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, March 20, 2014

Negotiating with Somali Pirates

Captain Phillips

The Academy Award winning film Captain Phillips is a film based on the true story of a US container ship which is taken hostage by Somali Pirates. Throughout the film, there is a variety of techniques used to negotiate the release of the hostages, including Richard Phillips, the captain of the US ship. 

After the ship is taken hostage, Richard offers the pirates all the money aboard the ship in order to persuade them to leave the ship without harming any of the crew. He offers them $30,000, a gesture in which he hopes for the reciprocal favour of them not hurting anyone. As Cialdini (2001) states, when we are offered something as somewhat of a favour, we often feel inclined to offer something back in return. Kolyesnikova and Dodd (2009) demonstrate this as participants offered freebies were more likely to make a purchase, possibly to keep the relationship balanced.

Later, when held hostage by the three pirates in a small boat, Richard notices one of his captors in a great deal of pain after injuring his feet. He offers to clean and bandage the pirate's feet, perhaps in order to build some positive rapport with his captors, which could lead them to see him more favourably and consider his release. As Katz and Lawyer (1994) state, building positive rapport is a key element of resolving conflict and can contribute to effective negotiations. 

As time passes, the US government get involved and all hell breaks loose. A tiny boat is then chased by a huge Navy ship with hundreds of armed individuals with their mission to save Captain Phillips. The negotiator for the US Navy makes it clear to the pirates that he means business, demonstrating this by making the waves larger for the small boat to combat and flashing bright lights in to the boat to disorientate them. This can be interpreted as an the US Navy's attempt at asserting their authority in negotiations, as previous research supports the view that more powerful negotiators are more likely to succeed (Giebels, De Dreu, & Van de Vliert, 2000)

To be completely honest, negotiations didn't actually go very well in the film, and everything comes down to guns. Oh.. spoilers. 


Cialdini, R. B. (2001). Influence. Boston: Allyn & Bacon

Giebels, E., De Dreu, C. K.W., & Van de Vliert, E. (2000). Interdependence in negotiation: Effects of exit options and social motive on distributive and integrative negotiation. European Journal of Social Psychology, 30, 255–272.

Kolyesnikova, N. & Dodd, T. H. (2009). There is no such thing as free wine tasting: The effect of a tasting fee on obligation to buy. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 26, 806-819.

Neil, H., & Lawyer, J. W. (1994). Resolving conflict successfully; needed knowledge and skills. Corwin Press: CA, USA.

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