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, March 3, 2014

‘Ste can you help me out with £60?’

Over the last 3 years at Warwick I have given around £300 to the same Big Issue man called Sammy. The man is a genius and without knowing it, regularly employs persuasive techniques to get me to comply with his requests. This is what he does:

He spots me and I walk over to him. We hug and he asks me how I’ve been doing and what I’ve been up to. I reply and naturally have to reciprocate by asking him the same. Without fail Sammy will tell me that he’s had a rubbish day: he’s not sold any magazines, he’s not been eating much because he’s been ill and his sister and mother back in Romania have likewise had it rough recently. I can’t help but feel upset for him, guilty and a little obligated to help, given that I have £350 headphones around my neck.

Pratkanis (2007) explains that the power of guilt can be harnessed for the purpose of compliance, by ‘turning the act of restitution and image-repair into an act of compliance’ (p. 51). In other words Sammy makes me feel guilty about my comparative wealth and in order to rid myself of this feeling I usually just give him money. However, just encase I manage to shrug this feeling off, Sammy will usually ask me for money. He does so in a typical rejection-and-retreat manner as described by Cialdini (1993) and Cialdini, Vincent, Lewis, Catalan, Wheeler and Darby (2005).

Sammy starts high, by asking me for £60 and I usually explain that I can’t afford to give him that much money. He asks for £40 and even then I say that I can’t but I offer him £20 instead. There are two reasons why this occurs. Firstly, in contrast to the initial request, £20 doesn’t seem a lot, even though it clearly is and this is called a contrast effect. Secondly, once Sammy has made a concession and asked for less money, I feel obliged to reciprocate by likewise compromising and agreeing to a smaller amount.

In addition, once I’ve given Sammy some money we usually walk around and have a chat for half an hour. We often see other people he knows and he will stop and talk to them. None of them ever give him money, while I’m there, but Sammy will always tell me how nice they are and how the other day they gave him £100! Sammy is neatly using the principle of social proof. He is telling me that other people give him money and so it must be the right thing to do. As a result, I often find myself wanting to outbid these competitors in an auction to buy Sammy and give him more money.

Finally, Sammy is incredibly nice: he’s always happy to see me, tells me intimate things about his life and explains that he trusts me and he is always interested in me and how I am doing. I would say we are actually friends now and I’ve even agreed to go out with him in Leamington one night after my exams to be his ‘wing man’. While some research has found no correlation between liking and compliance (e.g. Grant, Fabrigar, & Lim, 2010) other research has shown that we are likely to comply with our friends (Cialdini, 1993;
Cialdini, 2001).

However, even though I know we are only friends because he needs my money and even though I know all of the above and know nothing about how much money he has and what he spends my money on, I am happy to comply and give him more.

Cialdini, R. B. (1993). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. NY: HarperCollins.

Cialdini, R. B. (2001). Harnessing the science of persuasion. Harvard Business Review, 79, 72-81.

Cialdini, R. B., Vincent, J. E., Lewis, S. K., Catalan, J., Wheeler, D., & Darby, B. L. (1975). Reciprocal concessions procedure for inducing compliance: The door-in-the-face technique. Journal of personality and Social Psychology, 31, 206.

Grant, N. K., Fabrigar, L. R., & Lim, H. (2010). Exploring the Efficacy of Compliments as a Tactic for Securing Compliance. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 32, 226-233.

Pratkanis, A. R. (Ed.). (2007). The science of social influence: Advances and future progress. Psychology Press.

Steven Cass

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