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.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Censoring lyrics at the Brit Awards

At the Brit Awards this year, Kendrick Lamar's performance was "ruined" by ITV, who censored his lyrics, muting them a total of ten times during his performance.

According to the scarcity principle, we place more value on information that is difficult to obtain, or, as in this case, hidden from us (Cialdini, 2007). This can be explained by psychological reactance theory, which describes how we hate to lose the freedom we already have, so when something threatens our free choice, we react against this by desiring what is banned even more (Brehm, 1966). Not only do we want to receive the information more, but once we do receive it, we have a more favourable attitude towards it. In one experiment, university students given an advertisement for a new novel labelled with an age restriction not only wanted to read the book more, but believed they would like the book more than students who didn't have restricted access to the book (Zellinger, Fromkin, Speller, & Kohn, 1975).

Therefore, muting Kendrick's lyrics may have had a positive effect on the popularity of his performance, as it may have caused viewers to seek out the information that was hidden from them, and end up having a more favourable opinion towards his music.

Brehm, J. W. (1966). A theory of psychological reactance. New York: Academic Press.

Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. New York: Collins.

Zellinger, D. A., Fromkin, H. L., Speller, D. E., & Kohn, C. A. (1975). A commodity theory analysis of the effects of age restrictions upon pornographic materials. Journal of Applied Psychology, 60(1), 94-99.

HURRY - Sale Ends TODAY!

The image above shows a screenshot of an email I received which uses the scarcity principle as a persuasion tactic to get consumers to buy more products. By using phrases such as ‘LAST CHANCE!’ and ‘ends TODAY’, consumers are forced into panic mode and end up buying items that they may not otherwise have bought. Consumers are afraid that if they do not purchase the items TODAY, they will not be able to purchase the items at all (Cialdini, 2007). According to psychological reactance theory, whenever free choice is limited or threatened, the need to hold on to our freedoms makes us desire them more than before (Brehm, 1981). This explains how the scarcity principle works in real life. We are scared of losing the freedoms we have. A sale at Urban Outfitters ending TODAY means we must buy the clothes TODAY before it’s too late…

Note: I'm a sucker for advertisements like this and ended up buying a t-shirt that I really didn't need... 


Brehm, S. S. (1981). Psychological reactance and the attractiveness of unobtainable objects:
            Sex differences in children's responses to an elimination of freedom. Sex Roles, 937-949.

Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. New York: Collins.

What is your strategy?

I was watching this video as part of my consolidation of the taught material for the behavioral change module. At the end I was informed that if I signed up for an audible account I would receive a free audiobook. Having just finished reading Cialdini’s book “Influence” I noticed that this (free) gift could instead be reframed as a compliance tool, intended to trigger the automatic principle of reciprocity. Furthermore, the opt out tactic whereby I would have to actively delete my audible account in order to avoid an unpleasant bill, seemed to take advantage of the default effect. This describes how when presented with a set of options most people choose the default, which requires no effort on their part.

However, I propose an alternative strategy. You download the free book, set a reminder on your phone or calendar to delete the audible account in a months’ time and then take advantage of the second (free) audiobook that is likely to be offered as an incentive, intended to persuade you to stay.


Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. New York: Collins.

Kahneman, D., Knetsch, J. L., & Thaler, R. H. (1991). Anomalies: The endowment effect, loss aversion, and status quo bias. Journal of Economic perspectives, 5(1), 193-206.

Free delivery?...I’ll take it all!

Online shopping; my new favourite method of procrastination. I may not have the best self-control, but it seems some websites are able to draw me in much easier than others. Turns out 2 short words may be all it takes to get me…‘free delivery’.

The pull of this deal can be largely explained by Kahneman and Tversky’s (1979), prospect theory, which states that ‘loses loom larger than gains’. This means that we put more emphasis on avoiding loses than we do achieving gains. For example, we would prefer not to lose £10 than to gain £10. This is easily applied to shipping costs as the offer of free delivery means we are avoiding spending more, which in itself would be a loss.

Not only does free shipping entice more people past the checkout point but it also leads to fuller baskets (Keeney, 1999)! Some shops put a threshold on free shipping, where it can only be gained if you spend a certain amount. Loss aversion here may lead people to add another item to their bag just to avoid the loss of having to pay for shipping. A study by UPS (2014), showed that in the US 58% of people shopping online added more items to their shopping carts to meet the threshold for free shipping.

No one likes nasty surprises! I often find myself immediately going elsewhere if I get through to pay only to find out that an extra £5 has been added to the cost! Unexpected costs have been highlighted as the number one reason why people abandon their online baskets (Kukar-Kinney & Close, 2010) with one report showed that 60% of people abandoned their baskets when presented with this situation (Jupiter Communications, 2001). We don’t expect to have to pay for shipping and need to rationalise our choice to shop online, rather than in a store, by making delivery free this helps us tell ourselves we made the right choice.

Retailers take note; Losing money from shipping costs may just gain you money in the long run.

Jupiter Communications. 2001 Creating loyalty: Building proļ¬table relationships. Jupiter Vision Report: Digital Commerce, 2
Kahneman, D. & Tversky, A. (1979). Prospect theory: An analysis of decision under risk. Econometrica, 47, 263-291.
Keeney, R. L. (1999). The value of Internet commerce to the customer. Management science, 45, 533-542.
Kukar-Kinney, M., & Close, A. G. (2010). The determinants of consumers’ online shopping cart abandonment. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 38, 240-250.
UPS survey (2013). UPS pulse of the online shopper. A study of the online customer experience.

The Power of the Pumpkin Latte

Every year Starbucks sees a boom in footfall when the autumn/winter seasonal menu comes out.
Instagram…Facebook…Snapchat...all full of pictures of red cups filled with pumpkin spiced lattes and peppermint mochas. 
But why is it that people rush to get these limited-edition drinks when in reality they probably would just prefer their usual cappuccino?

This is all based upon the principle of scarcity. Cialdini (2007), stated that something is more attractive when its’ availability is limited either by time or quantity. We follow the heuristic that automatically makes us see rare items as good. As these products aren’t available all year, the limited time frame causes them to seem even more desirable than they are. 
We are more motivated by the thought of losing items compared to gaining items of equal worth (Tversky and Kahneman, 1981), so missing out just doesn’t become an option! Being part of the ingroup who gain access to these items makes you feel like you’ve ‘won’, and obviously that means an Instagram picture is needed! 
Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. New York: Collins.
Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1981). The framing of decisions and the psychology of choice. Science, 211, 453-458.

How I trained my boyfriend to stop procrastinating

Tips on how to change your own or other people's behavior.

My boyfriend is a very intelligent guy. However, he is quite lazy in regards to studying. His procrastination may have passed in the first 2 years, where he got firsts without opening a book, but when it comes to dissertations and third-year life, there is no way out but to work.

So below are 8 Ways I considered changing his behavior following the techniques from Pryor’s (1999) book ‘Don’t shoot the dog’. Pryor highlights the magic of positive reinforcement but maintains that each particular behavior from a certain individual is different and so it's up to us, the trainers, to figure out the best methods for changing specific behaviors. Some methods were implemented and successful. The effectiveness of the methods unimplemented remains undetermined.

1.     ‘Shoot him?’ Dump him to not get stressed and annoyed by his behavior? This teaches him nothing. 

2.     Punishment: Threaten to confiscate and throw away his games? Yell, scold and criticize him in front of others? Not my style and doesn’t really work, usually because the punishment doesn’t coincide with the undesirable behavior and occurs afterward. Punishment may encourage him to study when I am present but not when absent. 

3.     Negative reinforcement: Disconnect the TV or withhold dinner or talking to him until he studied (and cease negative reinforcer when compliance obtained)? I am not his mother and feel this method would be quite excessive. 

4.     Extinction: Letting the behavior go away by itself? Let him mature and become accustomed to university pressures? Too much playing will (hopefully) make him get tired of it. If shirking is a way of getting attention, remove the attention, make him feel guilty/bad. However, he doesn’t have the luxury of time so this long-term method would not be helpful.

5.     Train an incompatible behavior: We began studying together, making it a social occasion. Studying is obviously incompatible with procrastinating. He enjoys studying with me as it means he gets to spend more time with me as well – double bonus.

6.     Put the negative behavior on cue. I began putting game playing under stimulus-control. So I would reinforce his playing whenever I cued it/told him he could if he wanted to and ignored him completely when not cued. I basically allowed a goof-off time. I rarely give the cue to game playing. This has dramatically reduced the amount of time he plays.

7.     Shape the absence of the behavior: Reinforce everything that is not the undesired behavior. Praise like crazy when he’s done work. I give him massages, make him nice dinners and so on, whenever he studied or always subtly suggest we do something fun as soon as he finished work. 

8.     Change the motivation: If you understand why the unwanted behavior is happening, you can remove its cause. I figured out that the cause of his procrastination was that he really doesn’t enjoy studying. Only enjoying studying when I am there is not durable. I noticed, however, that when he studied and then relaxed, he seemed to enjoy playing games much more. I convinced him that he should enjoy working because it will help him have more fun relaxing. It worked marvelously. 

Pryor asserts that it is often necessary to use a combination of the above methods. However, in the unlikely scenario that none of the 8 techniques above interest you or are ineffective, below are 3 more techniques for you to consider – that all seemed to work on my boyfriend as well –  from Cialdini’s (2007) book ‘Influence’:
1. The rejection-then-retreat method. Works on the basis of the contrast principle. Make a large request (that will likely be turned down) then retreat to a smaller offer. Having made this concession, the other person will feel obliged to make a concession of their own (Cialdini et al, 1975). The only one available is the smaller request. Too large an initial request will be seen as unreasonable and could backfire (Schwarzwald, Raz & Zvibel, 1979). We feel more responsible and satisfied after agreeing to a concession and think we have brought that change. Studies show this method results in people being 4 times more likely to follow through the favor than only asking for a small request (Miller et al., 1976). Sometimes people even accept the larger request! 
Based on this, I would, for example, be able to influence the amount of time he spent on work i.e. initially propose 2 hours of work then 1 hour. 

      2. Use of Social Proof. Pratkanis (2007) suggests that we behave according to other peoples’ actions because of the belief that ‘if others are doing it, it must be the correct thing to do’. We use the behavior of others as a guide for our own behavior and it works best when the proof is given by many other people (Bandura, Grusec & Menlove, 1967).
The fact that my boyfriend lives with other economics students makes this method rather easy seeing as research suggests that it is most effective when the people being compared are highly similar (Festinger et al 1956). I frequently tell him that they are all working hard and this makes him highly motivated to study. 

3. Use of commitment and consistency. Writing things down is a time-tested method to affect commitment because it brings about internal and external pressures to conform to this new image. Moreover, whenever one takes a stand visible to others, there arises a drive to maintain it in order to look like a consistent person
Based on this, I tend to ask him his plan of the day, sometimes in front of others. I then follow up on him during or at the end of the day as to whether he achieved his goals. He tends to feel very ashamed and embarrassed when he doesn’t “keep his word” and simply asking him to commit himself to something seems to be highly effective!

So, nothing is hopeless. If you want to change something, you can. You just need to use trial and error and have faith in the widely used and researched tools. As much as I’d like to take credit for the fact that my boyfriend now studies and ENJOYS studying, according to Pryor, talking about it can ruin everything. So I am just going to enjoy what I initially thought was impossible. 

Bandura, A., Grusec, J. E., & Menlove, F. L. (1967). Vicarious extinction of avoidance behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 5(1), 16.
Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Influence: The psychology of persuasion (pp. 90-91). New York: Collins.
Cialdini, R. B., Vincent, J. E., Lewis, S. K., Catalan, J., Wheeler, D., & Darby, B. L. (1975). Reciprocal concessions procedure for inducing compliance: The door-in-the-face technique. Journal of personality and Social Psychology, 31(2), 206.
Festinger, L., H. W. Riecken, and S. Schachter (1956). When Prophecy Fails. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Miller, R. L., Seligman, C., Clark, N. T., & Bush, M. (1976). Perceptual contrast versus reciprocal concession as mediators of induced compliance. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science/Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 8(4), 401.
Pratkanis, A. R. (2007). The science of social influence: Advances and future progress. New York: Psychology Press.
Pryor, K. (1999). Dont shoot the dog. New York: Bantam.

Schwarzwald, J., Raz, M., & Zvibel, M. (1979). The Applicability of the Doorinthe Face Technique when Established Behavioral Customs Exist. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 9(6), 576-586.