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, November 29, 2016

Asking really does get you places!

Just Ask!

Im sure many of you are aware of the nightmare traffic getting into Glastonbury festival each year. Even those who don't attend the festival are bombarded with traffic updates on the radio and news reports describing the sheer backlog of traffic. Well I was one of those Glastonbury goers this year, caught up somewhere in the thousands of people waiting in the 9 hour queues to get in.
However, this is a tale of how I avoided most of the traffic in and out of the festival.
By asking. 

The morning that we were meant to leave for the festival, we were warned by practically every form of social media and news report not to leave, and possibly delaying going until Thursday.  Glastonbury live traffic updates told any festival goer that if they hadn't left yet, not to as they would be expected to be stuck for up to 9 hours.  Ignoring all warnings, we set off, and sooner or later 45 minutes into our journey, we hit the queue. 

We also had one tiny problem. we hadn't previously purchased a car parking space online, and we soon realised that there were limited ones on the gate, therefore, we needed to get there ASAP, there was no way we could be turned away, not after all that excitement and queueing! 
Tweets by festival goers describing the traffic problems!

Frustration rising in people waiting

After tediously crawling through the trail of traffic (4 hours later, still going strong) we made it to a roundabout which was grid locked. We walked up and down the road, stopping for the toilet, grabbing snacks, and still would return to the same space we had been in 30 minutes ago. 
Since we had nowhere to go, other than wait to join the string of traffic we turned to the policeman guiding the traffic and simply smiled sweetly, and asked ‘Excuse me sir, but is there ANY other way into another Glastonbury car park or a way we can get a spare ticket before they run out?’...

We all expected him to say, 'sorry girls, just follow the traffic just like everyone else'. But no. To our astonishment he responded with, ‘Well girls, Im not meant to tell you this, and could get in a lot of trouble, but if you go across this round about, where absolutely no cars are going and follow the road around to the left (some other vague instructions) then there is an empty car park no one has opened yet. If you go that way you will find it and will be let in. You didn't hear that from me!'

We couldn’t believe what we had just heard him. What happens if he was wrong or worse we were sent back and had lost our space in the queue? Too late, we had raced off, we had to take the gamble.

A short while later, we found the empty car park and drove straight in and bought a car parking ticket. We were unbelievably chuffed. Admittedly it then did take us around 4 more hours to wade through the thick mud to find a place to pitch our tent, but that’s not the point.

As if to think our luck had ended. Oh no oh no… So the festival organisers recommended leaving the festival between 3am-6am (only 6 hours wait) opposed to leaving after 7am the next day which they estimated would take 9 hours in a car to get out of the traffic. We decided to leave around 3 am, and considering we would be stuck for 6 hours, we prepared ourselves for this, fetched snacks (sobered up in plenty of time) and finally found the car in our miracle space (in the pitch black). 
Whilst walking past the rows and rows of parked cars queuing to get out, we overheard one man say he'd been queuing for 5 hours already and had moved only a few metres! This was going to be a very long night!

Nevertheless, after being helped out by the traffic coordinates, to get the little car out of the mud pile, we simply tried our luck again and asked, ‘is there another way to get out  that you know of, even if you shouldn't tell us?’ again fluttering our little lashes and smiling sweetly.

To our luck he replied, ‘girls, I shouldn’t tell you this, but at the other side of this carpark there is a gate that leads to the main road, it'll be shut but you can open it and go through, it'll lead you straight out and avoid all this traffic.'

We got back to Bristol in 45 minutes. I woke up at 1pm the next day to hear people were still stuck in traffic...

This demonstrates the power of asking. Ask and you will get.

The power of asking had been demonstrated within studies in psychology. 
Clark and Hatfield's 1989 study tested this phenomena, by having male and female subjects asking the opposite sex questions such as 'would you go on a date with me?', 'would you come round to my apartment?', and finally 'would you go to bed with me?'.  The results really do demonstrate the success in asking. 

A table of results from the original study, illustrating the success
 In this study, and a replication of the original study, when female subjects asked men these questions, the statistics are high. Most men agreed to going to bed and going to their apartment. Results are consistent across studies. There was a small gender difference in that when men asked women the same questions, they are likely not to respond in the same way. 
A replication of the original study, with similar results

It is fair to assume, most people in that queue were following the majority. This is an example of informative social influence/social proof, everyone in their cars were looking to others for what to do, and consequently one long trail of cars preceded. However, we resisted the conformity and took the plunge by asking for a quicker route, that would guarantee us a parking space. We had nothing to loose just by asking. The general consensus amongst a lot of people, is that they are too afraid to ask, because of damage to their self-image, or not wanting to impose. Studies indicate the overestimation of the embarrassing nature of asking. It isn't as bad as it sounds. The benefits outweigh the costs!


  • Cialdini, R. B. (1987). Influence (Vol. 3). A. Michel.
  • Clark, R. D., & Hatfield, E. (1989). Gender differences in receptivity to sexual offers. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality2(1), 39-55.

  • Glastonbury festival-goers caught up in traffic chaos. (2016, July 22). Retrieved November 29, 2016, from 

  • Hald, G. M., & Høgh-Olesen, H. (2010). Receptivity to sexual invitations from strangers of the opposite gender. Evolution and Human Behavior31(6), 453-458.

  • Wittwer, J., Nückles, M., & Renkl, A. (2008). Is underestimation less detrimental than overestimation? The impact of experts’ beliefs about a layperson’s knowledge on learning and question asking. Instructional Science36(1), 27-52.

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