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.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Consistent or Caught Out

This is a scene from the film 'Legally Blonde' which sees the main character, Elle Woods, catch out the suspect in a court scene. Chutney, the suspect, is caught out because her story does not add up and is not persuasive. Elle quickly picks up on this inconsistency and Chutney is caught out. Chutney's alibi begins to be questioned when parts of her whereabouts do not add up and consequently her claims are under suspicion. 

A technique Chutney could have used in order to provide a better argument is the role of consistency. Chutney's delivery of her statement is not only jittery and at times incoherent, it is inconsistent, leaving room for questions- all flawing the message she is trying to deliver.  The principle of consistency refers to the idea that people find an argument more believable when statements align and match up to previous claims. Consistency is known as an intrinsic motivator. Once someone's message becomes unclear and hypocrisy comes into play, the message loses all value.

Research that looked into the effectiveness of consistency was conducted by Fraser and Freedman (1966). They explored the 'foot-in-the-door' technique which is the phrase used to explain a sales tactic whereby you begin with a small request that seems fair, followed by a larger request later on. In their study a researcher, posing as a volunteer worker, went from door-to-door in a California neighbourhood, asking homeowners if they'd be ok with having a billboard built in their front gardens. They were shown a photograph of the proposed billboard. 

A second group of homeowners were asked the same question. The % scores for the compliance of these requests are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1.
The only difference between these groups was that 2 weeks prior, the second group had already been asked to display a tiny 3-inch sign that read 'Be a safe driver.' At the time the request was small and harmless so almost everyone agreed. After all, you would want to be seen as an advocate of safe driving.

As a result of agreeing to the small request first, they were found to be far more receptive to the ambiguous larger request two weeks later. Fraser and Freedman explained this finding through the role of consistency. An innate tendency humans have in many areas of life. Including: attitudes, opinion, values, beliefs and habits. Once someone has made a public commitment or even an internal one, they are more likely to stick with their initial choices and stand their ground and follow through. 

Freedman, J. L., & Fraser, S. C. (1966). Compliance without pressure: The foot-in-the-door technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 195-202. 

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