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.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Just Ask

At the Psychology & Philosophy Ball, on our table we were provided with a bottle of red wine that no one wanted to drink, so Saya (pictured  above with the white bottle of wine) and I went to the bar and asked if we could swap it for a bottle of white wine instead and they complied. This is an example of the Just Ask principle, by asking for what we wanted we got it.

Milgram and Sabini (1978) carried out a field experiment on the New York City Subway, where they got their students to ask people sitting down on the subway for their seat. All of the participants were reluctant to take part in this study as they felt it went against social norms, some physically couldn't ask. Milgram, too, found it very difficult. There were a total of three conditions in this study and 20 trials per condition. The first condition involved just asking a rider if they could have their seat, participants predicted this condition would be the least successful out of all three. However, surprisingly they found that 68% of riders when asked directly gave up their seat. In contrast, the remaining conditions, where in one, the participant carried a book and asked if they could have the seat as they couldn't read while, and in the other the participant brought a friend and asked them "if it would be all right if I asked someone for a seat?" before approaching a rider, less successful. This is shown in the table below. 

Riders who gave up their seat (%)
Riders who remained seated
Just Asked
With Book
Asked Confederate First

This study and example provided show that just asking can be a great persuasive technique. Although the most simple persuasive method it can often be the most effective. 


Milgram, S., & Sabini, J. (1978). On maintaining urban norms: A field experiment in the subway. Advances in environmental psychology1, 31-40.

Kiranjeet Kaur 

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