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, March 4, 2018


Staff members from 64 universities across the nation are striking over the government plans to cut pensions. With the current University and College Union strikes and protests well on their way, it felt appropriate and relevant to discuss the topic:  WHY AND HOW DO PROTESTS WORK?!

Echo Chambers” are formed when people associate and surround themselves with people who have similar views to their own (Marshall, 2014). These ‘chambers’ reinforce certain beliefs, as ingroup members share and promote their opinions, further amplifying the group beliefs. Individuals that are part of the group feel accepted as their views have been socially approved by others. This strong ingroup bond makes it hard for protestors to be ignored!

Protests can be effective due to their empathetic nature. The apparent dissatisfaction and dismay coming from the protestors is hard to miss. It feels wrong to ignore their impressive dedication and persistence! Imagine completely ignoring the Warwick University lecturers who have been protesting outside in negative temperatures with lots of snow! Research has indeed linked empathic emotions with greater altruistic responses (Davis, 1983). People are therefore more likely to help when there are feelings of compassion and sympathy.

Prolonged periods of protests can indeed shape the opinions of ‘neutral’ others, through the availability bias (DubeRioux & Russo, 1988). People’s judgements can be influenced by high frequency salient events (Marshall, 2014). If the information is readily at hand, it is more likely to be used, and thus can attract many new supporters. Active protests are a great way of educating and attracting new members, whilst gaining publicity towards the matter. The attraction of new protestors and the significant publicity gained increases the likelihood of protest success.

Those who actively protest correctly follow the “if you want more out of life, just ask (Hills, 2014) moto, which others should learn from! Humans have an unfortunate tendency of assuming that others will not help, and thus they do not like asking. Flynn and Lake’s 2008 study showed that people underestimated the likelihood of others willing to help by 50%. In reality, compliance rates are much higher than what people tend to believe!


Davis, M. H. (1983). The effects of dispositional empathy on emotional reactions and helping: A multidimensional approach. Journal of personality51, 167-184.

DubeRioux, L., & Russo, J. E. (1988). An availability bias in professional judgment. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making1, 223-237.

Flynn, F. J., & Lake, V. K. (2008). If you need help, just ask: underestimating compliance with direct requests for help. Journal of personality and social psychology95, 128.
Hills, T. (2014, February 10). If You Want More Out of Life, Just Ask. Retrieved from

Marshall, G. (2014). Don’t even think about it. New York: Bloom

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