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

“Just because it isn’t happening here doesn’t mean it isn’t happening” Empathy in Persuasion

“Just because it isn’t happening here doesn’t mean it isn’t happening” is the tagline for Save the Children’s Campaign to save the children stuck in the middle of the Syrian crisis. Their advert follows an English girl over the course of a year, from one birthday to the next. From the beginning you can see that the advert is set in England and is supposed to be representative of a typical family that everyone watching would be able to relate to. As the advert progresses it shows what life would be like for the little girl if the Syrian crisis were happening in England, for example what her home and school life would be like, eventually resulting in her celebrating her next birthday in a make shift hospital. This of course is the reality for many children in Syria.

The persuasive technique that Save the Children are using is empathy. By showing what the Syrian children are going through from the perspective of someone we are more easily able to relate to, this makes us feel more empathetic. Thus persuading us to do something to help.

Archer, Foushee, Davis  and Aderman (1979) carried out a study based around a mock trial. When mock jurors were asked to imagine themselves in the position of the defendant (empathy inducing condition) they were more likely to rate the defendant’s behaviours as being lawful and attributed less of the cause of the incident to his personality (see Table 1). In both conditions participants who were imagining themselves in the position of the defendant rated the defendant as more lawful (5.12 compared to 3.39, and 4.21 compared to 4.11). They were also less likely to attribute causality to the defendant in the "No Fact-Focus" condition when they were imagining themselves in the position of the defendant. Again this shows when empathising with the defendant you are more likely to be persuaded into believing their version of events (that they aren't attributable for causality).This shows that when empathy is induced for the target, people are persuaded, in this case towards the defendant’s innocence.

Table 1

In the case of the Save the Children advert empathy created by imagining yourself or your child is in the position of the Syrian children is used as a means of persuading people to donate money in order to help them.


Archer, R. L., Foushee, H. C., Davis, M. H., & Aderman, D. (1979). Emotional empathy in a courtroom simulation: A person-situation interaction. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 9, 275-291.

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