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, February 10, 2015

Shock Advertising. Has it Gone Too Far?

          It is well documented that shock advertising can be an effective technique in ensuring that the content of a message grabs the reader’s attention and is remembered. However, has the above campaign gone too far in trying to achieve the shock factor? The advertisement states that 12 million people were killed in the holocaust and that the equivalent number of animals are killed every 4 hours in the United States for food. The billboard also displays a picture of a naked starving man next to a goat, with the words ‘The holocaust on your plate’. It can be assumed that the director of this campaign believed that shocking viewers about the number of animals killed every day would be effective in changing the eating behaviours of Americans.  Yet, I'm sure along with many others, I find this advertisement very offensive and distasteful. Can the humane slaughtering of animals for food really be compared to the unjustified, heinous crimes committed against those in the holocaust? I find this campaign very unpersuasive for the fact that it is offensive. Offensive advertisements can lead to undesirable outcomes. 

          A more effective persuasive technique that could have been employed is altercasting. Altercasting is a tactic for persuading people by forcing them in a social role, so that they will be inclined to behave according to that role (role attribution). For example, if the campaign were to present Americans as animal lovers and caring people, they would be forced to ask themselves the question, “If I am a caring person, why am I okay with millions of animals being killed daily for us to eat?” This could prove to be a more persuasive technique than shock tactics when trying to change people’s eating behaviours. 

       Miller, Brickman & Bolen (1975) provide evidence for the effectiveness of altercasting in behaviour change. In an American study, they compared the results of attribution and persuasion as a means for modifying behaviour. The sample consisted of fifth graders who were randomly split into three groups; attribution group, persuasion group and control group. In the attribution group they were repeatedly told that they were  neat and tidy and in the persuasion group they were told that they should be neat and tidy. The control group received no instruction.  The graph below illustrates the results from the neatness post- test, 2 weeks after the beginning of  the experiment .


         The results indicate that children in the attribution group were significantly tidier than those in the other two conditions. Those in the attribution group were not only more likely to put most rubbish in the bin (85%), they were also more likely to make a conscious effort to be neat and tidy. This study, along with many others, highlights the efficiency of altercasting in implementing behavioural change. Research suggests that using this technique in the above campaign would be more successful in implementing behaviour change than the current technique that is being used.

Pratkanis, A. R. (2000). Altercasting as an influence tactic. In D. J. Terry & M. A. Hagg (Eds.), Attitudes, behaviour and social context: the role of norms and group membership (pp. 201-226). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum Ass.

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