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.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Please, Sir, can I have some

By Sophia Spady & Vasiliki Tsopanis

A Little Background;

Just asking is one of the most effective ways to get what you want (Clark and Hatfield, 1989). Whether it’s attempting to get a guy to have sex with you, asking for 17₵ (Santos, Leve & Pratkanis, 1994) or asking to jump the line at the copying machine (Langer, Blank & Chanowitz, 1978) the power of just asking is bountiful.

Such a finding would make for a much simpler world, right? “Ask for what you want!” “Ask and ye shall receive!”

Not quite. Because even the knowledge that you might ask for what you want doesn’t change the fact that asking can feel…well…awkward and needy.

Research has found that people greatly underestimate people’s willingness to ask for help. Flynn and Lake (2008) found that help providers overestimated the likelihood that people would make a direct request for help by around 50% (seen in Figure 1). In regards to addressing how it feels, a later study by Bohns and Flynn (2010) found that help providers also underestimated how embarrassed it can make a person feel to ask for help. This may be what leads to an over-estimation of the likelihood that people will ask for help.

But what about asking for things from people who aren’t assigned “help providers”?  While we were learning about this, we both felt like asking for things like pay rises or a good deal on an expensive bag wouldn’t just be embarrassing, it would be rude.

There’s a theory suggesting that it isn’t just us that feels that way – all women do. Artz, Goodall and Oswald (2016) stated that one common claim that contributes to the gender wage gap is “women intrinsically do not ask for pay rises”. Though this claim is often talked about, such as in the book Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide by Babcock and Laschever (2003), there is no actual empirical support to defend the claim.

Our project focusses on combining these two concepts – women who just ask for what they want and, hopefully, get it.

This time last year Vassia was working two jobs to make ends meet and had no money. Juggling university work with a six-hour shift four days a week on top of eight hour shifts on the weekends was difficult enough by itself…

…the only thing that could make it worse was when you single-handedly serve a table of 20 people and their kids to be given a £4.50 tip on a £150 bill that you then have to share with 3 other people. Yes, gratuities are optional, but anyone who has ever been a waiter/waitress knows how important they can be – those tips are on-campus lunches, costa drinks with friends, and printing money.
Later on, Vassia worked in an all-female-run establishment. There was a tip jar by the till but it often went unnoticed – when Vassia asked if they should put a sign on it to encourage people to give, her manager had an utter look of horror on her face. “That would be so rude!”

So here’s what we did;

Our Study

We conducted a field experiment at Thomas Oken Tea Rooms at 20 Castle Street, Warwick. At the front of their shop, where you pay when you have finished your meal, there is a tip bowl which is rather small and unlabelled so it is easy to look over. We asked the proprietor of the tea room Johanna Hobbs if she would be willing to label the bowl with a small sign that asked people to give if they enjoyed their time there. Here’s is our “Just Asking Sign

We asked them to keep the sign on the jar for three weeks and note down the amount they got in the following sheet

Total tip amount in £
Split tips (per 8 hour shift)

As a control value, the day before we began the study there was £10.44 in the jar at the end of the day which, split between the people working that day equalled £2.61 each. We refer to this the Bottom Boundary – we wanted our data to definitely exceed this level. Additionally, Johanna mentioned that workers who do an eight-hour shift are often lucky to walk away with £5 – we refer to this as the Top Boundary and we wanted our data to be at least near this level, if not exceed it. We used these two figures as baselines to compare our data to.


 We performed a one-sample t-test and found that our Just Asking Label has a significant effect on total tips, t (15) = 10.318, p = .000, such that by enforcing the Just Asking Label the total tips gained were, on average, 2.06 times higher than the bottom boundary. Additionally, total tips exceeded the top boundary 50% of the time.


We found that our Just Asking Label worked well – the tips from our experimental condition never went below the Bottom Boundary and often met and surpassed the Top Boundary. Our results support previous findings that just asking works.

However, it should be noted that before we had the chance to look at our data the proprietor believed that the label was actually causing a decrease in tips, as she felt people would see the sign and would feel obligated – or even a little insulted – and then decide to not give at all. This is not congruent with the actual data.

In fact, we believe tips could have been even better but perhaps due to reservations from the beginning it could have turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy (Merton, 1947) of a decrease in possible tips. Any discomfort may have been shared with the servers as well which may have led to some negative mannerisms when they were serving customers at the till by the jar. People are very adept at picking up verbal and even nonverbal cues (Kraut, 1978), and the servers may have projected some discomfort when they neared the till when the sign was posted. Research has shown that negative moods decrease the likelihood of making fundamental attribution errors (FAE) (Forgas, 1998). Following on from this, the negative feelings towards the Just Asking Label may have led to a higher frequency of external attributions to any customer who chose to not tip. This would mean that the servers were assuming they were getting fewer tips due to external factors (our sign) rather than internal factors such as portraying discomfort by asking for tips.

It’s understandable that they may have been nervous about changing from their normal routine in case it failed, because a lot of these girls rely on tips. The history of tips is not a great one either. It dates back to pre-WWI times from employers not wanting to pay their employees a fair wage and wanting to save on their general expenses, making workers’ pay for the privilege of earning tips (Van der Eeckhout, 2015). Luckily it’s not that bad anymore, but people should still tip servers who work extremely hard.

So what could they do in absence of our Just Asking Sign?

There are several less obvious techniques that have been shown to statistically increase tips by 10% or more, from using makeup (waitresses) to writing messages or drawing pictures on the check (Lynn, 2018).

A simple technique to increase tips is called the ‘red effect’ – waitresses who wear red lipstick or a red shirt accrue more tips from customers (Guéguen & Jacob, 2012). Especially compared to when waitresses are barefaced, which is unjust – servers are constantly on their feet surrounded by hot machines. If there was any makeup on Sophia’s face at the beginning of the day, you can be assured that it would have slid off her face within a couple hours – Vassia can attest to this. It is also unfair that this high standard does not extend to men.

Another technique which may be considered uncomfortable and used at your discretion is the simple technique of touching. The touching is a brief touch on the shoulder or palm when asking whether everything’s ‘alright’ (Stephen & Zweigenhaft, 1986), but there was a significant difference in tips between the customers that were touched and those that weren’t. Nowadays it may have to be a bit more discreet.

So, our experiment was technically a success. However, we do understand that it may make some people uncomfortable to explicitly ask for tips, though the positive effects of such a technique cannot be argued with.

Artz, B., Goodall, A. and Oswald, A. (2016). Do Women Ask? Warwick Economics Research Papers [online] 1127(2059-4283). Available at:

Babcock, L. & Laschever, S. 2003. Women don’t ask: Negotiation and the gender divide. Princeton, NJ & Oxford, UK: Princeton University Press.

Bohns, V. K., & Flynn, F. J. (2010). “Why didn’t you just ask?” Underestimating the discomfort of help-seeking. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology46(2), 402-409.

Clark, R. D., & Hatfield, E. (1989). Gender differences in receptivity to sexual offers. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality2(1), 39-55.

Eeckhout, P. (2015). Waiters, Waitresses, and their Tips in Western Europe before World War I. International Review of Social History, 60(3), 349-378.

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(1), 128.

Forgas, J. P. (1998). On being happy and mistaken: Mood effects on the fundamental attribution error. Journal of personality and social psychology75(2), 318.

Guéguen, N. and Jacob, C. (2012). Lipstick and tipping behavior: When red lipstick enhance waitresses tips. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 31(4), 1333-1335.

Kraut, R. E. (1978). Verbal and nonverbal cues in the perception of lying. Journal of personality and social psychology36(4), 380.

Langer, E. J., Blank, A., & Chanowitz, B. (1978). The mindlessness of ostensibly thoughtful action: The role of" placebic" information in interpersonal interaction. Journal of personality and     social psychology36(6), 635.

Lynn, M. (2018). Are published techniques for increasing service-gratuities/tips effective? P-curving and R-indexing the evidence. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 69, 65-74.

Santos, M. D., Leve, C., & Pratkanis, A. R. (1994). Hey buddy, can you spare seventeen cents?    Mindful persuasion and the pique technique. Journal of Applied Social Psychology24(9), 755-764

Stephen, R. and Zweigenhaft, R. (1986). The Effect on Tipping of a Waitress Touching Male and Female Customers. The Journal of Social Psychology, 126(1), 141-142.

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