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.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Bringing sight to the blind and visually impaired: How BeMyEyes created a social norm for altruism.

"Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it." Helen Keller.

Imagine a world, where sighted volunteers like you and I could help blind and visually impaired people, at the touch of a button. This vision became a reality in January 2015, when Hans Jordan Wiberg, who is himself visually impaired, launched BeMyEyes.

BeMyEyes is a free smartphone app that connects a network of over 60,000 blind and visually impaired users with some 800,000 sighted volunteers. The success of the community, as its supporters like to call it, stems partially from fact that most people enjoy helping others (Post, 2005). From a psychological standpoint, BeMyEyes has utilized several of the weapons of influence identified in Cialdini's bestseller, "the psychology of influence and persuasion” (Cialdini's, 2009). 

One such weapon, is the principle of social proof, i.e. we look towards similar others to determine the correct course of action when facing uncertainty. A quick visit to the company’s website soon reveals a plethora of glossy images of smartphone users and a bold display of volunteer numbers. In the spirit of “Just ask”, perhaps the most powerful persuasive technique in the psychological literature (see, Hills, 2014), the site also asks it’s viewers to “Join the community”. The community in this case representing an altruistic in-group made up of strangers just like you.

If this was not enough to sway the unsuspecting reader, the site goes on to explain that the types of tasks that “You as a sighted volunteer” could assist with. By presuming consent the requestor, has quite surreptitiously increased the likelihood that you the reader, will go on to download the app (see, Pratkanis, 2007). However, it is also possible that the app’s major success story arises from the life of its inventor, Hans Jorgen Wiberg, a 53 year old Dane, who after starting to lose his sight at the age of 25, went on to work and volunteer with the Danish Blind association. A role which enabled him to become an authority on the needs of visually impaired allowing him to (with help) to influence and change a sighted world.

Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: Science and practice. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc..
Hills, T. (2014, February 10). If You Want More Out of Life, Just Ask. [Blog post]. Retrieved from
Post, S. G. (2005). Altruism, happiness, and health: It’s good to be good. International journal of behavioral medicine, 12(2), 66-77.
Pratkanis, A. R. (2007). Social influence analysis: An index of tactics. In A. R. Pratkanis (Ed.), Frontiers of social psychology. The science of social influence: Advances and future progress (pp. 17-82). New York, NY, US: Psychology Press.

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