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.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

But Of Course You Can Say No!

Red Cross Representative: ‘ Hi how are you this afternoon? I am just out today raising awareness of the typhoon that occurred in the Philippines last year which left 6,000 people dead and tens of thousand more homeless.’

Me: ‘ I am really sorry I have an interview to get to and I am already running late’

Red Cross Representative: ‘ Oh don’t worry, I wont take more than two minutes of your time. I represent the Red Cross and we are trying to raise money to help those affected in the aftermath of the typhoon. We are asking people to pledge just a one off donation of 6 pounds, so I just wanted to ask you today whether you would be willing to help - but of course you are free to say no’

A few weeks ago I travelled down to London for a job interview. As I stood outside a busy Liverpool Street Station, whilst trying to get some idea of where to go, I was approached by a Red cross Representative.Despite being late and considerably stressed already, I consequently decided to stand there and listen to how to go about making this donation before actually doing so right there and then. So why is it that I did that even when I was already late for such an important interview

The answer is the evocation of freedom. When a request is followed by reminding the target that they are free to choose, this can hugely increase compliance. A study by Guégan and Pascual (2000) found that when a verbal evocation of freedom followed a request for money, not only did compliance increase but so did the average amount granted. In the experiment, which took place in a shopping mall, confederates approached people at random and either asked;

(Control Condition) "Sorry Madam/Sir, would you have some coins to take the bus, please?


(Experimental Condition) “Sorry Madam/Sir, would you have some coins to take the bus, please? But you are free to accept or to refuse"

In the control condition just 10% of people gave money to the confederate in comparison to 47.5% in the experimental condition. It was also noted that the average amount given in the control condition was $0.48 compared with the experimental condition where the average was $1.04.

This experiment has since been repeated many times in similar situations. Guégan et al. (2013) replicated this study. This time a larger sample size of 108 was tested compared to the original 40.   The table below summarises the results.

As the table shows, in the experimental condition, when the comment 'but you are free to accept or refuse' was added to the request, compliance rates increased as did the amount of money given. If we look at the total request compliance (which averages the female and male results) we can see that in the control condition only 16.4% of people complied with the request, whereas in the experimental condition 40.6% of people complied. Moreover looking at the total donation amount , in the control condition the average amount given was $1.04, compared to $1.58 in the experimental condition. 

Thus it can be concluded that the semantic evocation of freedom in the content of the request increases the likelihood of compliance, but also favors to what extent the subject will comply as seen by the discrepancy between the average amounts granted in the control and experimental conditions.


Guéguen, N., &Pascual, A. (2000). “Evocation of freedom and compliance: The ‘but you are free of ...technique.’” Current Research in Social Psychology, 5, 264–270.

Guéguen, N., R.-V. Joule, S. Halimi-Falkowicz, A. Pascual, J. Fischer-Lokou, and M. Dufourcq- Brana (2013): “I’m Free but I’ll Comply With Your Request : Generalization and Multidimensional Effects of “Evoking freedom” Technique,” Journal of Applied Social Psychology 43(1):116-137.

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