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 18, 2018

Why can’t we be friends?

Amazon’s viral 2016 Christmas advertisement shared the concept of unity by showing a heart-warming relationship between an Imam (Islamic leader) and a Priest. A great response to recent religious tensions in the ‘post-Trump world’. The elderly Imam and Priest are shown sharing a cup of tea, where both appear to express pain in their knees. The following day each receive an Amazon parcel, turns out they both had the same idea and gifted each other knee pads to help with the knee pain. However, the significance of the kneepads is that they were used by both the imam and priest to ease discomfort when kneeling to pray in their respective places of worship (Mosque/Church). Thereby highlighting the Priest and Imam’s reciprocal understanding and acceptance of each other’s faith.
         This Ad emphasises the similarity between the two pals who happen to be religious figures, praying formed an important part of both of their lives despite their different religious beliefs. This is key as similarity has been shown to promote liking between individuals (Byrne, 1961). Many in-group members may fail to recognise their commonalities with their perceived out-group. Therefore, this Ad reinforces the idea that if we took the time to get to know those who we initially cast as ‘out-group members’ we may come to find we actually aren’t so different after all.  
 Moreover, in a society where inter-religious tension is seemingly on the rise, an advert showing influential figures from 2 different religious groups displaying positive attitudes of acceptance towards one another can capitalise on the concept of social modelling for positive change (Pratkanis, 2007). This is where observation of a behaviour, such as a positive social interaction between 2 supposed in and out-group members, increases the likelihood of the other respective group members also engaging in such interactions (Pratkanis & Aronson, 2001). Therefore, one may hope that individuals associated to the advertised religions who previously had negatively biased views towards their religious out-group may now uphold more positive attitudes, because the religious figures they admire so much seem to be doing just that!
This intended outcome may also be explained by the social comparison theory, individuals tend to adopt the opinions of those who are alike to them or part of their in-group (Festinger, 1954). Accordingly, a Christian who may have held negative attitudes towards Muslims observing this Ad may think “If a priest who I admire and share beliefs with is friends with a Muslim, then I should also be friendly towards Muslims” (and vice versa). Whilst this principle seems rather basic, the wider societal impact of such a simple Ad promoting inter-religious interaction could have a huge ripple effect. For example, research has shown simple social interactions between in and out-group members can significantly reduce prejudicial attitudes (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2000). If all the thousands of individuals who viewed this Ad, were now that little bit more inclined to simply say “Hey, how are you?” to a perceived religious out-group member (which they may have hesitated to do before), Amazon will have played a subtle part in paving the way for a more accepting society which values religious diversity.
However, if this Ad didn’t work in promoting harmony, I guess a subordinate goal could work?
 According to Sherif et al. (1954), an effective means of reducing in-group bias and intergroup tension is to have a superordinate goal, one which makes cooperation between all groups necessary to achieve it. By engaging in communication and working alongside one another with the subordinate focus on attaining a goal, it becomes easy to put group differences aside, this in turn reduces inter-group conflict and tension.
Importantly, Amazon’s Ad went beyond the simple objective of promoting their services, rather they delivered a message of tolerance and unity by showing we can and should see past each other’s differences using insightful influence techniques.
After all, why can’t we be friends?
Byrne, D. (1961). Interpersonal attraction and attitude similarity. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology62, 713.
Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human relations7, 117-140.
Pettigrew, T. F., & Tropp, L. R. (2000). Does intergroup contact reduce prejudice? Recent meta-analytic findings. Reducing prejudice and discrimination, 93, 114.
Pratkanis, A. R. (2007). Social influence analysis: An index of tactics. The science of social influence: Advances and future progress, 17-82.
Pratkanis, A. R.,& Aronson, E. (2001). Age of propaganda: The everyday use and abuse of persuasion. Macmillan.
University of Oklahoma. Institute of Group Relations, & Sherif, M. (1961). Intergroup conflict and cooperation: The Robbers Cave experiment (Vol. 10, pp. 150-198). Norman, OK: University Book Exchange.

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