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, November 24, 2016

How the Homeless of Leamington Spa Control our minds

Have you ever been walking down the streets of Leamington Spa, and have a homeless person approach you asking for money? Probably. Homelessness is a serious issue in Leamington, with the council receiving over 700 requests for housing in 2014, which is quite a lot; not far off the capacity of an Airbus A380. With so many people competing for our spare change, some have turned to psychology in order to prise our pennies away from us.

              Just the other day, I was approached by a hungry looking man. “Can you spare me 80p for some food please?” he inquired, and I obliged, surrendering the coins that were floating in my pocket. This one short sentence was actually quite clever. Firstly, 80p is quite a strange number to request; it is a fairly specific amount that cannot be achieved with a single coin. According to Santos, Leve, and Pratkanis (1994), this number was no coincidence. This is a method known as the Pique technique; we are more likely to comply if our normal refusal is disrupted by a strange or unusual request, as our refusal scripts are disrupted. And in this case, it worked. Furthermore, by mentioning that he needed the money for food, he induced empathy in me, which has also been shown to increase the likelihood of one helping (Batson et al, 1981). However, this man was not alone in using these techniques. Another 10 steps down the road, and I am approached by a different man: “Can you spare me 80p for some food please?”. 


Batson, C. D., Duncan, B. D., Ackerman, P., Buckley, T., & Birch, K. (1981). Is empathic emotion a source of altruistic motivation? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40, 290-302.

Leamington Editorial. (2015, July 1). Give money to homeless charities not individuals new campaign urges. Leamington Observer. Retrieved from

Santos, M. D., Leve, C., & Pratkanis, A. R. (1994). Hey buddy, can you spare seventeen cents? Mindful persuasion and the pique technique. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 24, 755-764. 

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