On May 1st 2000, ITV launched a campaign called the ‘Day of Promise’. In this 24-hour event residents of the UK were invited to state positive changes they were making to their lives. Donations could be made to immortalise these pledges in monuments all over the UK. What impact did these pledges have?
There is evidence that if we make our behavioural intentions (pledges) public we are less likely to act them out. Gollwitzer, Sheeran, Michalski and Seifert (2009) asked students about their study intentions and commitment to their subject. Their commitment was related to responses based on how important their subject was to them in terms of careers. Study intentions were recorded at the end of the experiment, when the students were asked to write down two things that they would like to do in the next week. The students then either had their intentions read through by the experimenter or were told that part of the study was added accidentally and would be disposed of. A week after the experiment the students were contacted. The students were told that their intentions were in fact important and asked to write them down again. They were also asked to write down which days of the week they had acted out their intentions. It was found that there were no differences in the initial amount of commitment between the two groups (those that had their intentions read, and those that did not) but there was a difference in the number of days they worked towards these goals.
|Results from Gollwitzer et al. (2009). Graph on the left shows ratings of personal commitment to goals and the graph on the left shows the number of days people spent working towards their goals.|
A possible cause for this effect is that one outcome of achieving our goals is the feedback we receive from others. By telling other people our goals, we feel as if we achieved them before we have even started. This reduces the reward of actually acting out our goal.
What does this mean for those making pledges to ITV? Assuming that the results from Gollwitzer (2009) generalise across time. The pledgees spent 40 fewer days a year working towards their goals than if they had written their goals down and shown no one. The campaign was a commercial failure and,unfortunately, it was also a failure for those making pledges.
Gollwitzer, P. M., Sheeran, P., Michalski, V., & Seifert, A. E. (2009). When intentions go public does social reality widen the intention-behavior gap?. Psychological science, 20, 612-618.