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, December 11, 2016

Do Boys Cry?

Aside from being a hit song by The Cure released in the late 70’s, ‘boys don’t cry’ seems to be a popular societal saying - often said from parent to child. It appears to intentionally reinforce males to adopt the popular ‘hegemonic masculinity’ gender role, with a low emotionality being an integral part of that (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005).  This saying, and others like it seem to have manifested themselves as a tragically problematic issue which now needs addressing. Whilst more women than men are diagnosed with depression, as mentioned in the video last year 76% of all suicides were males in the United Kingdom (Piccinelli & Wilkinson, 2000). This is supported by research which suggests that ‘many more men have depression than are currently seen in healthcare services’. The video makes an attempt at tackling this with its #boysdocry campaign – but what techniques are employed (Branney & White, 2008)?

Aspects of the video seem to fit neatly in to Ajzen’s (1991) model of behaviour, called the ‘Theory of Planned Behaviour’ (see diagram above). It suggests that behaviour can be predicted by attitudes, subjective norms and ones perceived behavioural control. So in terms of males and emotionality, a given male may believe that: it is not okay to cry, it is not normal/ socially acceptable for a male to cry and also believe he would be unable to. Moreover, if these three antecedents of behaviour can be manipulated then it should follow that behaviour can be changed. Below we can see how the video does this:

1.     So firstly, the video tries to change the attitude of the the observer e.g. crying is a behaviour that should be engaged in. It does this briefly with the use of the statistic of male suicides – this implies the dangers of suppressing emotionality and provides a motivation for the observer to change their attitude toward it.

2.     Secondly, it tries to change the perceived subjective norm that boys do not cry. This seems to be the most emphasised antecedent to behaviour that the video looks to address. It does this by presenting a number of different men from varying ethnicities, ages and social backgrounds to say when the last time they cried was. As the individuals and scenarios are so varied, it implies it is a socially normative behaviour for males to be engaging in.

3.     Thirdly, perceived behavioural control. This appears to be where the video could be improved upon. Behavioural control is an addition to the model from Ajzen’s (1985) original ‘theory of reasoned action’ and is heavily influenced by Bandura’s (1986) ‘Social Cognitive Theory’. It is highly similar to the concept of self-efficacy, and refers to how capable an individual feels they are to carry out a particular behaviour (Bandura, 1977).

As within Social Cognitive Theory, it can be affected by ‘modelling’ in which an individual’s perceived behaviour control can be improved by watching others perform the behaviour successfully. This is demonstrated in Bandura and colleagues (1963) classic Bobo doll experiment, in which children were much more likely to be aggressive towards the doll, had they just seen an adult do so.

Thus, in this video they could have shown males actually becoming emotional, rather than just talking about it. Otherwise, they may not believe that the behaviour will have the beneficial outcome that the video is claiming, or that they would actually be able to perform the behaviour. This is done particularly well in a similar campaign video ‘#manup’, which actively shows the positive consequences that the action of crying can have (see the stills below).

Finally, the video could also be said to be making use of the ‘availability heuristic’ (Tversky & Kahneman, 1973). Heuristics can be thought of as problem-solving techniques we use, though they very quick and do not make use of logic to form an answer. Availability refers to our tendency to think of the answer that comes to mind most easily as correct or true. For example, Schwarz and colleagues (1991) asked individuals to recall 6 or 12 instances of themselves being assertive, and then rate how assertive they considered themselves to be. Participants who were only required to recall 6 instances rated themselves as more assertive; because it was easier to recall 6 examples, individuals considered it to be more true. In terms of the #boysdocry video, as they have so many males recalling when the last they cried, it would make it much easier for an individual watching to then recall at a later point when considering the question ‘do men cry?’. Thus, if it is easier to retrieve, it is more likely to be considered a correct or acceptable form of behaviour.


Ajzen, I. (1985). From intentions to actions: A theory of planned behavior. In Action control (pp. 11-
39). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational behavior and human decision
processes, 50(2), 179-211.

Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological
review, 84(2), 191.
Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Prentice-
Hall, Inc.

Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S. A. (1963). Imitation of film-mediated aggressive models. The
Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 66(1), 3.

Branney, P., & White, A. (2008). Big boys don’t cry: depression and men. Advances in Psychiatric
Treatment, 14(4), 256-262.

Connell, R. W., & Messerschmidt, J. W. (2005). Hegemonic masculinity rethinking the
concept. Gender & society19(6), 829-859.

Piccinelli, M., & Wilkinson, G. (2000). Gender differences in depression. The British Journal of
Psychiatry177(6), 486-492.

Schwarz, N., Bless, H., Strack, F., Klumpp, G., Rittenauer-Schatka, H., & Simons, A. (1991). Ease of
retrieval as information: Another look at the availability heuristic. Journal of Personality and Social psychology, 61(2), 195.

Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and
probability. Cognitive psychology, 5(2), 207-232

Original #boysdocry article
Man-up campaign video

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