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, March 14, 2017


Concept of Smiles for Seven by Yan Han GOH, Gladys Pea HARJANTHO and Peng Ning TAN:
Our behaviour change project is titled Smiles for Seven, and is a campaign to bring about smiles to others’ faces through a 7-day social media challenge. The key steps in the challenge are firstly, to do something to bring a smile to someone else’s face, then post a photo on Facebook/Instagram with the hashtag #smilesforseven and a caption explaining what they did to make someone smile. Last but not least, participants are requested to tag someone to join them in the challenge. This is to be done for a whole week, and hopefully reminded participants of the magic of happiness - spread by acts of kindness and love, no matter how small.
Introduction & Motivation for Project:

Why smiles?
Matthieu Ricard, an author and Buddhist monk often called "The World's Happiest Man", states that authentic happiness is a skill to be cultivated. It arises through practices like being conscious of interconnectedness with others and acts of compassion —as when you make a friend happy or help someone out without expecting anything in return—which are “conducive to one’s own and others’ well-being” (Ekman, Davidson, Ricard & Wallace, 2005). This Buddhist approach of putting in consistent effort in changing one’s emotional states and affective traits counters current psychological approaches, but it has gradually integrated into emotion research in modern psychology. This is exemplified by Seligman’s (1998) positive psychology, which calls for increased attention to and the use of positive emotions and traits.
An increasing body of empirical literature in the field of positive psychology have demonstrated that happiness in fact often precedes and predicts beneficial outcomes in life domains including mental and physical health, relationships and work performances (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005), instead of simply being an obvious result of such positive outcomes. This can be explained using Fredrickson’s (2001) broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, which proposes that the cumulative experience of positive affect induces novel ways of cognition and behaviour that encourages active pursuit of goals and development of resources for long-term success and well-being - in other words, “broaden and build”. Consequently, the large range of adaptive characteristics associated with simply feeling happy, including confidence, self-efficacy, likeability, creativity and ability to cope under stress, can explain desirable life outcomes (Fredrickson, 2001).
Thus, our project aims to incorporate both the psychological perspective of the benefits of happiness, where there is strong evidence for far-reaching effects of frequent positive emotions on individual thoughts and actions that actively help people create desirable outcomes (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005), as well as the Buddhist perspective of actively and mindfully seeking behaviours and thoughts to cultivate the skill of happiness.
Therein lies the core of our Smiles For Seven project: encouraging people to actively commit to spreading happiness to others by embarking on a personal challenge to make someone (family, friend, or stranger) smile every day for a week, and amplifying this spread of smiles - arguably the most basic form of positivity - by tapping into the rapidly growing potential of social media.
Conceptualising our challenge – Seeking active commitment
While our key objective was to have people perform acts that made others smile, no matter how many, the 7-day challenge component of our project aimed to improve participant’s personal attitudes and perceived behavioural control towards spreading positivity, so that they are more likely to actively make others smile in the future according to the Theory of Planned Behaviour (Azjen, 1991). Firstly, participants were encouraged to spread smiles daily by doing acts of kindness to others, or anything related to spreading positivity, and upload an appropriately captioned photo relevant to what they did (such as a photo of them and their friends, or something that makes them happy) to Facebook or Instagram. By actively committing to these steps, they are likely to attribute their actions to personal values consistent with their underlying attitudes and traits (Self-perception theory, Bem, 1972). Secondly, they may observe how they could positively affect both themselves and others even through simple acts like compliments and smiles, reinforcing the idea that making others smile is a relatively easy, yet rewarding, task.
Conceptualising our challenge - Capitalising on social media
Our project also aimed to amplify and maximise the benefits of our participants’ acts of positivity by exploiting the viral effect of social media, both by increasing outreach and propagating positive sentiments and moods through social media networks (Zafarani, Cole, & Liu, 2010). Thus, participants were asked to post their pictures and captions of the #smilesforseven challenge on online platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. In addition, they were asked to tag someone else to join them in the challenge for each of the seven days.
Research also found that when people are publicly accountable for their actions, an others-benefit rather than self-benefit appeal is more effective in soliciting prosocial behaviour (White & Peloza, 2009). Additionally, an others-benefit appeal to charitable behaviours was also found in millennials - our target audience - in a social media context (Paulin, Ferguson, Jost & Fallu, 2014). Hence our challenge was for participants to use social media to show how they spread their positivity, and we emphasised on the benefits of spreading positivity to others in an others-benefit appeal.
What We Did:
We launched our Facebook and Instagram page on 26 December 2016, and ran a month-long challenge campaign for the month of January 2017, trying to get people to join in on our challenge. Through this period, we made various posts on these pages that encouraged people to join our challenge.
In the build-up to the start of the challenge campaign on 1 January, we released several Humans of New York-style photo and caption posts on our Facebook and Instagram pages. These posts had our subjects answer simple questions such as “What makes you happy?”.  

Throughout the campaign period, we uploaded a new photo every two or three days onto our social media pages. These photos - originals taken by ourselves -  included an inspirational or motivational quote about happiness or kindness, and a caption urging people to join in the challenge.

We also created 2 collages, one at the end of the first week picking out 8 top posts, and one when we had reached over 250 posts.

At the end of our campaign, we had a total of 461 unique posts on Instagram (screenshot below shows 481 because that includes our own 20 posts) and at least 45 on Facebook. The actual number of posts on Facebook is most likely bigger, as the challenge was spread to people who were not our friends on Facebook, but meant that we could not see and count these posts.

We reached a total of 280 Facebook page likes and had 455 Instagram followers. This highlights the number of people who took part in our campaign, and the amount of awareness we brought to the issue at hand. There were also quite a number of people whom we approached to take part in the challenge who said they were too shy to use social media, but would do the other part of the challenge (making people smile) on their own.
For our own posts, we had 750 likes across the 20 photos with inspirational or motivational quotes we posted on our Instagram account, and about 400 likes/loves on our Facebook posts. Our Facebook posts also amassed a page reach of 16,423.
Persuasion Techniques Employed:
To encourage people to take part in our challenge that would result in the desired behaviour change, we employed several persuasion techniques.
1. Foot in the door
Before the challenge was launched on January 1, we invited friends and everyone to like our Facebook page and follow our Instagram account. This was a small request that was relatively easy to be done and only involved a simple click. We then asked people to join in our challenge, which was a more difficult task in comparison.
Studies have shown that using the foot-in-the-door technique results in more yeses and success in getting someone to agree to the request as compared to just asking (Reingen, 1978). The foot-in-the-door technique has been found to be effective in many different contexts, be it recording household waste amounts (Gueguen, Meineri, Martin & Grandjean, 2010), dating (Gueguen, Marchand, Lourel & Pascual, 2008), or prosocial behaviour (Reingen, 1978).
By asking people to fulfill a small, simple task first before presenting them with a larger request and asking them to join the actual challenge, we hoped to increase the number of people who joined our cause and spread smiles and positivity to those around them.
2. Social proofing
Social proofing works because when people see someone else do something, they assume that it is the correct action given the situation. It is a form of informational social influence that we applied in our project by having our challenge participants post online, such that people who see it feel like “everyone else is doing it”, or those who were shy to post on social media would feel that there was nothing to be shy about if everyone else was doing it too. With a large number of #smilesforseven posts on his/her social media timeline, increased exposure to the challenge would increase his/her familiarity with it, which helped to inform him/her of the popularity of the action involved (Weaver et al., 2007).
In addition to making use of social media and hashtags, we used this persuasion technique explicitly in two ways. Firstly, after posting on social media, participants were told to tag a friend to join in the challenge. The friend who was tagged would then be subject to the influence of social proofing because he/she would feel that doing the challenge was the appropriate action in the given situation, having seen his/her friend do the challenge as well.
The second way we applied social proofing is through our collages. By showing the amount of posts we had accumulated, this showed potential participants in our challenge that “Everyone else is doing it” such that they would be more willing to take part in the challenge. The implicit message behind each collage was that “Others just like you have taken part in the challenge, now so should you”. In a 2007 study by Shearman & Yoo, they found that in soliciting donations for charity - an act in the same vein of doing good, spreading positivity and giving smiles - it was found that the use of social proofing by using the line “students like you have been donating $3 to $5” resulted in an increase in compliance to donation.
3. Perceived behavioural control and self-efficacy
Across various theories of behaviour, if an individual has greater perceived behavioural control or has self-efficacy, they are more likely to perform an action, and this hence affects whether a behaviour is carried out or not. In our HONY-style posts leading up to the start of the campaign, we mentioned how easy it is to make someone else smile. We also echoed this in the later posts with the motivational quotes, reminding potential participants that it only takes a very small and simple act to make someone else smile.
In doing so, we were also attempting to adapt the technique of “legitimising paltry donations”, which is more commonly applicable to monetary situations, as this would result in more people taking part in our challenge as suggested by Shearman and Yoo (2007). The technique of legitimising paltry donations suggest that telling people that ‘even a penny helps’ will make them donate more. In our case, we suggested to participants that ‘even a little act of kindness’ could possibly go a long way and put a smile on someone’s face, encouraging them to take part in our challenge. The effect of this technique was also seen in getting people to help by giving toys to charity (Gueguen, Martin & Meineri, 2013). People soliciting toys for a children’s charity while wearing shirts with the line “even a marble will make him/her happy…” found higher compliance rates to their requests.
By constantly including information in the same vein of how the smallest of acts can make a difference, we hoped that a larger proportion of our audience would comply to our requests of joining in the #smilesforseven challenge. This allows people to believe that it is an action that they can easily accomplish, which increased their perceived behavioural control. This can also be linked to Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory (Bandura, 1989) in terms of increasing participants’ self-efficacy, which means that they have a stronger belief in their own ability to complete the task at hand.
4. Hovland’s Yale Attitude Change Approach – Maximising efficacy for our techniques
Using the Yale Attitude Change Approach (Hovland, Janis & Kelly, 1953), which suggests that there are several source, audience and environmental factors that impact how one might be susceptible to social influence, we planned our challenge to capitalise on certain factors and hence result in greater chances of behaviour change.
Looking at source factors, one main factor influencing potential participants would be that people in positions of authority and influence were also taking part in the challenge. As the participants found these people credible and trustworthy, they were then encouraged to also take part in the challenge. We approached student activity group leaders, cell group leaders and teachers, who were all in positions where they were seen as mentors or figures of authority to a large group of people, to take part in our challenge and spread the word about our cause. These people who took part in our challenge then tagged those they mentored, and a large percentage of those tagged then went on to do the challenge as well.
Audience factors included the fact that we were targeting those around our age group as the primary demographic for potential participants. In early adulthood, people are more susceptible to persuasion (Visser & Krosnick, 1998). In addition, for millennials, social media platforms are the primary means of communication for cause-related activities and are an effective way of getting involved, finding out more, and spreading the word about a charitable cause (Waters, Burnett, Lamm, & Lucas, 2009). This suggests that the medium we picked for our challenge is suitable for the age demographic we targeted.
Another audience factor we sought to capitalise on was mood. We planned for our challenge to begin on New Year’s Day, and started the build-up to it right after Christmas, as well as ran our campaign through the month of January, which also coincided with the Lunar New Year, which is widely celebrated by Chinese families in our home country, Singapore. These are periods when we assume our participants to have positive affect due to the festivities going on.
Baek, Shen and Reid (2013) suggested that external contexts are likely to influence individuals’ mood states. This could be extended to our project where during festive periods, positive messages and posts are common on social media (E.g. Top 10 Things I’m Grateful for in 2016), mainstream media and the environment. These positive external contexts cause people to be in more positive moods. By targeting our participants when they were in good moods, it increased our chances of successful persuasion in inviting them to do our challenge as research has shown that positive moods can make messages more persuasive across various contexts and frames (Yan, Dillard & Shen, 2010). And while positive emotion is a natural consequence of prosocial behaviour (Aknin, Sandstrom, Dunn & Norton, 2011), it is also a motivating force that plays a fundamental role in prosocial behaviour (Slovic, 2007). The Hedonic Contingency Theory by Wegener, Petty and Smith (1995) suggests that people in a happy mood are more likely to consider the affective consequences of their actions. Hence by choosing our campaign to coincide with periods of positive affect, we hoped that this would persuade more people to take up our challenge.
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