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 3, 2016

IMPERIO! - Controlling someones mind or just encouraging a public commitment?

Emma Watson - best known for her starring role as Hermione Granger. How can an actress of a bestselling fantasy novel persuade an audience that her campaign is worth their time and worth their commitment?

An invitation to unite, making someone feel as if they are part of a group, making everyone feel as if they are able to participate. People tend to favour those in their own group and are as a result more likely to agree with and contribute to actions of the group they perceive themselves to be in (Ferguson & Kelley, 1964). What a better way to gain someone’s confidence and commitment than to make them feel as if they are part of your group and share your opinions and traits? The Harry Potter star does exactly that. Not only does she show humour and normality to seem likeable, she uses inclusive language resulting in in-group feelings; one technique for her success.

This phenomenon was shown by Ferguson and Kelley (1964) through a group product building task. Ferguson and Kelley (1964) found that one’s own group product was favoured over the other groups product. This was shown besides the groups being very weak with little to no history of previous interaction with each other. This is reflected in the group that Watson is trying to establish through her inclusive language. Although previous history may not be present between her and her audience and between the audience members themselves, using inclusive language and causing such an emotional identification with a group has the potential to influence, with favouring for the in-group (Ferguson & Kelley, 1964).

In her later speech for the He for She campaign 10x10x10, Watson’s previous use of inclusive language and grouping allowed her to incorporate another influential strategy - asking for people to make a public commitment. Emma encourages her audience to commit to her campaign publicly by stating “Decide what your commitment is, make it public and please report back to us on your progress”.

It has been shown that making a public commitment will more likely result in people wanting to be consistent and following through with their commitment. Making a public commitment makes the idea more salient and thus makes a person feel more compelled to commit.

One particularly good technique using public commitment to influence someone to carry out a socially desirable behaviour is to ask them to predict if they will perform this behaviour increasing the probability that they will perform this action (Sherman, Skov, Hervitz & Stock, 1981). This phenomenon, has been replicated in a study more relevant to this topic, conducted by Greenwalk, Carnot, Beach and Young (1987) who provided evidence that voting behaviour increased when participants were asked ahead of time if they expected to vote. Being asked to publicly commit, even if only to one person, resulted in most participants showing consistency, with 86.7% going on to vote (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Percentage differences between those who made a prediction of their behaviour and those who did not in both experiments.

Greenwald et al.’s (1987) study consisted of two experiments on vote registration and on voting itself. In both experiments participants were either assigned to a prediction or a no prediction group. During their phone conversation those in the prediction group were asked to predict whether they would be registering to vote/voting in the upcoming election. Although in the predicted direction, the results for experiment 1 indicated that there was only around a 10% increase in the probability of registering. This result is accounted for by the idea that those in experiment 1 were limited to the minority of students who had not registered to vote. They also suggested that registering to vote may have been less socially desirable and that knowledge of how to perform the action was limited. However, a significantly bigger increase of 25% was seen in the probability of voting through predicted actions. This shows the potential of increased commitment through simply asking someone to state beforehand whether they would be completing the action or behaviour, especially when applied on a larger scale.

So the next time you want someone to make a commitment take a leaf out of Emma’s book, get them involved and make it a public event!


Ferguson, C. K., & Kelley, H. H. (1964). Significant factors in overevaluation of own-group’s product. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 69, 223-228.

Greenwald, A. G., Carnot, C. G., Beach, R., & Young, B. (1987). Increasing voting behaviour by asking people if they expect to vote. Journal of Applied Psychology, 72, 315-318.

Sherman, S. J., Skov, R. B., Hervitz, E. F., & Stock, C. B. (1981). The effects of explaining hypothetical future events: From possibility to actuality and beyond. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 17, 142-158.

1 comment:

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.