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.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Social Consensus: You've been nominated!

If you haven’t heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge, then you probably managed to avoid all social media in 2014…but here’s a reminder just in case. With celebrities leading the trend, friends would nominate each other on social media to film and post a video of themselves being drenched by icy water for charity (notably the ALS Association or Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Association).

Besides the effectiveness of seeing celebrities partake and simply being asked to do it, much of the influence driving the Ice Bucket Challenge can be put down to social consensus. This form of social influence suggests that others will jump on the bandwagon and join in when it is apparent that everyone else is taking part. This is particularly related to the Ice Bucket Challenge, as it became more difficult to refuse or ignore a nomination in fear of social rejection as the movement gathered popularity.

Social consensus was empirically demonstrated by Reingen (1982). In one experiment, 60 male students were either asked to donate blood, or were shown a list of potential donors before being asked to donate. Results showed that only one subject (3%) of the request-only group indicated that he would contact the blood organisation to donate, whereas nine subjects (30%) in the list-then-donation request group complied. 

Reingen also conducted additional experiments to consolidate his findings, showing that the results remained in other situations, such as when donating money and across other populations (including females and non-students). As a result, it is evident that seeing other people behave in a certain way influences us to do the same.

Therefore, social consensus was one such influence which led to millions of us taking part in the Ice Bucket Challenge. Consequently, the campaign was seen as hugely successful, with related charities reporting increases in donations, such as the ALS Association seeing $100m in additional funding ("The ALS Association Expresses Sincere Gratitude", 2014).

Reingen, P. H. (1982). Test of a list procedure for inducing compliance with a request to donate money. Journal of Applied Psychology, 67, 110-118.
The ALS Association expresses sincere gratitude to over three million donors. (2014, August 29). Retrieved from

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