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.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Roommate Agreement

The ‘roommate agreement’ as shown in the popular television show ‘The Big Bang Theory’ aptly shows how using negotiation can make people’s lives easier, well, sometimes. In Sheldon’s case, he certainly gets a few things that he wants by pulling rank with it. When first running through this agreement, it was probably presumed by poor Leonard that most of the things stated would never actually be used against him and that some fair decisions were made through negotiation. After all, all of the core elements of negotiation were present: it was a group decision making process, the outcomes depended on both parties (although that could be argued in Leonard’s case) and it very much gives the impression of, “Ok, well here is the deal”.

Not only did the ‘roommate agreement’ initially use negotiation in order to be formed, but it is also serving as a form of negotiation in itself after it has been written. Throughout most of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ episodes, Sheldon excuses much of his behaviour, or tries to stop Leonard from doing things simply by saying “because the roommate agreement states…” Langer et al. (1978) found that the simple use of the word ‘because’ makes the reasoning much more persuasive. Therefore, this technique is used in many negotiations and of course, by Sheldon.

Many times within this television programme, Sheldon pulls out the roommate agreement when Leonard is in sheer desperation, or in a compromising position, such as first moving in. Lerner et al. (2004) found that sad people tend to pay more in a deal as opposed to emotionally neutral people. Whilst Leonard is not always sad which would make him more susceptible to agree, the nervousness he felt when first moving in, could have accounted for why he agreed to so much when faced with someone who was quite out there and emanated some kind of authority. Karrass (1970) stated that many people quiver at the sight of authority when faced with a negotiation. Could poor Leonard have felt so overwhelmed by Sheldon’s dominant personality that he just agreed to the most ridiculous things? This negotiation technique that Sheldon has used, has been successful as it has taken advantage of a potentially weak state of mind.

So is this ‘roommate agreement’ a piece of negotiation genius or is it just a logistical nightmare for Leonard when he wants to just live his life by his rules? Of course, many negotiations that take place aren’t as extreme as this one, but it is important to make sure that when making a deal of some sort, you are strong willed and not easily led. However, when in the presence of someone like Sheldon Cooper, that might be easier said than done. 

Amber Kalejs


Langer, E., Blank, A. & Chanowitz, B. (1978). The mindlessness of ostensibly thoughtful action: The role of ‘placebic’ information in interpersonal interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 635–642.

Lerner, J. S., Small, D. A., & Loewenstein, G. F. (2004). Heart strings and purse strings: Carryover effects of emotions on economic decisions. Psychological Science, 15(5), 337–341.

Karrass, C. L. (1970). The negotiating game. Thomas Y. Crowell.

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