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.

Monday, April 30, 2018


By Annabelle Warwick, Megan Parnell and Natalie Steer

The Issue: Why is phone use a problem?

Next time you’re in a public place, look around at how many people are on their phone, you may find the result quite shocking. High phone use has lead to the development of a new phobia -  nomophobia, which is the irrational fear of being without your phone (Yildirim & Correia, 2015). Social media is partly at fault for our addiction. This is because outlets such as Facebook exploit our vulnerability of dopamine through ‘likes’ and ‘friend requests’, giving us rewards and forming an addiction, much like a drug.

This is explained in the video below:

Mobile phone use now makes up around 5 hours of your day (see Figure 1) which equates to around ⅓ of your total waking hours! (Niemz, Griffiths & Banyard, 2005). This becomes an even bigger problem as it is associated with some pretty negative impacts:

  1. It can lead to sleep disturbance due to the blue light from the screen interfering with circadian rhythms resulting in desynchronization from the sleep-wake circadian rhythm (Thomée et al, 2011; Toutou et al, 2016)
  2. It can decrease real social interaction, prompting mental health problems such as depression and loneliness (Kraut et al, 1998)
  3. It can have a negative impact on academic performance by interfering with determination and attention (Lepp, Barkley & Karpinski, 2014).

These facts shocked us. Clearly, phone addiction is a real problem which needs to be addressed. Therefore, we wanted to create a project that educated adolescents on the negative effects of being on their phones and encourage them to spend less time on their phones, and more time with their family.

Why target adolescents in schools?
One study found time spent with family decreased from 35% to 14% from the age of 10-18 (Larson, Richards, Moneta, Holmbeck & Duckett, 1996). This decline in family interaction was found to be mediated by factors such as increased phone use. The adolescents in this study that spent more time having conversations with their family and talking about interpersonal issues had higher positive affect. Some parents try to restrict their children's time spent on phones but research shows extrinsic motivation does not work long term (Benabou & Tirole, 2003).

Thus, we wanted to target adolescents themselves, to increase their own intrinsic motivation as this will instigate a more powerful behaviour change. Addictive behaviours are more likely to begin in adolescence and harder to change in adulthood (Weirs et al, 2007). This was another reason we targeted the young, to empower them to be agents of change as research has found youth-led interventions are one of the most effective forms of creating social change (Ginwright & James, 2002).

Benefits of family interaction
The Stress Buffering Model states social interactions and interpersonal relationships offer social support which buffers against stress (Cohen & Wills, 1985). This highlights the significance of the family unit and how it can protect its members against mental health issues. Parents can act as role models to children, where they learn to focus on family time each evening (Fulkerson et al, 2006). Thus, family time like meals are beneficial for parents and children and create a stronger sense of ‘family togetherness’.

Figure 3- Top activities to reduce stress obtained from:


Our idea targeted adolescents to put their phone down for one hour a night to spend quality time with their family. One hour was believed to be a realistic goal as we acknowledged that trying to ban phone use altogether in this age group was not achievable.

How we did it

We got in contact with a local secondary school in Royal Leamington Spa and a sixth form in Newcastle upon Tyne to introduce our concept of the ‘Golden Hour’. Originally, the aim was to put posters up in their school, however, we used the ‘Just Ask’ method to go beyond that and got permission to present our idea in morning tutor groups in the local school in Leamington Spa and a sixth form assembly in Newcastle.

In the local secondary school this consisted of 3 tutor groups ranging from year 7 to year 9 for 3 mornings totalling 270 students reached. The sixth form in Newcastle consisted of 200 year 12 and 13s. Overall we reached around 470 teenagers. Each 10 minute tutor session and assembly meant we gave a 5 minute powerpoint presentation on the psychological impacts of phone use and the importance of family, as well as suggesting ways they can take on ‘The Golden Hour’. The presentation then ended with a 4 min youtube video:

Poster above highlighted the issues regarding phone use and ways in which to limit it

Compilation of presentation above shown to students

Clip shown to students at the end of the presentation 

The poster (as seen above) contained the QR code to the YouTube Video, were handed to tutors and the head of sixth form to put up in form rooms to carry on the message after we left the school. We can see the number of students using this QR code go up every day!

Measuring behaviour change
The presentation seemed to have a powerful impact on both the students and the teachers:

  • At the end of each presentation, we asked how many of them were going to give it a go, and nearly all of the 470 students put their hands up.
  • Along with spreading the message, the powerpoint taught students new concepts such as ‘Nomophobia’. This seemed to have a big impact on the students as they could relate to it, on one occasion the teacher repeated the word when the students left the classroom to make the students remember the impact of phone addiction.
  •  One student from year 7 said she wanted to give her phone up for a whole two days!
  • One teacher saved the presentation onto her memory stick and said she was going to develop the idea into her class giving their phones up for lent. Another teacher said she was going to try and encourage her teenage children to do it to increase family time in her own home. Many teachers passed comment on the power of the message in the video we used and asked for the link to the YouTube clips to share with friends and family (one teacher even said they cried when watching it at home!).
  • One very promising result was the head of year 7 took a copy of the presentation and the video and showed it in the whole year 7 assembly the same week we visited, focusing on the importance of human interactions with friends as well as family (See email below).
A similar result was found in the sixth form in Newcastle. The head of sixth form asked for the presentation, video and poster so she could make the assembly annual. We were even invited back next year to present the concept again. After hearing what was presented to the sixth form a year 11 form teacher said she wanted her students to see the presentation. The head girl said that she and other students found the video very moving, compelling and made many of them realise the importance of changing their phone use behaviour.

Thus, our message was further reinforced in the subsequent weeks and annual assemblies after we gave the presentation, by our posters and QR codes around the school, teachers incorporating it in class with lent, head of year’s showing it in assembly, and teachers bringing the message home to their own families.

We are very proud of our project, it has been a huge success! Our message has had a vast impact on both students and teachers, which has been shown in the amount of positive feedback we have received.

Persuasive Techniques

Implementation Intentions

Gollwitzer (1999) suggests by making clear goal-directed plans, automatic responses will occur even when barriers or difficulties are presented which may have previously stopped the given behaviour. 

We gave the students clear, specific and easy to follow suggestions on how they can carry out ‘The Golden Hour’ and when they should e.g. 1 hour during dinner time or watching TV.

  • Turn on airplane mode to avoid distractions
  • Put the phones in a pile and first person to touch their phone has a forfeit
  • Showing celebrities who has successfully limited their phone use
  • Suggesting Apps to download to track phone use and limit access (see below)

Cognitive dissonance
This theory describes how people strive for internal consistency. To achieve this, a person must have consistent attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. Our presentation aimed to make the children believe their phone use is negative, which is out of line with their over phone use behaviour, creating cognitive dissonance. Therefore, to reduce this feeling they should change their behaviour to fit with their beliefs about over phone use. This concept is supported by Aronson and Mills (1959) who invited women to a group discussion and asked them to read text aloud which contained either mild, explicit or no sexually oriented content. They found that cognitive dissonance was formed in the explicit group due to the high embarrassment created. In order to reduce this cognitive dissonance the women in this group rated the session as more beneficial (justifying their embarrassment) than participants in other groups. This related to our project as the children could use the concept from The Golden Hour to align their attitudes to their beliefs.

Use of a celebrity role model
The presentation we showed to students contained details about Ed Sheeran who has given his phone up for two years. Ed Sheeran is a high profile celebrity and role model for many young people. In the concept Social Learning Theory, Bandura (1977) describes that behaviour is more likely to be emulated if a role model performs the behaviour. Therefore, by using Ed Sheeran as an example of desired behaviour, it would be more likely that the students would model their behaviour to comply with the Golden Hour by putting their phones down.

Using a celebrity also taps into the Theory of Planned Behaviour. Ajzen (1991) states perceived behavioural control is a factor which is needed to be able for a person to carry out a behaviour. This explains how an individual needs a perception of their own ability to achieve a given behaviour. Therefore, we increased the perceived behavioural control by emphasising the positive benefits reported by Ed Sheeran. As Ed Sheeran is ‘someone like them’ the students' self-efficacy (a person’s perception of their ability to achieve a behaviour) is increased which encourages them to perceive the act of putting their phones down for an hour as achievable. Resulting in the students being more likely to carry out the behaviour.

Availability heuristic
This refers to the mental shortcut where information is easily recalled if it is readily available or the exposure to the information has been recent. Schwarz et al (1991) found that participants were more likely to rate themselves as more assertive if they had to think of 6 instances of themselves being assertive rather than 12. They believed they were more assertive when thinking of fewer cases because it was easier to recall. Use of the availability heuristic was achieved in The Golden Hour as there was a snappy title which was easy to remember, information was made available by presenting the idea to the students in form groups and assemblies. Repeatedly seeing the poster increased the salience of The Golden Hour message due to the mere exposure effect. Zajonc (1968) suggests showing images subliminally makes them more familiar and therefore more memorable. Just seeing information relating to the Golden Hour encourages the behaviour change by making the ideas and methods to achieve it more available.  

Positive punishment
Positive punishment refers to presenting a stimulus that decreases the frequency of a behaviour occurring in the future (Cooper et al, 2007). We encouraged the students to play ‘the pile game’, involving putting their phones in a pile and whoever was the first to touch it would have to do the washing up (the punishment). Shaw and Simms (2009) supports this idea, they found that positive punishment in the form of a verbal warning was successful in decreasing unwanted target behaviours in poorly behaved children. Therefore, suggesting how adding a punishment will reduce the chances of the children picking up the phone again during The Golden Hour, while adding a bit of friendly competition! 

Time for YOU to get on board
The Golden Hour doesn’t only have to be done within the household. For those who are living away from home or find yourself with a group of friends, take up the Golden Hour idea! 
Focus on your real friends not your Facebook friends, don’t let technology ruin true human interaction.

Just like we told the students, phone obsession is a habit that can be broken! If you adopt the Golden Hour every night, that hour of quality family time will get easier and easier and you will reap the benefits!

Put your phone down and look up!


Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 50(2), 179-211.Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 50, 179-211.

Bandura, A., & Walters, R. H. (1977). Social learning theory. (Vol. 1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-hall.

Benabou, R., & Tirole, J. (2003). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The review of economic studies, 70, 489-520.

Cohen, S., & Wills, T. A. (1985). Stress, social support, and the buffering hypothesis. Psychological bulletin, 98, 310.

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis.

Fulkerson, J. A., Neumark-Sztainer, D., & Story, M. (2006). Adolescent and parent views of family meals. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 106, 526-532.

Ginwright, S., & James, T. (2002). From assets to agents of change: Social justice, organizing, and youth development. New directions for student leadership, 2002, 27-46.

Gollwitzer, P. M. (1999). Implementation intentions: Strong effects of simple plans. American psychologist, 54, 493.

Kraut, R., Patterson, M., Lundmark, V., Kiesler, S., Mukophadhyay, T., & Scherlis, W. (1998). Internet paradox: A social technology that reduces social involvement and psychological well-being?. American psychologist, 53, 1017.

Larson, R. W., Richards, M. H., Moneta, G., Holmbeck, G., & Duckett, E. (1996). Changes in adolescents' daily interactions with their families from ages 10 to 18: Disengagement and transformation. Developmental Psychology, 32, 744.

Lepp, A., Barkley, J. E., & Karpinski, A. C. (2014). The relationship between cell phone use, academic performance, anxiety, and satisfaction with life in college students. Computers in Human Behavior, 31, 343-350.

Niemz, K., Griffiths, M., & Banyard, P. (2005). Prevalence of pathological Internet use among university students and correlations with self-esteem, the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ), and disinhibition. Cyberpsychology & behavior, 8, 562-570.

Schwarz, N., Bless, H., Strack, F., Klumpp, G., Rittenauer-Schatka, H., & Simons, A. (1991). Ease of retrieval as information: Another look at the availability heuristic. Journal of Personality and Social psychology, 61, 195.

Shaw, R. & Simms, T. (2009). Reducing attention-maintained behaviour through the use of positive punishment, differential reinforcement of low rates and response marking. Behavioural interventions, 24, 249-263.

Touitou, Y., Touitou, D., & Reinberg, A. (2016). Disruption of adolescents’ circadian clock: The vicious circle of media use, exposure to light at night, sleep loss and risk behaviors. Journal of Physiology-Paris, 110, 467-479.

Thomée, S., Härenstam, A., & Hagberg, M. (2011). Mobile phone use and stress, sleep disturbances, and symptoms of depression among young adults-a prospective cohort study. BMC public health, 11, 66.

Wiers, R. W., Bartholow, B. D., van den Wildenberg, E., Thush, C., Engels, R. C., Sher, K. J., & Stacy, A. W. (2007). Automatic and controlled processes and the development of addictive behaviors in adolescents: a review and a model. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 86, 263-283.

Yildirim, C., & Correia, A. P. (2015). Exploring the dimensions of nomophobia: Development and validation of a self-reported questionnaire. Computers in Human Behavior, 49, 130-137.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.