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 27, 2015

If you can see potential in an abandoned chair, why not in a homeless youth?

When we see a homeless youth on the street, we typically continue walking, of course thereby avoiding eye contact. There are a number of misconceptions against homeless youth and most people are left fairly untouched when acquainted with a situation like this. It is necessary to fight these stereotypes and acknowledge that every one of us has the potential to become something greater if only offered the appropriate support.

The ad above was created by the national charity "Raising the Roof" who launched its national campaign "Homeless youth have nothing but potential" in Febuary 2011. The aims of the campaign are to raise awareness and fight the prejudice and stereotyping which are commonly held against street-involved youth. The ad, like all of the other media messages created for this campaign, take essentially trivial things from our daily lives and place them in stark comparison to homeless youth. They are about provoking the public and confronting them with this real and current issue which too often is overlooked in order to avoid discomfort. The persuasive technique which is being utilized here is guilt. 

Carlsmitch and Gross (1969) were one of the first to illustrate the effect guilt has on our actions. In their study subjects were assigned the role of a teacher in a learning situation in which they had to operate a switch every time the student made a mistake. The learner was a confederate to the experiment, as was the witness who accompanied the subject in the room. After the experiment was over, the subject was exposed to a compliance request. The confederate asked the subject whether they would be willing to assist them in calling up a few individuals and convince them to sign a petition.

There were four conditions. In the shock conditions subjects were told in advance that every time the switch would be operated, the learner would receive an electric shock. In the no-shock condition the subject was not told anything. In the control no-shock condition the learner made the request to the subject. In the restitution shock condition the same order applied. In the generalized guilt shock condition the witness made the request to the subject.  Finally in the sympathy shock condition it was the witness who operated the switch, yet still the learner made the request towards the subject. 

Table 3 above illustrates the level of compliance displayed by the subjects. We can clearly see a comparison of how many individuals the subjects agreed to call. Subjects in the generalized guilt condition were found to comply with an average of 39 calls which is significantly higher than any other of the groups. Subjects who did not take part in applying the switch (sympathy condition) were found to comply the least number of times. On average they accepted to make 6.5 calls. What these results imply is that guilt arising from personal implication appears to be a central factor leading to compliance.

Raising the Roof relies on the persuasive tactic of guilt. They are hoping that through this technique their message will be registered and hopefully convince people to "Learn, Support and Act" in order to support homeless youth.  

Carlsmith, J. M., Gross, A. E. (1969). Some effects of guilt on compliance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 11(3), 232-239. 

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