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, March 21, 2018

20% Chance of Being Sexually Assaulted: The #MeToo Movement

We all know that sexual assault is a serious problem. To put it into perspective, statistics indicate that every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, which equates to over 880 people a day (RAINN, 2018). In the UK, approximately 1 in 5 women have experienced some form of sexual violence, and at least 83% of these individuals do not report their assault to the police (ONS, 2018). These statistics alone illustrate the magnitude of sexual assault in these nations and this is an issue that is prevalent throughout the rest of the world. 

In 2006, activist Tarana Burke, started the #MeToo movement, encouraging women to show solidarity with each other, specifically focusing on sexual harassment. The social cause went viral in 2017 when actress Alyssa Milano used the hashtag in support of a friend's declarations of sexual harassment. 

The movement spread rapidly and led to millions of women, and men, around the world sharing their own stories of assault, rape and harassment alongside the hashtag. Within a week of Milano's tweet, the hashtag had reached 85 countries and featured in over 1.7 million tweets (Park, 2017). In France, the movement became #BalanceTonPorc (expose your pig), in Italy #QuellaVoltache (that time when) and in Israel, a Hebrew phrase translated as ‘us too’ was used. The campaign also led to the recent launch of #MeTooCongress that hopes to inspire individuals to share their experiences of harassment on the Hill. 

So why did so many people become involved in this campaign when levels of reporting sexual assault are so low? 

The Hashtag
The short, recognisable hashtag will have played a significant role in the effectiveness of the movement. The message was clear and within days, most social media users knew what it was being used in reference to. Due to the availability heuristic, simple phrases such as this are retrieved with ease and are therefore much more memorable (Tvesky & Kahneman, 1973). 

Social Proof
As the number of people contributing to the movement grew, it became more acceptable to add to. Cialdini (2007), discusses the importance of other people's behaviour when deciding how to behave yourself, and notes that individuals often search for social proof in new situations. The high levels of contribution to this campaign will have demonstrated to individuals that it is something they too can, and perhaps should be part of.

Social reinforcement 
The growth of the movement meant it was prevalent everywhere. It has featured in my personal discussions with family and friends as well as starring in newspaper headlines even today, almost five months later. The mere exposure and repetition of the message will have acted as social reinforcement and has led to individuals paying an increasing level of attention to the campaign (Zajonc, 1968; Petty, Brinol & Priester, 2008). 

High Status Admirer Altercast
Numerous celebrities contributed to the movement, and Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie were amongst those who opened up about their experiences of harassment. The involvement of these celebrities is an example of high status admirer altercast.  Pratkanis (2007) notes the effectiveness of this as a method of persuasion as individuals tend to want to be part of something and do the same things as those they look up to and aspire to be like. Furthermore, the Elaboration-Likelihood Model (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986) illustrates that celebrities can act as powerful influencers when persuading or conveying a message.

Similarity Altercast
It is not just celebrities who have been getting involved in the movement, and the contribution of those of a non-celebrity status may have further sparked the growth of the campaign. Pratkanis (2007) notes that similarity between a source and recipient increases the influence and persuasion of a message, this is known as the similarity altercast. Tidwell et al. (2013), argues that if an individual perceives someone as being similar to them, they are more likely to like them and help them. Thus, it is likely that individuals will have been inspired by those they regard as being similar to themselves. 

Emotional appeals
The nature of the issue is distressing and serious resulting in the movement being exceptionally emotionally provoking, increasing its levels of influence (Pratkanis, 2007). Social media feeds are filled with celebrities, friend's and family member's own devastating experiences, and the horrifying truth about the frequent occurrence of sexual harassment has been reinforced. Guerini, Stock and Zancanaro (2003), argue that emotive factors within a message play a key role in persuading and capturing an individual’s attention. Due to the high prevalence of assault, the movement will be personally relevant for many people, something that Ghuge (2010), argues is hugely significant in how much attention a message or campaign receives. 

Moving forward...
This movement is important and relevant both for increasing awareness of sexual assault and for encouraging individual's to open up about their own experiences. You can find the latest, up to date news stories featuring the #MeToo movement here.


Cialdini, R. B (2007). Influence: The psychology of persuasion (pp. 173-174). New York: Collins.

Ghuge, S. (2010). The role of personal relevance and mood on the persuasive impact of gain and loss frames in advertising messages about a vaccine against alcohol addiction. [Ames, Iowa]: [Iowa State University].
Guerini, M., Stock, O., & Zancanaro, M. (2003). Persuasion models for intelligent interfaces. In Proceedings of the IJCAI Workshop on Computational Models of Natural Argument.
Office for National Statistics. (2018). Sexual offences in England and Wales - Office for National Retrieved 21 March 2018, from
Park, A. (2017). #MeToo reaches 85 countries with 1.7M Retrieved 21 March 2018, from
Petty, R., Brinol, P., & Priester, J. (2018). Implications of the elaboration likelihood model of persuasion. Media Effects: Advances In Theory And Research, 2, 64.
RAINN. (2018). Statistics | Retrieved 21 March 2018, from
Tidwell, N., Eastwick, P., & Finkel, E. (2012). Perceived, not actual, similarity predicts initial attraction in a live romantic context: Evidence from the speed-dating paradigm. Personal Relationships20(2), 199-215.
Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive Psychology5(2), 207-232.

Zajonc, R. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology9(2, Pt.2), 1-27.

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