In this advert, the NHS is trying to stop people from ordering prescription medication that they don’t need. £1.56 million worth of medicine is wasted every year, because people order prescription medicine on the off-chance that they may need it. In other words, they hoard it.
This message is attempting to change the behaviour of people by attributing certain undesirable characterises to people who perform a specific behaviour. Effectively, to prevent people from doing something undesirable (like hoarding medication), they claim that anyone who shows this kind of behaviour, implicitly has an undesirable characteristic. This method of persuasion is inspired by attribution theory, which argues that we make judgements about people’s dispositions based on their behaviour (Fiske, & Taylor, 1991; Jones and Davis, 1965).
Experimental research has shown that using attribute implication methods can work. A study by Bryan, Adams and Monin (2013) compared the amount of cheating in two condition groups. Group 1 were told ‘Please don’t cheat’, and Group 2 were told ‘Don’t be a cheater’. Group 2 experienced the attribution effect, as their instructions made a link between behaviour and disposition; ‘by doing the bad thing you are a bad person’. Participants in this study were simply asked to think of a number (which they did not have to disclose to the experimenter) between 1 and 10. They were then told if their chosen number was odd, they would receive a $5.00 reward. The researchers found that people in the ‘Please don’t be a cheater’ condition were 50% less likely to cheat than those in the ‘Please don’t cheat condition’. They concluded that this is because participants wanted to avoid the negative implications of their bad behaviour on themselves.
Effectively, this advert seems to be attempting to recreate the negative attribution aversion, by letting people know that if you hoard, that makes you a hoarder. And no one wants to be a hoarder, right?
Bryan, C., Adams, G., & Monin, B. (2013). When cheating would make you a cheater: Implicating the self revents unethical behaviour. Journal Of Experimental Psychology: General, 142(4), 1001-1005.
Don't be a hoarder, don't over-order. (2018). Southdevonandtorbayccg.nhs.uk. Retrieved 3 March 2018, from http://www.southdevonandtorbayccg.nhs.uk/your-health/Pages/medicines-hoarding.aspx
Fiske, S. T., & Taylor, S. E. (1991). Social cognition (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill
Jones, E. E., & Davis, K. E. (1965) From acts to dispositions: the attribution process in social psychology,in L. Berkowitz (ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Volume 2, pp. 219-266), New York: Academic Press