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.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Why I’m a Crazy Questioner

I’ve always asked lots of questions, ever since I was little. I’m not scared of being judged. I guess there are a lot of different explanations for this, but the main one is that my parents, particularly my dad, encouraged me to be this way. I always learn more and gain things by questioning. So, why would I not? So many people these days are scared to do it, perhaps because of fear of being rejected by those they ask. Below I shall discuss some theories explaining what made me this way, as well as some research into why it might be beneficial for you to ask questions too.


Firstly, Skinner’s Behaviourism can explain why I started questioning things in the first place. Skinner’s theory is that people learn through rewards and punishments, which ultimately change their behaviour (Gross, 2001). Rewards encourage a particular behaviour, whereas punishments deter that behaviour. These come in both positive (where something is added) and negative (where something is taken away) forms, see table 1 below.

Table 1. Reward and Punishment types

Positive Reward
Something nice is given for a behaviour.
Child asks nicely, so parent buys them sweets.
Negative Reward
Something not nice is taken away when behaviour is present.
Toddler has been good and held parents hand, so they get their reigns taken off.
Positive Punishment
Something not nice is given for the behaviour.
Screaming child gets a smacked bottom.
Negative Punishment
Something nice is taken away because of the behaviour.
Teenager gets their phone taken away for answering back.

I was positively rewarded for asking questions as a kid by gaining my parents attention and being praised for being clever, whereas I was negatively punished for my confused silence by not getting good grades. My negative reward for asking things was that it took away my feeling of confusion and inferiority.  As you can see, it is likely that this shaped my behaviour to the way it is today.

Secondly, Ajzen and Fishbein’s (1980) Theory of Reasoned Action could explain my questioning behaviour in terms of attitude, subjective norms and intention. According to this theory, my attitude as well as the subjective norms around me influence my own intention, which in turn affects my behaviour (see figure 1.). If the people around me (such as my parents) are not afraid to question things, then I will view this as a normal way to act (subjective norm). Also if I have a positive attitude towards asking questions (which I have arguably gained from the rewards and punishments discussed above), then this in combination with the social norm of questioning will make my intention to ask lots of questions. In this way, I will behave in a questioning manner.

Figure 1. Theory of Reasoned Action

Another explanation for my questions comes from Bandura. Not only did Bandura come up with the Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1977), (which explains that I might have learnt to ask questions by my parents modelling it - they do it first and then I copy them), but also the theory of Self-Efficacy (Bandura, 1997). This theory claims that if a person has a strong belief in their own ability to achieve their goals, they are more likely to act a certain way than if they have low self-efficacy and feel unable to achieve much alone. By asking questions I increased self-efficacy because I gained more knowledge and understanding. This self-efficacy boost in turn made me feel more confident and able to ask more questions. As you can see, this quickly spiralled into asking the tonnes of questions I ask today.


Research suggests that asking questions is actually the best way to achieve things. Just asking for things often results in receiving much more than you would expect (Flynn & Lake, 2008). In fact people underestimate by up to 50%  that people will help them when asked.

Excitingly, Clark and Harfield (1989) found that if you ask a random guy to take you out, there's a 50% chance they'll say yes and this chance increases if you ask them to your place. In fact 75% of men asked said yes to going to bed with a female stranger! Unfortunately if your of the male species, your chances decrease if you ask a female stranger to your place or your bed, but at least there's still a 50:50 chance of them saying yes to a date (and who knows where it could go from there!).

Other research has shown that it's not just asking that increases your chances of getting something, but it's also about how you ask. People are more likely to comply with your request if it's something unusual you have asked for. For example, Santos, Leve and Pratkanis (1994) found that if you asked strangers “Can you spare 17¢ (or 37¢)?” rather than a more typical amount, you would make a lot more money as people would be more willing to give you the change.

So... have I convinced you??

Will you pluck up your courage and ask more questions?  With the chance of gaining knowledge, money and maybe even sex, why would you not? Apart from the mild embarrassment of trying something new, what have you got to loose? Try it.

Sara Jane Sutty


Ajzen, I., & Fishbein, M. (1980). Understanding attitudes and predicting social behavior. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. New York: General Learning Press.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control (2nd ed.). New York, NY: W.H.Freeman & Co.
Clark, R. D., & Hatfield, E. (1989). Gender differences in receptivity to sexual offers. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, 2, 39-55.
Flynn, F. J., & Lake, V. K. B. (2008). If you need help, just ask: Underestimating compliance with direct requests for help. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 128-143.
Gross, R. D. (2001). Psychology: The science of mind and behaviour (4th ed.). London: Hodder & Stoughton.
Santos, M. D., Leve, C., & Pratkanis, A. R. (1994). Hey buddy, can you spare 17 cents? Mindful persuasion and the pique technique. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 24, 755-764.


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