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.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018


We’ve heard about their stories, but how many of us have helped?

According to Shacknove (1985), a refugee is someone who would be at risk if they were to return to their home country. The European refugee crisis began in 2015 where it became a struggle for many countries, including the UK, to cope with the increase in numbers (“Migrant crisis”, 2016). Whilst the government has an obligation to support these refugees and their families, there are also numerous charities which aim to help with resettling, providing resources and integrating refugees into their new homes, lives and communities.

Many of these charities rely on donations and help from the general public which raises the question, how many of us have helped?

Step 1: Identifying the problem at Warwick
We surveyed 81 students and found that whilst 97.5% of people believed refugees should be supported, only 31% of people had previously made an effort to help. Evidently, this discrepancy is substantial, so we decided that something needed to be done to change this. According to the theory of planned behaviour (Azjen, 1991), having an attitude towards something is not enough to predict behaviours towards it. Individuals require self-efficacy in order to believe that they they are capable of taking action, and that this action will be effective in achieving what it intends to. Although self-efficacy is important, increasing the availability of action must also be considered. Behaviours can be made more available by showing others that it’s possible and increasing their perceived behavioural control.

Being students ourselves, who are all too familiar with the time consuming nature of university life, we recognised it’s not that students don’t want to help (we’re good people at heart!), it’s the struggle in trying to balance academic life alongside making time to get involved with the causes they care about. Our survey found 92.6% of students would be willing to help in ways which would not require a regular time commitment (as seen in Figure 1). Of these students, 53% stated they would be like to be contacted with information regarding ways they can get involved to help the local refugees. This valuable insight allowed us to come up with a plan to change the behaviour of those 53% so they would actively make the difference they want to make with the local refugees in Coventry.

Figure 1. A pie chart showing how many students would be willing to help without making a time commitment.

Coventry has been in the news for its aid in resettling many Syrian refugees in the UK (“Coventry City Council”, 2016). We found the local Coventry Migrant and Refugee Centre located in the heart of Coventry offers many services targeting housing, employment, and mental wellbeing issues for refugees. Therefore, we decided a great way for students to get involved in helping local refugees would be to contribute to this centre, whether this be simply visiting and interacting with the refugees, or stopping by to deliver donations.

Step 2: Arranging for visits and donations from students
Research has established ‘just asking’ gets you what you want. For example, Clark and Hatfield (1989) found that 50% of people would be willing to go on a date with a stranger who simply made the nerve-racking move of asking them. Using this principle, we asked the 53% of students who were willing to be contacted in the future whether they would like to join us on a visit to the local refugee centre. We were also able to utilise the foot-in-the-door technique (Freedman and Fraser, 1966), which sees an individual being more willing to complete a larger request, such as putting up a safe driving poster, if they have already completed a smaller task for you, such as signing a petition about safe driving. In this case, participants completed a small task by filling in the questionnaire, which subsequently made them feel more committed when they were asked to donate or visit the centre at a later date.

We arranged a date to visit the centre and encouraged individuals to bring donations of food and toiletries with them. On the day, a group of students arrived with generous bags of donations, these were gratefully received by the staff at the centre (see Figure 2-3).

Figure 2. An image of us and a staff member at the centre with some of our donations.

 Figure 3. An image of some of the students who signed up to visit the centre with us.

From asking the students about their experience, we found many expressed that they were surprised at how easy it was to donate and that they would be willing to do it again! From this we realised, we were on our way to positively changing the behaviour of these students. This is due to the principles of commitment and consistency discussed by Cialdini (2007) . One study found that voter turnout increased in the USA if people were called beforehand and asked whether or not they would vote. The individuals in the study had already committed themselves to voting and therefore were more likely to actually vote in order to stay consistent (Greenwald, 1987). Similarly, once the students expressed an interest in supporting refugees, they felt committed when we later asked them to visit and donate towards the centre. After this visit, the students had successfully incorporated the characteristic of being a prosocial person who supports refugees into their self-image.

Step 3: Getting bigger businesses involved
Having gained a new found love of just asking, we targeted local businesses to ask if they would be willing to put some items aside to be donated to the centre. Importantly, we also used flattery as research has shown flattery often gets you what you want (Pratkanis & Abott, 2011). This was done by starting the phone calls with statements such as “We know you’re a generous company that is always helping out the local community”. By first complimenting them, it was more likely they would comply with our subsequent request. This technique is supported by Kraut (1973) who found labelling individuals as helpful, made it more likely they would provide a more generous contribution to a cause. This turned out to be a success as we were able to gather a variety of items to donate to the centre! There were particular items that the refugee centre did not have to facilities to accept, so we reached out to another charity based in Coventry called Carriers of Hope who are also involved in helping out refugees. Figure 4 shows some of the stationery, homeware and toys donated by a Tiger store.

Figure 4. Some of our generous donations from businesses in Coventry and Leamington Spa.

Step 4: Collecting monetary donations
For those who were unable to visit the centre, we offered the the opportunity to donate money through our JustGiving page. This employed the principle of just asking as we explicitly questioned whether or not they would like to make a donation. Again, the foot-in-the-door technique was used as individuals would have been more willing to complete a larger request, such as making a monetary donation, if they had already completed a smaller task for us, such as filling out our questionnaire (Freedman and Fraser, 1966). It came as no surprise that people were willing to help and were likely to make a donation. This brings us on to the fact that most of our donations were of £10 which can be explained by the anchoring effect. As our first few donations were of £10 each, this created an anchor which people based their own decision off.

Step 5: Attracting the wider student population
In order to target the wider student population, and not limit ourselves to our survey respondents, we created a poster to inform people of ways they could help refugees. The image of children overlaying the background was used to evoke empathy and make people think of themselves as a child, as individuals are more likely to help when placing themselves in the situation of another person (Archer, Foushee, Davis, & Aderman, 1979).We used a QR code which contained more in-depth information as research demonstrates that practical users, such as those who want to find out more information about the advertisement, are more likely to scan QR codes (Ozkaya, Ozkaya, Roxas, Bryant, & Whitson (2015).

The poster used both System 1 and System 2 thinking (Kahneman, 2011). The poster was kept very minimalistic to ensure that the necessary information was conveyed with ease, this enabled us to employ System 1 thinking, which is automatic and requires little attention. As we were targeting people who wanted to help, this engaged them in System 2 thinking and made them more likely to obtain further information about the cause, leaving them thinking about the message. The posters were placed in a range of places, including the inside of lifts, common rooms, the library, corridors, and outdoor areas on campus (see Figure 5). The majority of the text featured on the poster directly addressed the audience and used rhetorical questions. The use of rhetoric has been found to be persuasive when a strong argument is being presented, such as ours when the QR code is scanned (Petty, Cacioppo, & Heesacker, 1981; Tom and Eves, 1999). The directness of the posters inclines the audience to address the poster (Hyland, 2008).

Additionally, the posters made the refugee crisis more available in the minds of students. Tversky and Kahneman (1973) proposed the availability heuristic, whereby easy retrieval of something increases its importance in an individual’s mind. The posters encourage students to think about the issue, making it seem more important to them. This would subsequently make the students more inclined to think about the issue and potentially make efforts to help in the future, therefore this was an advantage for the long-term.

Figure 5. Images of our poster in various locations around campus.

A summary of the steps we took to elicit behaviour change:

As of now we have gained enough donations to fund 10 food parcels with enough provisions for 50 meals! However, we can always do more, so please feel free to donate to our Just Giving page.

Anything will help, but should we say 17 cents? (Santos, Leve, & Pratkanis, 1994)

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Aisha Zahid, Haneefah Pervez, Ifra Ali

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