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.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Sign Me Up!

 Bridging the Communication Gap Between the Deaf and Hearing Community.


For our behaviour change project, we decided to focus on increasing deaf awareness and bridging the communication gap between the deaf and hearing population. Often, we see a more considerable effort made by deaf individuals to accommodate the hearing world and little effort is made the other way round. We believe this is a very important issue that is often overlooked. Research reveals that deaf individuals face a range of difficulties in a wide array of contexts. For instance, mental health statistics reveal a prevalence of mental health problems four times higher in the deaf population as compared to the hearing population (Fellinger, Holzinger & Pollard, 2012). Moreover, deaf children report more emotional and behavioural problems (Lin, Chowdhury, Mody, Tonini, Emery, Haymond & Oghalai, 2011), lower self-esteem (deGraaf & Bijl, 2002), and higher social inadequacy (Carney & Moeller, 1998) when compared to hearing individuals. Beyond an increased susceptibility to social and psychological difficulties, research has also brought to our attention a range of practical challenges for deaf individuals with regards to a healthcare context; aspects of daily life we in the hearing community may often take for granted. For instance, Vernon (2007) found that, when treating deaf individuals, health care professionals often find it challenging to access necessary information to make a diagnosis, rendering it increasingly challenging to provide an appropriate treatment plan. Relatedly, Barnett (1999) argues that autonomy and privacy become an issue when translators are unavailable in a medical setting, as deaf patients often have to rely on a member of their family for translation, a setback which can often put patients in an awkward and uncomfortable position. All these factors combined have generated a sense of fear and mistrust among the deaf community concerning health care (Steinberg et al., 2006). Nevertheless, these challenges are not confined to a healthcare setting. Low educational attainment as a result of low language proficiency (King & Quigley, 1995), and a fourfold increase in unemployment (RNID, 2007) similarly highlight the importance of communication in a professional setting. Increased confusion, animosity, and misunderstandings (Lederberg & Everhart, 2000) emphasise the importance of communication for social development and integration. These challenges are not intrinsically a result of being unable to hear, but rather a byproduct of the isolation resulting from a lack of communication, limited access to support services and a lack of perseverance and patience from those involved to facilitate this communication (Herman & Morgan, 2010).

In the Deaf community, deafness is not always seen as a disability. Some view it as a culture, a part of their identity which, given the choice, they would be unwilling to give up (Jones, 2002). Individuals thrive within the deafness community and feel the majority of negative outcomes associated with their deafness emerges when trying to cater to a society which is not appropriately prepared for communication between deaf and hearing individuals (Herman & Morgan, 2010). While we cannot, through one project, make enormous strides to make deaf individuals feel fully embraced in a predominantly hearing world, we can do our part to raise societal awareness of this communication gap and the difficulties faced by the deaf community, reduce stigma, and push people to contemplate the true psychological and social implications of being unable to communicate. While much of communication between the deaf and hearing community involves techniques and technology designed for deaf individuals to better understand hearing individuals (e.g. lip reading, cochlear implants), perhaps it’s time we, as part of the hearing community, take the initiative to immerse ourselves better in the deaf community – starting small, by learning some sign language.

What did we do?

In an attempt to raise awareness of these issues we organised and facilitated a two-hour seminar consisting of 1-hour deaf-awareness training and 1-hour teaching basic British Sign Language.

The seminar (see photo below) educated 30 people on the best way to successfully identify, adapt to, and communicate with deaf individuals as we arranged for a professional interpreter to join us from Coventry and Warwickshire Association for the Deaf so that they could provide expert advice.

Interest and Engagement

The session was aimed at staff and students from the University of Warwick, whereby individuals were targeted through the use of polls in the University’s Facebook pages and by placing posters across campus. We felt that social media was an effective platform to use, considering its relevance and accessibility. The polls asked if people would be interested in attending a free sign language session on campus if it were to be offered. The polls allowed us to measure initial levels of interest in our idea and further engagement was measured by the number of individuals who booked to attend the seminar.

We received 218 responses, to the polls (see example below), 208 (95%) of which said yes to being interested in attending a free seminar that teaches sign language. We were also able to sell all thirty tickets for the session within 48 hours of publishing a link to the event.

An example of one of the Facebook polls, with 64 respondents saying yes.

How did we do it?
Tactics of Persuasion

The Commitment Trap and Foot in the Door Technique:

The Facebook polls allowed us to execute the two most essential persuasion techniques from our method (The commitment trap and foot-in-the-door effect). The advantage of creating polls on Facebook was that people who responded ‘yes’ immediately committed themselves to supporting the cause in a public way. The commitment trap is a persuasion technique that asserts that binding an individual to a behaviour or course of action (expressing interest in a potential deafness seminar) means that they become identified with this cause and that breaking this bind will create negative tension (Pratkanis, 2007). People feel as if they are coming across inconsistent and do what is necessary to save face (agree to attend the actual seminar). Thus, when the tickets for the seminar were released a month later, we were able to directly message respondents reminding them this earlier commitment and asked if they would still be willing to buy a ticket. This meant that they were more likely to say yes and if they could not attend, still portrayed themselves as very interested in the event. We successfully reached full capacity, despite the price increase from £0 to £3. This is how we employed the foot-in-the-door technique (Freedman & Fraser, 1966), which suggests that if you can get someone to agree to a small request (in our case, agreeing to come to a potential sign language class for free) then they are more likely to concede to a related larger request (paying to attend a deafness and sign language seminar), seeing as they had already committed when they expressed interest. This was demonstrated in a study Freedman & Fraser conducted (1966) where they asked suburbanites to place a big, ugly sign in their yard stating “Drive Carefully” and less than 17% agreed to do so. However, they found that 76% of homeowners agreed to the sign if, two weeks earlier, they said yes to a small, unobtrusive 3-inch sign about safe driving.  After committing to a free event and publicly expressing interest on a forum,  paying £3 seemed a minimal concession to uphold not only their commitment to a noble cause but our perceptions of them as conscious, aware individuals.

Social Proof: The Bandwagon Effect
The statement “we, and 30+ of your other classmates are going” used social proof (Cialdini, 2011) - the idea that people look at the behaviour of those around them for guidance on what to do in a given situation - by implying to viewers that individuals similar to them (fellow students) would be attending and implicitly suggesting they should too. We are more likely to join in on something if we see other people joining is as well. In the same way that popular social media users with a high number of followers result in a consistently higher follower increase and higher engagement because they are perceived as more reputable and valuable (Safko, 2010), by implying that their peers were joining our seminar, we invited them to “jump on the bandwagon”.
Moving from System 1 to System 2: Rhetorical Questions and Smaller Fonts
Beyond the use of social proof in this statement, we employed two more subtle tactics - the use of rhetorical questions and a smaller font. We included the rhetorical question: “Are you?” to subconsciously trigger the need to make a decision (Burnkrant & Howard, 1984), and motivate more deliberate processing of the content of the message - hopefully triggering a switch from automatic, effortless thinking of the poster to a more effortful processing of its contents. Relatedly, in the same way people whisper to get people to listen more carefully, we used a significantly smaller font to alter reading fluency, instil focus, and facilitate this switch from a “System 1”, automatic information-processing to a more conscious, thoughtful “System 2” processing. Research shows that information presented in “difficult-to-read” rather than “easy-to-read” print, yields higher comprehension scores due to disfluency, and the increase in focus required (Katzir, Hershko, and Halamish, 2013; Song & Schwarz, 2008). This, we hoped would force viewers to read our words more deliberately, swaying them to sign up for an important cause.
The Availability Heuristic: Posters, Posts and Polls.

Posters, as shown above, were placed around campus before the tickets went on sale. These included the following persuasion techniques:

Firstly, plastering these posters around campus meant that people were exposed to the concept of deafness and sign language everywhere they went. This is called the availability heuristic (Tversky & Kanheman, 1973) and it suggests that the more people are exposed to something, the higher their perceived importance of that subject will be and the faster it will be recalled to memory. For example, Kahneman and Tversky’s initial research into this cognitive heuristic asked participants to predict which is more likely: selecting a word from the English language in a text which a) begins with the letter ‘K’ or b) contains ‘K’ as the third letter. Participants estimated that words beginning with the letter ‘K’ would occur more frequently. Nevertheless, on average, a text will contain approximately twice as many words that have ‘K’ as the third, rather than the first letter! Recalling words that begin with an indicated letter is easier than calculating words which contain said letter as the third (Kahneman & Tversky, 1973). Bringing deafness and sign language to the forefront of the target audience’s minds meant that they would be able to easily retrieve it from their memory, reinforcing it as a prominent issue that is currently being discussed throughout campus.

Source Credibility

Similarly, we rigorously promoted the event on Facebook, asking friends to share it with their friends as well. Here we employed the use of source credibility (Pratkanis, 2007), whereby we revealed that we would have a professional sign language interpreter coming to teach the session. For decades, research has consistently shown that a high-credibility source will affect how the audience perceives the value and credibility of the content, and thereby the extent to which they are persuaded by it (Hovland & Weiss, 1951). We felt that an expert, a trustworthy source would make our seminar appear more official, more professional, and thereby more appealing. Linking our message with an expert source, we hoped would further persuade individuals to attend.


Finally, we used the scarcity technique by only offering a limited number of spaces for the seminar. Limited availability has been suggested to mean people view something as more valuable (Cialdini, 2001). According to Brock’s (1968) commodity theory, scarcity of goods enhances an individual’s desire for experiences and products. Moreover, Aggarwal, Jun and Huh (2011), found that scarcity of products increases demand and that individuals were more motivated to buy products when there were high levels of consumer competition. Therefore as a result of us sharing the event alongside phrases such as ‘Limited tickets available’, ‘only one ticket left’, and ‘one-off event’ meant that individuals were more likely to experience an increased desire to take part.

To conclude, we were successfully able to raise awareness of deafness and teach British Sign Language to thirty individuals from the University of Warwick. We did this by increasing exposure to the issue and knowledge of the event, and by getting people to publicly commit to being interested in attending. Our seminar was a success and not only did we sell all thirty tickets within two days of advertising, but we also received excellent feedback from the session including an email from Senior Teaching Fellow Liz Blagrove (see below), with an interest in running further, regular sessions like this from Jag Jutley-Neilson, the Director of Student Experience and Progression. We hope that, either the hundreds of individuals interested in the event or those who attended the seminar will keep in contact with the relevant contacts to perhaps turn this event from a one-off, to ongoing, whereby slowly we can begin to bridge the communication gap and do our part as a student community to facilitate interactions, promote awareness, and bring everyone together.


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