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.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Don’t forget to read the small print!

Back in 2012, the Lung Cancer Alliance launched their advertising campaign titled “No One Deserves to Die.” The campaign features a series of images depicting certain stereotypes (in addition to the two images above, others include hipsters and the tattooed) along with the caption ‘deserve to die.’ The aim of the campaign is to "help put an end to the stigma and the disease."
The problem with this campaign is that it requires almost too much effort from the audience in order to grasp its true meaning. It is only in the small print that the actual message is made clear; that people with lung cancer are often viewed as bringing the disease upon themselves but lung cancer doesn’t discriminate when deciding who it affects! Thus to properly appreciate its value the audience needs to engage in systematic (effortful, pros and cons analysed in detail) rather than heuristic (less effortful, relies on short-cuts and simple cues) processing. If an individual only uses heuristic processing when attending to the Lung Cancer Alliance posters then they may only base their opinion of the campaign based on the main text and image. By doing this they are likely to fail to understand the real message; they may just take home the message of “cat lovers deserve to die.” Accordingly in order to improve the effectiveness of this campaign the promoters need to establish a method of ensuring the majority of people will choose to process its message systematically.
An experiment by Petty, Cacioppo and Goldman (1981) demonstrates one way of increasing the likelihood of systematic processing – by making the audience highly involved in a message's content. Undergraduates at the University of Missouri were told that the university chancellor was seeking the opinions of students regarding possible academic policy changes. Half were told that the chancellor was seeking recommendations about policy changes to be instituted the following year (high personal involvement), whereas the other half were told that the chancellor was seeking recommendations about changes that would take effect in 10 years (low personal involvement). All participants listened to a tape advocating that seniors be required to take a comprehensive examination in their major area as a prerequisite to graduation, but for half of the participants this was supposedly prepared by a local high school class (low expertise) and the other half by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education (high expertise). The recorded arguments also differed in quality; half of the participants heard a weak argument (personal opinions, quotations…) and the other half a strong argument (statistics, data…). After listening to the tape participants rated their own opinion of comprehensive examinations as well as the extent to which they agreed with the proposal requiring seniors to take a comprehensive exam before graduating. If participants are using heuristic processing then they should be more influenced by the presence of an apparent expert source (expert therefore must be right) and less influenced by a strong argument (they aren’t processing it fully anyway) than those using systematic processing.
As shown in the figure above, the expertise manipulation had a stronger effect on persuasion in the low-involvement condition, such that a source of high expertise produced significantly more agreement than a source of low expertise only under the low-involvement conditions.  On the other hand, the argument quality manipulation had a stronger effect under high personal-involvement conditions than under low, such that the strong arguments produced significantly more agreement than the weak only under the high involvement conditions. The results therefore demonstrate that under conditions of low-involvement heuristic processing is used whilst under conditions of high-involvement systematic processing is used.
In regards to the Lung Cancer Alliance campaign then, I would suggest that if they want to continue to require systematic processing they need to make the campaign more involving for passers-by in general. At present only those who consider themselves to fall within the stereotyped category might become involved enough to fully process the message when first viewing. One way of doing this may be to change to large font to “British Citizens Deserve to Die” (location changed according to target population).

Reference: Chaiken, S. (1980). Heuristic versus systematic information processing and the use of source versus message cues in persuasion. Journal of personality and social psychology, 39, 752-766.

Petty, R. E., Cacioppo, J. T., & Goldman, R. (1981). Personal involvement as a determinant of argument-based persuasion. Journal of personality and social psychology, 41, 847-855.

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