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, February 20, 2014

Hey buddy, can you spare 17 cents?

What do you do when you see a beggar asking for money (panhandler) in the street? Although we don’t admit it easily, most of us avert our eyes, suddenly find the M & S shop window amazingly interesting and ignore their request. After all, if they didn’t see us see them, then we didn’t see them at all and therefore there’s no need to feel guilty. Santos, Leve and Pratkanis (1994) hypothesised that this refusal to comply is mindless: we use a script of “how I respond to panhandlers” and the researchers considered how this script can be effectively interrupted using the pique technique.

The pique technique suggests that if mindless refusal is interrupted by a strange request, a target is more likely to comply. Two experiments were conducted by the aforementioned researchers to examine the effectiveness of the pique technique for panhandlers.

In the first study three female confederates posed as panhandlers and approached 289 adult passerbys asking for a strange amount of money (17 or 37 cents), interrupting the target’s refusal script, or a typical request (a quarter/any change). Overall the passerbys who were asked for a strange amount of money were 60% more likely to give money than those approached with a typical request. Average gift size didn’t vary with the type or size of request: targets didn’t lower the amount they gave to match the strange request exactly but continued to give their spare change.

Panhandlers collected more money in the strange request ($18.76) than in the typical request ($15.95) condition. This was a result of higher levels of compliance in the lower strange request condition not that targets gave more money in that condition.

Interestingly, the participants asked significantly more questions in the strange request condition 11% than the typical 0.7% which the researchers took to be indicative of more mindful consideration of the appeal.

The second study conducted in a classroom took this research a step further by analysing the reported cognitive responses of potential panhandler targets to discover why the pique technique works: does it cause curiosity, increased liking or increased irritation?

They found that the strange requests didn’t cause more thoughts overall to be reported, just more specific thoughts about the request. The only perception scale about the panhandler that was significant was that the panhandlers were ranked as less likeable in the typical condition than in the strange request condition.

So if you pass a panhandler someday soon and their request seems a little strange…consider that it may not be quite as strange a tactic as it seems.

Lydia Dyckhoff

Santos, M. D., Leve, C., & Pratkanis, A. R. (1994). Hey Buddy, Can You Spare Seventeen Cents? Mindful Persuasion and the Pique Technique1.Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 24(9), 755-764.

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