & Szmigin, 2015).
Therefore, this project focuses on promoting behaviour change through healthy eating behaviours to tackle the problem of obesity, using the traffic light food labelling system and behaviour change techniques that make it clear to consumers on food labels the healthy options in a campaign called ‘Read the Label’.

What we did

In this project, we distributed two posters aimed at promoting healthy eating habits through reading the nutritional label on food items. These posters were put up around the University of Warwick, in places such as the library, campus accommodation notice boards and study spaces. The first poster reads ‘READ THE LABEL’ and shows an image of the exact nutritional label present on food items in the UK, whilst the other poster is a supplementary poster explaining what each of the colour schemes mean. These posters contain a QR Code which links to the NHS page on food nutrition labels which offers a more detailed explanation on the different types of labels uses and their meanings. We also created a Facebook group page which promotes the clear message of reading the label on food products with the same images used in the posters. People who followed the group are also given a change to contribute by offering food product comparisons and post example items with very high or lowfat/sugar/saturate contents when they choose their food products to raise awareness on the matter and help people become more pro-active in their choices of foods.

First Poster distributed

Accompanying Poster

Facebook group page


Elaboration Likelihood Model

The main approach we used was based on the Elaboration-Likelihood Model (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). This model states that there are two routes to persuasion: the central route and the peripheral route. The central route of persuasion is a likely result of the person’s careful consideration of the information at hand, and involves a high level of message elaboration and cognition about the arguments at hand. The peripheral route of persuasion involves the person making simple inferences about the merits of the position in the argument, and are more related to positive and negative cues in the stimulus.

We chose to focus on the peripheral route of persuasion in our advertising as we felt this was most suitable to the message and audience we are trying to reach in our project. This is because we are targeting those who are less likely to read calorific/nutritional information when making choices in purchasing food items, and effectively they wouldn’t really deploy a great amount of cognition or carefully consider nutritional information on packaging when choosing their food items, thus in this sense a central route of persuasion may not be as appropriate. Instead, we used a peripheral route of persuasion, as people are ‘cognitive misers’ who look to reduce mental effort (Stanovich, 2009), and in the process they rely on cognitive heuristics (mental shortcuts) when processing information. This is particularly important in this project as many consumers who ignore food packaging information and choose unhealthy foods, they are usually not motivated to centrally process an issue because they lack an interest in it (Kruglanski, 2012). On track with this line of thinking, the peripheral route of persuasion is likely to be more effective as it should appeal to those even with low motivation on the subject and those who are more likely to take mental shortcuts when processing a message.

As a result, as seen in the posters above, we used a clear message to ‘READ THE LABEL’ in capitals and showed an image of the traffic light colour coded nutritional label scheme that appears on all food items in the UK. This red-amber-green colour scheme remains consistent throughout the posters, from the images to the colour of the text. This is because the effects of colour has been shown in influence emotional responses and behavioural intentions (Alpert and Alpert, 1986). The high importance we have placed on colour in our campaign is an acknowledgment of the understanding that colour has strong emotional loading, and also that colour prompts a swifter response to packaging than either imagery or written work (Tutssel, 2000). Therefore, the intention was that colour would be a peripheral cue under the Elaboration-Likelihood Model to the recipients of the message, such that it will use a heuristic to remind consumers that these exact colours are the colours that will appear on the nutritional information on packaging.  

Simplicity is one of the main themes in our posters. The first poster contains only three words in total, while the second more descriptive poster uses short, snappy phrases and a limited number of words. Again, we felt this was important as it relates to more simple cues so that the targets can make these simple inferences involved in the peripheral route of the Elaboration Likelihood Model. We felt it was also important to balance this simplicity with the quality of the message itself. Past research has shown that consumers are often confused by the colouring system in the nutritional labels on packaging (Leek & Szmigin, 2015). We made sure to provide an explanation for what each of the colours mean in a way that is simple, understandable and effective. In essence, we provided an explanation that would help people completely understand the colour label system whilst still appealing to a peripheral-cue, low-motivation audience. These explanations are presented in a way that is line with all the peripheral techniques used in the font sizes and colour schemes.

Ability is also in important factor of the Elaboration Likelihood Model that we have taken into account when producing the posters for our campaign. The model explains that people need the ability (knowledge, time and mental resources) to fully analyze an argument (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). Essentially, 'ability' includes the availability of cognitive resources or absence of time pressures or distractions (Fiedler & Garcia, 1987). Distractions like noise in a library can decrease a person's ability to process a message. This is especially important to consider for our campaign because the posters were put up around the University of Warwick where there can be many distractions in different parts of the campus and people are usually occupied or loaded with cognitive busyness and this limits the cognitive resources otherwise available for this task at hand (in this case, assessing our message). Therefore, a message that is simply and easy to read, and not being too detailed can mean they can process our message about reading food labels without diverting the cognitive effort they are putting into their studying or other activities they are taking part in whilst at the university. 


We hope that through the use of these posters and the Facebook group, we can successfully change people’s behaviour in the form of persuading them to pay more attention to the labelling on foods and noticing the nutritional information on the packets. The Elaboration-Likelihood Model is a central theme of our persuasion techniques and we hope that by focusing on this technique in light of past research, we can achieve our goal in fighting obesity and have people lead a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle.


Alpert, J.I. & Alpert, M.I. (1986), The Effects of Music in Advertising on Mood and Purchase Intentions, University of Texas, Austin, TX.

Cawley, J., & Meyerhoefer, C. (2012). The medical care costs of obesity: an instrumental variables approach. Journal of health economics31(1), 219-230.

Downs, J. S., Loewenstein, G., & Wisdom, J. (2009). Strategies for promoting healthier food choices. American Economic Review99(2), 159-64.

Fiedler, F. E., & Garcia, J. E. (1987). New approaches to effective leadership: Cognitive resources and organizational performance. John Wiley & Sons.

Kuchler, F., Tegene, A., & Harris, J. M. (2005). Taxing snack foods: Manipulating diet quality or financing information programs?. Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy27(1), 4-20.

Kruglanski, A. W., & Stroebe, W. (Eds.). (2012). Handbook of the history of social psychology. Psychology Press.

Leek, S., Szmigin, I., & Baker, E. (2015). Consumer confusion and front of pack (FoP) nutritional labels. Journal of Customer Behaviour14(1), 49-61.

Pan, A., Sun, Q., Czernichow, S., Kivimaki, M., Okereke, O. I., Lucas, M., ... & Hu, F. B. (2012). Bidirectional association between depression and obesity in middle-aged and older women. International journal of obesity, 595.

Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1986). The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion. In Communication and persuasion (pp. 1-24). Springer New York.

Stanovich, K. E. (2009). What intelligence tests miss: The psychology of rational thought. Yale University Press.

Tutssel, G. (2001). But you can judge a brand by its color. Brand Strategy, November, 8-9.

Sturm, R., Ringel, J. S., & Andreyeva, T. (2004). Increasing obesity rates and disability trends. Health Affairs23(2), 199-205.

Thorndike, A. N., Riis, J., Sonnenberg, L. M., & Levy, D. E. (2014). Traffic-light labels and choice architecture: promoting healthy food choices. American journal of preventive medicine46(2), 143-149.

Endometriosis – Not Just My Period.


My Behavior Change Project focuses on endometriosis, a menstrual disorder which few know about despite an estimated 1 in 10 women suffering from it. It is a chronic condition, and a leading cause of infertility (Endometriosis UK) . This project aims to tackle the idea that menstrual pain of any kind is ‘just your period’ and bring awareness to a much under represented disorder.  The direct behavior this project aims at changing is getting those who experience menstrual distress to keep a Period Pain diary. I want women and others who menstruate to feel that their pain is valid and to have a better understanding of the pain they are in so they can get the help they need.  

The Problem:
Too often menstrual pain is dismissed as ‘just your period’
Through puberty no one even mentions menstrual disorders.  Girls are not told what is and is not a ‘normal’ amount of pain to be experiencing. This leads women and girls to internalize the social norm of ‘just your period’ and dismiss their own pain. Meaning they don’t seek and don’t get the help they need.

Why is this important?
 Endometriosis is one of the most severe menstrual disorders. It occurs when endometrium tissue that grows inside the uterus also grows on the outside of the uterus (Seear 2009). It impacts on your physical, mental and social well being, and can be completely debilitating. It is also a leading cause of infertility, which is detrimental to many who want children.
But hardly anyone knows about it – including many who are suffering from it! Meaning there are many people suffering in silence.

Personal motive:
 I myself over Christmas had a doctor tell me about endometriosis and that I might have it (you cannot get an official diagnosis until you have a laparoscopy). This term I have seen the disorder severely impact my attendance at university and my ability to complete work to the standard I wish to.  As someone who has been going to the doctors at regular intervals for severe menstrual pain since I started menstruating at age 12, I was shocked that it was only now at age 21 that a doctor mentioned this disorder to me.

Endometriosis is a chronic disorder,which can be completely debilitating. This disorder is also not uncommon. From my research I’ve gathered that an estimated 1 in 10 women suffer from endometriosis – that’s 76 million women around the globally (Seear, 2009)! This is the same estimate as it is for diabetes. So why is it you’ve likely heard of diabetes but not endometriosis?
 There is an approximate 7.5 year diagnosis gap in endometriosis in the UK (Endometriosis UK). Meaning even those who are going to doctors with menstrual pain are not getting the help they need for potentially years.

Reasons for the diagnosis gap:
 ‘There is no medical consensus on the etiology of endometriosis, or on the most effective treatment.’(Denny, 2009)
Like many women’s health issues, endometriosis research is majorly underfunded and under researched. Because we do not have complete knowledge of menstrual disorders and because ‘amount of pain’ is subjective is hard for doctors exactly what you are suffering from.
 I also belief a reason for the diagnosis gap is vague reports of symptoms. It is easy for a doctor to dismiss you and your symptoms as ‘just period cramps’ because we rarely go with a detailed explanation of what kinds of pain we have been experiencing, for how long, and its effect on other parts of our life. Therefore one small way to lower the diagnosis gap is to keep better record of your symptoms. This will be the behavior I wish to change.

Behavior change goals:
             For those who suffer from menstrual pain to keep a pain diary.
Why do this?

After a period it is easy to forget or misjudge just what kinds of pain you were in. By making notes daily you will have a better record. Will be able to tell a doctor in more detail the symptoms your having, when and for how long.
I of course did not invent the idea of diaries for pain. The NHS and endometriosis UK already have their own templates. However I feel my diary is an improvement on ones I have seen in the following way. This is a disorder that “the experience of pervades all aspects of a woman’s life”(Denny,2009), most diaries only contain questions about your physical pain. My period pain dairy contains sections with prompt questions on physical, mental and social health – all of which can be effected by endometriosis.
This diary will still be helpful even if you don’t have endometriosis to have a look at the kinds of pain you are in. You may have a milder period disorder such as premenstrual syndrome or premenstrual dysphoric disorder.

A secondary aim of this project is:
             For everyone to be more sympathetic and understand menstrual disorders are as real as diabetes and broken bones. You cannot take paracetamol and be cured.

The video will help validate those who experience menstrual pain, hopefully giving them the confidence to seek help, as they should now feel there pain is ‘real’ and deserving of treatment.
It will also offer a brief insight into what living with the condition is like for those who do not suffer from it, giving them enough information to empathise with those who do.

So in short:
·         Those who menstruate:  improve how you keep track of your symptoms.
·         Others who don’t menstruate:  listen properly to what those who menstruate are telling you.

The Project:

Behaviour Change models and tactics:

 Theory of Planned Behaviour (Ajzen, 1991).

My project aims at changing the subjective norm of ‘just your period’ as dismissal of menstrual pain by both those who menstruate and those who don’t. It is also to increase the perceived behavioral control of the situation for those who experience severe menstrual pain.

Subjective norms: there is a social norm for those who menstruate not to talk about their pain, those who do are normally dismissed as exaggerating. Many choice not to discuss the truth of the pain they are in, in fear of reinforcing stereotypes about ‘crazy’ women on their periods or being told they are not capable of performing a certain task because of it. Its normal for women to go to work and pretend like they are fine even if they feel like they could pass out any second. My project hopes to show just how severe the physical, mental, emotional and social impacts your period can have.

Perceived behavioural control: because of the social norm of not taking menstrual pain seriously many of those who menstruate many feel helpless, or worried about the response if they try to tell someone about their pain. After presenting a video which will cause a ‘omg that’s me reaction’ in some. I presented them with a template of a period pain diary and stated that it was ‘easy and ‘simple’ to use. Thus framing what is an overwhelming disorder to manage in a easy to document way.

Behaviour change techniques:

Storytelling: as the subject of my project contains multiple effects over a period of time and is highly emotional and personal, I believe storytelling will be the best persuasive device to use. Storytelling has proved an effective behaviour change technique; Slusher and Anderson 1996 used storytelling to debunk myths around the transmission of aids. So in a similar way I aim to debunk myths about period pain.
To construct my story of what endometriosis feels like I used studies conducted by Denny 2009 and Whelan 2007 in which they conducted semi-structured interviews with endometriosis suffers about their experience of the disorder.
The video shows metaphors and similes paired with vivid imagery and music, while the story is being spoken over the top. The video opens with a juxtaposition of flowers and feathers with needles and knifes. This vivid imagery allows the audience to see the shift from a ‘normal’ to an ‘endometriosis’ experience. The video continues using vivid imagery and music to great an emotive and powerful message that will great a feeling of sympathy in the viewer (Patel,2015).
The video has many ‘points’ about the physical, mental and social effects of this condition; those who are suffering but don’t know about endo will have multiple ‘that is me’ moments, the more someone can relate to the video the more likely they are to use the period pain diary as they will have identified a problem and immediately been presented with the path to a solution and should at this time be experiencing high behaviour control over their actions if the video has the empowering effect I intent it to.

Other non-direct effects:

Door in the Face Technique: This projected focused on one of the most server menstrual disorders, of course there are many others. I hope by project will have a knock on effect for empathy and sympathy with milder disorders as well.

I posted the video first in an endometriosis support group to see if others thought it was useful/would have found it useful themselves if they saw it before finding out about endo and got very positive feedback.

I then posted the video on my social media and in 10 Facebook groups I am part of ranging in topic from feminism to kawaii fashion, in order to reach a wider audience, as of course those who menstruate are half the planet and have numerous interests.

I used Bitly to collect data on how many times the video has been viewed and how many times the Period Pain Diary has been downloaded.

The video has been viewed 135 times and the pain dairy has been downloaded 54 times. Meaning as a percentage 40% of those who viewed the video, downloaded the pain diary. I cannot assume that everyone who downloaded the diary intends or will use it, however it does at lead show significant interest.  

The view count on YouTube is 183, meaning around 50 people have found the video not through my direct link but by searching for endometriosis, or period pain online/ on YouTube.

Concluding thoughts:
This is a topic I have genuine passion for and would like to continue to work on in the future. I am happy with this project and believe, although its impact is small it is significant. I have recived great feedback from friends, some even thanked me for talking about it and i myself feel less alone with the disorder.  It will continue to have a positive effect, as it will remain ‘live’ on the internet – so even maybe in 10 years it will still help someone who searches ‘chronic period pain’ online. In the future I hope to make #NotJustMyPeriod into a series about more menstrual disorders.

Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior And Human Decision Processes, 50(2), 179-211. doi: 10.1016/0749-5978(91)90020-t

Baldoni, J. (2011). Using Stories to Persuade. Retrieved from

Cialdini, R., & et al. (1975). Reciprocal concessions procedure for inducing compliance: The door-in-the-face technique. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 31(2), 206-215. doi: 10.1037/h0076284

Denny, E. (2009). “I Never Know From One Day to Another How I Will Feel”: Pain and Uncertainty in Women With Endometriosis. Qualitative Health Research, 19(7), 985-995. doi: 10.1177/1049732309338725

Endometriosis UK | the leading UK charity that supports women living with endometriosis. (2018). Retrieved from

Gupta, S., Goldberg, J., Aziz, N., Goldberg, E., Krajcir, N., & Agarwal, A. (2008). Pathogenic mechanisms in endometriosis-associated infertility. Fertility And Sterility, 90(2), 247-257. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2008.02.093

Patel, N. (2015). How to Engage and Persuade People Through Storytelling. Retrieved from

Pratkanis, A. (2007). The Science of Social Influence (pp. 17-83). New York: Psychology Press.

Rose, G. (2005). What is endometriosis?. WOMEN’S HEALTH MEDICINE, 12-14.

Seear, K. (2009). ‘Nobody really knows what it is or how to treat it’: Why women with endometriosis do not comply with healthcare advice. Health, Risk & Society, 11(4), 367-385. doi: 10.1080/13698570903013649

Seear, K. (2009). The etiquette of endometriosis: Stigmatisation, menstrual concealment and the diagnostic delay. Social Science & Medicine, 69(8), 1220-1227. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.07.023

Slusher, M., & Anderson, C. (1996). Using causal persuasive arguments to change beliefs and teach new information: The mediating role of explanation availability and evaluation bias in the acceptance of knowledge. Journal Of Educational Psychology, 88(1), 110-122. doi: 10.1037//0022-0663.88.1.110

Whelan, E. (2007). ‘No one agrees except for those of us who have it’: endometriosis patients as an epistemological community. Sociology Of Health & Illness, 29(7), 957-982. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2007.01024.x

Together Without Technology

Together Without Technology


Technology is everywhere. You are reading this blog, probably on a laptop with your phone on the side. It is amazing how much we can achieve with technology and how much smaller the world is as a result. However, the time we spend in front of a screen is increasing, and this goes for our children too.

Whether it be watching TV, playing video games, or using a mobile device, children aged 0 – 8 spend an average of over 2 hours a day in front of a screen, with 5 – 8-year olds spending nearly 3 hours a day in front of screen media (Rideout, 2017). Around 1 hour of that time is spent on a mobile device (mobile phone or tablet-like device), and this has tripled since 2013 (15 minutes). Furthermore, a staggering 42% of 0 – 8-year olds own their own tablet, which has increased from 7% in 2013 and less than 1% in 2011. This means that children are spending more time than ever on a screen, suggesting that less time is being spent pursing other important activities such as reading or play.

Although technology is an essential tool for learning, it can still have some negative impacts. For example, Cheung et al., (2017) investigated whether the frequency of touchscreen use was associated with sleep - which is essential for cognitive development - in children aged 6 to 36 months. They found a significant association between touchscreen use and reduced sleep quality, as well as longer sleep onset. Furthermore, each additional hour of tablet use was associated with around 15 minutes less sleep. Other research has also found associations between media use and children’s language development (Bortz, & Davidson, 2017; Zimmerman, Christakis, & Meltzoff, 2007) and obesity (Mazur et al., 2018; Robinson et al., 2017).
As a result of the potentially negative implications of media use, the American Academy of Paediatrics (2016) have created some guidelines that parents can use to ensure their children are spending an appropriate amount of time using media. For example, they suggest that young children should spend no longer than 1 hour a day in front of a screen so that children can engage in other activities such as play. As seen from the statistics above, families are not following these guidelines, meaning their children’s development could be affected, and they may not be spending as much quality time together as a family.

I created a video that would appeal to those with families, particularly with young children, about how to take 24 minutes together without technology. It was posted on a dedicated page on Facebook and on YouTube. The video consists of emotive pictures of children and families together or with technology, with text describing various statistics or suggestions for activities, lasting for just under 3 minutes. I asked people to use the hast tag #togetherwithouttechnology so I could keep track of people's involvement.
One persuasion technique I used was rhetorical questions, which are questions that don’t require an answer. Burnkrant and Howard (1984) found that rhetorical questions, especially introductions with rhetorical questions, arouse the reader’s uncertainty and motivate more intensive processing of message content compared to statements. I used several rhetorical questions throughout my video, one of which the first text of the video; “Are you spending as much quality time with your children and you’d like to?”, and another being “What does your child do in the hour before bed?”. Hopefully this would’ve increased the processing of the message content of my video.
Another technique I used was the Pique Technique, which is asking for something strange or unusual, meaning the target is more likely to comply as mindless refusal may be disrupted (Santos, Leve, & Pratkanis, 1994). In the video, I asked viewers to challenge themselves to spend 24 minutes with their family without the use of technology, which is an unusual yet short amount of time. This unusual request may increase behaviour change and more people may be mindful of spending 24 minutes with their family without technology.
I also used the central and peripheral routes to persuasion (Petty, & Cacioppo, 1984). For the central route, I used statistics to verify the claims and presented a well-reasoned argument. For the peripheral route, I used emotive pictures alongside each message which did not require analytical thinking, and parts of the message came from experts, for example from scientific studies. By ensuring that the video has content that could persuade viewers which belong to either route, I may increase the amount of people in which behaviour change occurs.

American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communciations and Media. (2106). Media and young minds. Pediatrics, 138, e20162591.
Bortz, K., & Davidson, L. F. (2017). Handheld screen time increased risk of expressive speech delays in infants. Infectious Diseases in Children, 30, 9-9.
Burnkrant, R. E., & Howard, D. J. (1984). Effects of the use of introductory rhetorical questions versus statements on information processing. Journal of Personality and social psychology, 47, 1218.
Cheung, C. H., Bedford, R., De Urabain, I. R. S., Karmiloff-Smith, A., & Smith, T. J. (2017). Daily touchscreen use in infants and toddlers is associated with reduced sleep and delayed sleep onset. Scientific reports, 7, 46104.
Mazur, A., Caroli, M., Radziewicz‐Winnicki, I., Nowicka, P., Weghuber, D., Neubauer, D., ... & Hadjipanayis, A. (2018). Reviewing and addressing the link between mass media and the increase in obesity among European children: The European Academy of Paediatrics (EAP) and The European Childhood Obesity Group (ECOG) consensus statement. Acta Paediatrica, 107, 568-576.
Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1984). The effects of involvement on responses to argument quantity and quality: Central and peripheral routes to persuasion. Journal of personality and social psychology, 46, 69.
Rideout, V. (2017). The Common Sense census: Media use by kids age zero to eight.  San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media.
Robinson, T. N., Banda, J. A., Hale, L., Lu, A. S., Fleming-Milici, F., Calvert, S. L., & Wartella, E. (2017). Screen media exposure and obesity in children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 140(Supplement 2), S97-S101.
Santos, M. D., Leve, C., & Pratkanis, A. R. (1994). Hey buddy, can you spare seventeen cents? Mindful persuasion and the pique technique. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 24, 755-764.
Zimmerman, F. J., Christakis, D. A., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2007). Associations between media viewing and language development in children under age 2 years. The Journal of pediatrics, 151, 364-368.


Humans in Uniform


Our project has been inspired by our own experiences working on Warwick University’s campus. We believe that uniforms create arbitrary in-group/out-group division which lead to biases that can act as an obstacle to genuine interaction; people see a cashier, a postman, a bus driver, rather than a person with their own name and personality. We believe this leads to impersonal and sometimes rude or dismissive treatment of people in uniform, which is both degrading for the employee and may interfere with their ability to perform their job in some cases. This Morning recently began a campaign (January, 2018) to highlight the heroic work of our emergency services, particularly paramedics, who are often physically and verbally abused by members of the public while trying to assist someone in need. In a less extreme example, Rootes grocery store recently implemented a policy where employees were asked to greet every customer at the self-service checkouts. This simple policy was largely unsuccessful due to it being so difficult to enact with many customers ignoring cashiers completely or being utterly bewildered by a simple “hello”!

Humans in Uniform is designed to inspire people to invest a small amount of effort into connecting with individuals outside their immediate in-group and, more generally, to raise the profile of workers in uniform. Celebrating individuality in an attempt to combat the anonymity of uniforms and promote social connectedness and community cohesion.

The Problem

Failing to acknowledge people in uniform as individuals. Treating them merely as a means (violating Kant’s Formula of Humanity) to the services they provide due to arbitrary in-group bias.
The in-group is the group we feel that we belong to, with whom we typically share beliefs, values and mutual trust. The out-group is composed of by people with which we do not associate and thus identify as ‘other,’ a potential threat. Our perception of belonging to a group (our in-group) leads people to favour, praise or prefer individuals from within their group over those in other groups (the out-group). This is referred to as an in-group bias which can occur even when the group is defined randomly (Brewer, 1979).

Social psychologists have demonstrated how arbitrarily in-group vs. out-group dynamics may be formed through minimal group studies, such as those conducted by Taifel (1970), where making an arbitrary difference salient, such as one’s preference for Klee over Kandinsky paintings, led to immediate in-group biases. Similarly, Sherif et al. (1988) demonstrates how group biases may be formed by differing colour clothing. Therefore, it is not surprising that people perceive those in uniforms as belonging to a distinct ‘out-group’ and therefore may be biased against prosocial interaction.

Other studies have demonstrated the social power of uniform (Bickman, 1974), suggesting that uniforms entail certain kinds of authority. Thus there appears a further dimension to the differences between employees in uniform and the general public; different clothing and different status of authority. Such factors lend weight to the idea that people in uniform are fundamentally different from the general public whom they serve and may make it difficult for people to pursue meaningful interaction with those in uniform.

Social Narrowing

Social narrowing is a consequence of biases, as it reduces the number of people we interact with. However, there is evidence that widening our circles of connection has many benefits for both mental health and general wellbeing. The only way to meet new people is to start a conversation and talk to strangers by “fight[ing] your filters” (Menon, 2017) to discover that they share with you more than you think. Social widening.

Target Behaviour and the Solution

To change perceptions of people in uniform and actively encourage the public to pursue more genuine future interactions. The ‘selfie challenge’ provided a particularly useful opportunity for measuring the real world impact of behaviour change.

Target Audience

Family members, friends, course mates and Facebook connections. Almost everyone interacts with some uniformed personal on a daily basis so our focus was to reach as many people as possible with our message. Our use of social media meant the message could be easily shared. We managed to reach people from across England and individuals in Italy and America as well.

What we did

We created a linked Instagram account and Facebook page entitled Humans in Uniform. You can find us on Instagram @humans_in_uniform or on Facebook at:
We publicised our social media pages by direct invitations sent via our personal social media accounts and posting links to the pages in the psychology year-group chat as well as emailing them to the philosophy cohort through the Philosophy Department. In addition we emailed ITV’s This Morning using the ‘just ask’ method advocated by Thomas Hills (2018), unfortunately we are yet to have a reply.

Instagram was mainly used to post photos of individual profiles of people in uniform (these were automatically uploaded to Facebook). We interviewed people in many different types of uniform, of different ages and backgrounds, to find out about their job, their feelings on their uniforms and their passions, hobbies and interests outside of work. We captioned each of their photos with interesting information about their individual ‘story,’ in a similar style to that employed by ‘Humans of New York’. This model has proved to be a very successful social media movement designed to highlight the common humanity of individuals from all backgrounds living in New York. It was hoped that by providing more context to the person in uniform, we would increase opportunities for people to see these individuals as ‘like-me’. For example the large majority of our social media followers were students and many of the people we interviewed were working part-time along studying for their own degrees. The similarity effect has proven to be a powerful tool of influence (Burger et al., 2001) where perceived similarities induced a greater propensity to like that person and therefore to comply with their requests.

In conjunction with our Humans in Uniforms profile posts, we used Facebook to share posts containing a variety of information: why we’re not inclined to talk to people in uniform, the benefits of communicating with strangers, how to start a conversation with anyone and how to have more meaningful communication. The posts were intended to guide the readers through a kind of narrative-argument explaining the problem of uniforms as a barrier to social interaction and the benefits and means to overcome this issue.

In terms of the elaboration-likelihood model (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986), we believe the persuasive communication used for our project exploits both a central and peripheral route to persuasion and, therefore, attitude change. Firstly the Facebook posts act as a central route to persuasion as they are comprised of reliable information selected from credible sources (TED Talks, Psychology Today and published books). As out target audience was assumed to be intelligent, interested and able to maintain focus for short periods of time we hoped that the narrative-argument would help convince readers to internalise our message as valuable and important. However, we felt our aims were most apt for a one-sided argument, because a two-sided approach would have been difficult to follow across different posts, particularly since not everyone would read every post. Additionally, the flood of images of people in uniform on people’s timeline and newsfeeds meant our project’s message was consistently repeated infiltrating the peripheral route. According to the availability heuristic (Tversky & Kahneman, 1973) a message that is easy to retrieve because it is encountered frequently, will be perceived as important. In the same way, Agenda Setting Theory (Kiousis & McCombs, 2004) suggests that the news influence the perceived importance of events by repeating and emphasising them, the stream of photos from Humans in Uniform would have increased people’s motivation to think about the problem we were highlighting. Additionally the mere exposure effect (Zajonc, 1968) suggests that increased familiarity leads to more favourable perceptions.

Measuring Behaviour Change

In terms of measuring behaviour change our use of social media enabled us to track exactly how many people were interacting with our posts and following our accounts.

On Instagram we currently have 65 followers, with our highest preforming posts gaining around 25 likes.

On Facebook we currently have 122 page likes, and 433 engagements (reactions, comments and shares) with posts over the last week. With our most popular posts reaching 550 people. In total our posts have reached 1124 people.

Of course these statistics do not conclusively indicate behaviour change but it seems likely that, at least via the peripheral route to persuasion, our project will have some impact on challenging readers to think about their attitudes towards people in uniform. Hopefully this first thought will go some way to encouraging them to pursue more genuine and meaningful interactions in the future.

The Selfie Challenge

In order to have a more concrete example of real world impact, we set our followers the task of completing the ‘Selfie Challenge.’ This challenge required people to go out and interact with a person in uniform. We wanted to leave it fairly open as to how this interaction should take place but we did suggest specific examples of questions to ask to start a conversation including asking for the person’s name and how their day is going. In this way, we went some way to forming specific implementation intentions as we articulated exactly how one could go about achieving the goal of completing the challenge. It’s thought that implementation intentions increase the likelihood of goal attainment (Gollwitzer, 1999). Moreover, we suggested that they could point to this project as their motivations for wanting a picture and suggested that this would flatter the employee in uniform, again, inducing an attraction which would make it more likely that they would comply with the request, with the dual purpose of increasing awareness and support for the overall project. We reasoned that this was quite an unusual request and so would exploit the pique technique (Santos et al.,1994), thus we anticipated that most people who were asked for a selfie would willingly comply with the request.

Once they completed the challenge, they were asked to post it to social media and nominate a friend to do the same. We hoped this would provide a snowballing effect of behaviour change and further reinforce the individual who had completed the challenge. Firstly, the sporadic likes and comments from friends on social media for completing the challenge act as partial reinforcement with variable ratio. According to this type of reinforcement, the number of rewards (likes) occurs at random which means that the time and number of reward cannot be predicted. This type of reinforcement is proved to be one of the most resistant to extinction. But more importantly, because the photograph is a public statement, it demonstrates a clear commitment to the project and thus would provide a strong motivator to behave in consistent ways in the future (Cialdini, 2009). In line with Bem’s (1972) Self-perception theory of attitudes, the perception of our behaviour can lead us to form attitudes that are consistent with that behaviour in the future. Thus by completing the selfie-challenge people have taken actions which “shift their self-images to that of, let’s say public-spirited citizens, [and therefore] they are likely to be public-spirited in a variety of other circumstances… they will automatically begin to see things differently,” (Cialdini, 2009, p.83) and the project may have an enduring and wide-reaching positive impact.

Our Facebook page has currently received 26 selfie challenges (not including our own) which means that so far our project has resulted in at least 26 interesting conversations between the general public and people in uniform! Although it is hoped that given the nomination process the selfie challenge will continue to grow in numbers and indeed that those who have not completed the challenge but have been inspired by the project may treat those in uniforms better in the future.


All of the feedback from the challenge has been overwhelmingly positive from both the people who have completed the challenge and the employees who were photographed. The comments which accompany people’s selfie challenges are often amusing and some are quite heart-warming. With people claiming that the experience has “made their day” and that “it was lots of fun taking part in the challenge”.

Moreover we suspect that the interview process of those featured on our Instagram page led to an additional form of positive behaviour change. In our experience, people felt greatly valued by our approach to interview them, so much so that almost a third of our profiles are from people who got in contact with us to volunteer themselves or family and friends. Initially we did not tag people in the pictures we posted, but the majority of them actively asked to be tagged so it would appear on their personal social media feeds. We hope that making it salient how important their work is through our interviewing and our use of hashtags such as #notallheroswearcapes we instilled a sense of self-confidence and pride in the employees.

Overall it would seem that the project has really resonated with people and we are incredibly proud of the impact we have had.

Problems with the Selfie Challenge

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one,” – Imagine lyrics, John Lennon (1971)
We anticipated a greater reaction to the selfie challenge than we initially received as we believed the model was similar to the ALS Ice-bucket challenge which swept across social media in 2014 (Koohy and Koohy, 2014). Although everyone seemed to agree that the project’s aims were important, they were less willing to actually complete the challenge. We think this is due to the fact that it requires a certain level of self-confidence which we hadn’t actively tried to instil in our audience. We believe that posting about the benefits of ‘just asking’ and rejection therapy (which we have recently become clear to us thanks to Thomas Hills, 2018) would over-complicate our project’s aims.

In order to overcome this, we turned to our family (exploiting altruism driven by kin selection) as we knew that the more people we could get to complete the challenge the more likely it would be that others would join in. Additionally, taking Ghandi’s famous words to heart (“be the change you want to see in the world”), we completed the challenge ourselves with six people in uniform. This experience was the most personally rewarding outcome of the project so far, it made us feel fantastic and the feedback from those in uniform could not have been more supportive. Alan, one of the fishmongers we met from Tesco, went on to interact with the Facebook page himself and publically voice his appreciation of the project stating that the selfie challenge had been “a very nice and random way to finish [his] shift”.

We will continue to challenge ourselves to meet new people, and encourage those around us to do the same. We plan to carry on acting as admins for the Facebook and Instagram pages as we are still receiving messages from people in uniform who want to be involved. If you want to support our project please don’t hesitate to contact us via Facebook 
– Nicole and Amelia.


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