Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills 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, February 14, 2017

Love Is Free

“Only when the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace”
-       Jimmy Hendrix

So this is where our project starts. The quote above encompasses what we aimed to do beautifully. When we heard of what was being asked from us for this assessment we knew straight away what we wanted to do. Both Nora and I are extremely moved by this concept of ‘love’, and the ways in which whilst it is free to give, so few of us choose to give it or allow ourselves to receive (ß The inspiration for the name of our website).

In the creation of our project, we collated a list of ideas to describe what we were really wanting to achieve:

-       Inspire people to be kind and perform acts of kindness
-       Show that the only way to fight negativity in the world is through positivity
-       Why do we hate with conviction but love so so?
-       Could we show the effect of embracing positivity and honesty?
-       Could we imagine a world that functioned in this way? How can we get others to imagine this too?

The most prominent thing we found when researching this idea of love is that there simply isn’t enough of it. A quick Google search of ‘hate statistics in Europe’ lead us to this:

Funnily enough, when we googled ‘love statistics in Europe’, we found nothing.

Nora and I quickly realised the world was lacking love, and we set ourselves the challenge of changing this. With social media at the forefront of this generation, we created a website:

Using several persuasion techniques including social proof, similarity heuristics, repetition, availability heuristics and emotional narratives, we wrote a series of blog posts all of which praised this crazy idea of love.  The blog posts share stories from both Nora and I, along with friends and family who were kind enough to share their stories with us, and some other narratives we felt the need to expose to our readers.

In order to get our website ‘out there’ we also created 4 different posters which we distributed around campus. Our main poster visually presented our website name ‘Love is Free’, and the other 3 sub posters presented the opening picture from our website along with some quotes we felt encompassed our website image perfectly:

Main Poster = 

Sub Poster 1 = 

Sub Poster 2 = 

Sub Poster 3 = 

These posters were created in the hope that they would be recognised all over campus, the repetition and the way in which they all followed the same salient formats would subsequently lead people to stumble across our website and give it a read.

I suppose the main goal of our project is presented in our website introduction – to inspire others. By creating a platform whereby readers could unlock their own potential to spread kindness throughout the world we aimed to fight hate with love.

Megan Bowers and Nora Popova.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Choose to Reuse

The aim of our project was to reduce the waste of coffee cups on campus. Only 1/1000 takeaway coffee cups get recycled due to a difficult recycling process. With over 8,000,000 of these cups used every day in the UK alone; this has lead to an enormous amount of unnecessary waste.

To start our project, we emailed Warwick retail to see how many coffee cups are actually used on campus. They responded that 4500 cups are used each week in university run cafes.
After receiving this information we asked over 200 students in the library the following questions:

1. Is the environment important to you?
2. Are disposable coffee cups recycled? We then explained only 1/1000 coffee cups are actually recycled
3. Would you consider bringing your own travel mug if you were charged for a takeaway cup? We then informed them that in university run cafes they are in fact charged 10p for the use of a takeaway cup.

Here are the results:

After collecting this data we decided to make an Instagram account to inform people about the lack of recycling on campus and encourage them to use travel mugs.

We created and posted infographics as a visual aid to display some of the consequences of coffee cup waste. We used natural frequencies to persuade people to reduce waste and use a travel mug.
In addition, we encouraged people to post selfies with travel mugs on their personal instagram accounts and we also shared the ones we were aware of on our instagram page. Our captions either generally encouraged people to #choosetoreuse, framed the 10p price difference for using a travel mug in campus cafes as a charge or emphasised that other people were making the decision to use a travel mug (social proof).
The instagram page was shared on other social media sites and was also circulated within societies of the university to try to reach a wider audience.

We got in touch with Emily Grieve, the president of Her Campus society at Warwick. Her Campus is the #1 global community for college women, written entirely by the nation'a top college journalists from 300+ Universities around the world. We were interviewed about our project and an article was posted on the Her Campus website. Here is the link to the article:

Overall, our Instagram page gained over 300 followers and posts were seen by more than 500 people on other media sites. In addition, at least 30 students posted photos of themselves using travel mugs to their social media pages. Therefore, we believe that our message to reduce coffee cup waste on campus reached 1000 individuals. Furthermore, we have spoken to students who said they've changed their behaviour and bought a travel mug since the campaign!

Victoria Hill, Victoria Gilbert, Holly Brazier, and Peter Carr

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Literary Persuasion--The Hunger Games

If you're reading this, then chances are you like to read. And you almost certainly like stories.
From an evolutionary viewpoint, the reason for loving stories is clear; prehistoric man could listen to his friend talking about a close encounter with a wolf in a cave and then he could use that knowledge to stay alive on his search for food. Stories were sugar coated pills of important information. They were also a way of creating beauty to bond with other humans and increase one's survival (1). Even today, it's a well-known fact that we tend to enjoy things that lengthen our lifespans--mother nature is funny that way.

Granted, the 'don't eat those red berries, because...' story is extremely different from the modern fictional sagas, but we're captivated by them just the same.
However, this still doesn't explain our love of books in particular. These days, most books have been turned into films, which require little effort or time to watch. Reading a 700-page book is an entirely different form of crazy. It requires days, and sometimes weeks, of dedicated page flipping. Why do we do this?

One simple answer could be 'the book is better than the film'. But why would we say this? What powerful force would make us struggle through not just one book, but a whole series because it's 'better' than anything on the screen?

I believe the answer is 'persuasion'. The writer is trying, and often succeeding, to convince you that those 100,000 words are worth your time. Essentially, a book is a never-ending stream of propaganda that tells you to read more propaganda.

From a writer's point of view, this is a difficult task. There are so many bits and pieces that make or break a story. The characters. The descriptions. The action or the lack thereof. The plot. It all matters because, at any point, the reader could decide the story is not worth the effort.

From the reader's point of view, it's kind of cool when you start looking for all the hidden persuasion tactics.

For example, consider The Hunger Games trilogy. I will attempt to make sense of it without spoiling the plot for those of you who haven't read it. The high caliber of the story is definitely worth experiencing for yourself.

The popularity of the The Hunger Games trilogy is impressive; in 2012, Amazon stated that sales had surpassed the record held by the Harry Potter series (2). It's fair to say that the author, Suzanne Collins, knew what she was doing. Here are several of the tricks slipped into the combined 1344 pages (A few of these tricks were apparent in the films, but, in my opinion, they weren't nearly as clear).

A gripping first paragraph: In fifty-two words we discover three characters: 'I', 'Prim', and their mother. We also learn that they must not be rich, because their mattress is 'rough canvas', and something called 'the reaping' is scary, brings bad dreams, and is today. Any sympathetic reader is already worried, and has three big questions; who is 'I', should we care about them, and what happens during the 'reaping' that warrants fear?

Throughout the three books, Suzanne Collins is careful with her words. She always gives just enough, but not too much. This has the added bonus that when Katniss, the protagonist, repeats something we immediately know it's important.

Katniss: Our main character is arguably perfect for the story. She's not your average teenager; this is not an average teenage story. Katniss cares most of all about her family, and we learn this for certain on about page 11, but we can tell she cares even from page one when she checks on her sister. Throughout the books, Katniss continually reminds us of her loyalty to her family: it's the thought of her sister that keeps her going when she's stuck in the arena ready to give up. Katniss also likes to keep her mind organized. Several times through the story she first recaps on the events that just happened, what she needs to do next, and then makes a plan. Not only does this methodical thinking flesh out Katniss's character--she's a survivor to her core--but it also assists us in remembering important details during the fast-paced novel. We also know what to expect next, so when the hoped-for event doesn't happen, we will, helpfully, start to panic even when Katniss can't because she is too busy trying not to die.

Surprise: A key factor in our, and most other animals', survival is our ability to predict future events: It's the "last time I ate expired mayonnaise, my insides tried to come out--let's not do that again." thought process (3). Stories allow us to test our future judging skills, and we feel happy when we guess the plot correctly. However, the excitement always tends to rise when something unexpected happens. There were several times when Peeta, Katniss's fellow tribute, said things that had such a profound effect (in both my and Katniss's minds) that I struggled to keep from running around and yelling "what!?" If you've read the books, you'll know what I'm talking about. Almost nothing in the world of the Hunger Games is predictable. We have to continually keep reworking our ideas for how the story will go. I think these surprises also contribute to a more subtle meaning--they indicate the vast intelligence of the other characters. This is important: clever villains are difficult to beat. And characters playing mind games is a big factor in most dystopian fiction (it's also fascinating!).

Viewpoint: This is an important factor in the success of the books. In my opinion, it's the biggest reason why the films fall short--why most films can't seem to capture our hearts like the books do. This distance seems to get worse the closer the screenplay tries to stick to the book, or when the book is written in first person*. The Hunger Games is first person--Katniss tells it: I grin and move in the direction of the bird. First person is limiting for the writer because the reader can only know things that the protagonist knows. Other people's thoughts and plans are all inaccessible. When these things are important in a novel, it's usually told in third person (he/she yelled and started to run) and sometimes with a narrator. However, first-person's claim to fame is the intimacy between us and the main character; for all purposes, we are Katniss. Not only do we know everything she thinks and feels, but we and her are joined in the word 'I'. In the books, this means that Katniss dictates our thoughts. She's worried, we're worried. She doesn't trust the creepy guy with the trident, we hope she'll steer clear of him in the future. This narrow, but detailed, viewpoint works well for the Hunger Games story where most of the tension level is caused by what we don't know.

Moral Values: There is darkness in the Hunger Games trilogy. The heart of every dystopian novel is the corrupted ethical values of its society. Arguably, Panem, is one of the most twisted: children are forced to kill each other for reality television, and people see it as entertainment. Most of the dislike that I've encountered for the Hunger Games is because this sort of violence is horrible to even think about, let alone to write a novel and then produce a film. The youngest kids in the games are twelve, the oldest are practically adults. And to top that, if things get 'boring', the game masters cheat by sending fire and setting traps to accelerate death. The question arises, "if there are people in these books who think this kind of violence is okay, how do we keep this generation from accidentally getting the wrong message?" This is another of the places that I feel the film falls short. We're only watching Katniss feel the pain caused by her society, not actually being her. I will not pretend to understand Katniss's motivation to make the decision she chooses at the end of the third book, but I will say that the horror is not romanticized. It does, however, serve a purpose: the topic is so unthinkable that it immediately incites a moral response from the reader. Suzanne Collins doesn't have to show us that it's bad in the very beginning, as soon as it's explained, we know. And we also know that the stakes will be high.

Overall, The Hunger Games Trilogy has a plethora of persuasive content that glues us to its pages and there is still plenty more that I haven't mentioned. There are also these same persuasive tactics in other books--authors like to recycle good ideas: J.K. Rowling loved sticking surprise plot twists in Harry Potter; 1984 takes corrupt ethical values to a whole new creepy level; and The Grapes of Wrath gives you strong characters to care about, whose thoughts clarify their world. The persuasion is everywhere, but we shouldn't fear it.

We crave stories for our survival, so we pick up a book. We finish it because we're convinced the words will give us that oh-so-pleasant dopamine rush--the complex kind that you can savor and just can't find anywhere else. And luckily for us, in most cases, books give us exactly that.

Now go read something.

*I've seen several cleverly done films where an entire character is invented just for the purpose of dialogue between him/her and the protagonist. This way, we know what our hero is thinking without them having to talk to themselves. The exceedingly brilliant claymation, Coraline, is one of these films.

If you're interested in reading more, check out my blog:

(1) J. Tooby and L. Cosmides (2001). Does Beauty Build Adapted Minds? Toward an Evolutionary Theory of Aesthetics, Fiction and the Arts, SubStance 30, no. 1 (2001): 6-27.
(2) J. Bosman (August 17, 2012). Amazon Crowns 'Hunger Games' as Its Top Seller, Surpassing Harry Potter Series. The New York Times.
(3) M. Gazzaniga (2008). Human: The Science Behind What Makes Your Brain Unique (New York: Harper Perennial).

Friday, January 13, 2017

Sunday, January 8, 2017

It's a short term economic game, that benefits few at the expense of the many. 
Set goals and objectives in order to score. But always stay spontaneous, "when nothing's for sure, anything can happen".


Can fear be used to persuade? Can you be convinced and can your behaviour change because you are afraid of the consequences of a specific behaviour? This theory is called the “fear appeal” theory.

A fear appeal is a way of exposing the risks of using or not using a specific product, service or idea. It relies on a threat to the well-being of an individual that motivates him or her to take action and modify their behaviour.

Road safety campaigns certainly use fear appeals a lot, explicitly seeking to shock and frighten the audience to create a feeling of exposure to risk and threat to the individual's well being. This is a strong way of getting the viewer’s attention and create a strong and long lasting memory of the promoted message.
This particular video is part of a french road safety campaign focused on the necessity of the seatbelt for both front and backseat passengers.

In order for fear to be efficient in persuasion, it has to be relatable. In this video, the audience can relate immediately to this common scene of four friends in a car. A woman talks to the audience as a way of capturing the viewer’s full attention, “Something was forgotten in this car”. And right before the crash and the backseat passenger dies, the same voice says “Did you find what is missing? The seatbelt”.
The aim here is to show to the viewer the possible consequences of not wearing a seatbelt, not wearing a seatbelt can be fatal.

The use of fear and shock in such campaigns is based on the finding that when people feel fearful, they are motivated to reduce fear, threat or danger; most likely by complying with the suggested behaviour; in this case, fastening the seatbelt. (Keller, 1999) The literature also states that the more frightened a person is by a fear appeal, the more likely they will take positive preventing actions. As nothing is more frightening than death for most people, the risk of death should be very efficient in modifying people’s behaviour. (Hovland, et al., 1953)

Two cognitive processes underlie the way people respond to a threat: threat appraisal and coping appraisal (Lazarus, 1991) This is why, in order for a fear appeal to be effective in changing people’s behaviour, it should contain both the threat itself and coping efficacy information. (Rogers, 1975; 1983) That way, the level of fear felt by the individual is manageable as he is also given information about adaptive behavioural responses. If the individual feels powerless to change the behaviour, the fear appeal will not be efficient.

This may be one of the reasons why the signs, prevention messages and shocking images on cigarette packs remain quite inefficient in changing people’s behaviour. It may state that smoking kills, but since it does not indicate any specific methods to quit smoking, the fear appeal that is intended to modify people’s behaviour is not as efficient as if an adaptive behavioural response was mentioned alongside the threatening message on the pack. 


Williams, K. C. (2012). Fear Appeal Theory. Research in Business and Economics Journal, p. 63-82

Keller, P. A. (1999). Converting the Unconverted: The Effect of Inclination and Opportunity to
Discount Health-Related Fear Appeals. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84(3), 403-415.

Rogers, R. W. (1975). A Protection Motivation Theory of Fear Appeals and Attitude Change. Journal of Psychology, 91(1), 93-114.

Rogers, R. W. (1983). Cognitive and Physiological Processes in Fear Appeals and Attitude Change: A Revised Theory of Protection Motivation. Social Psychophysiology, J. Cacciopo and R. Petty, eds., New York: Guilford Press.

Lazarus, R. S. (1991). Emotion and Adaptation, New York: Oxford University Press.

Hovland, C. I., Janis, I. L. and Kelley, H. H. (1953). Communication and Persuasion:
Psychological Studies of Obvious Change. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.