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.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

From where it all began…Understanding the Power of Behaviour Change

Image result for the eternal jew 
-          Understanding the power that advertisements can have on their viewers most powerfully resonated with me when I watched the ‘Eternal Jew’ with a friend on YouTube . This was thought to be one of the
-          most well-known and influential Propaganda adverts used within Nazi Germany during World War II. Their infamous demonization of the enemy technique (Zimbardo, 2003) in representing Jews as non- human trying to corrupt German Racial Purity was perversely captivating (Rabbi & Moritz, 1988). Seeing how effective this advert was in influencing people to become so emotionally charged and enact otherwise unimaginable behaviours put a scary undertone to the power of adverts.
 Rabbie, J. M., & Horwitz, M. (1988). Categories versus groups as explanatory concepts in intergroup relations. European Journal of Social Psychology18(2), 117-123.
Zimbardo, P. G. (2004). A situationist perspective on the psychology of evil: Understanding how good people are transformed into perpetrators. The social psychology of good and evil, 21-50.

Hopefully to a better future… 
Image result for syrian 6 year old

In a time of Trump and cultural conflict seeming at an all-time high, this video had a major impact on me in 2016. As a child wrote to Obama to ask if he could adopt a Syrian refugee boy that he had seen on the news it gave hope that the new generation could be the positive change-makers for the future.


More chocolate bars, More shared moments of humanity?  
It’s no secret that John Lewis are notorious for creating simplistic heart-warming Christmas adverts that makes us rush to grab a tissue box almost every time.  However, in 2014 polls showed Sainsbury’s Christmas Advert championing John Lewis’s reigning position with an advert that re-created a historic moment from World War 1. Despite many adverts coming and going, I wanted to investigate why this advert stuck with me 4 years after its making.
The advert starts with German and British soldiers temporarily putting down their arms at Christmas to greet and exchange gifts and ends with a German solider unwrapping his gift of British chocolate. Money collected from customers buying the £1 chocolate bar featured was sent to the Royal British Legion charity.

Image result for sainsburys war advert
The success of the advert was shown by Sainsburys selling an astonishing ‘5,000 chocolate bars per hour’.                                      

What made this advert so successful?
Advertisements’ strategy to market Christmas as a time for ‘sharing’ is no new theme but how did Sainsburys achieve such an increased behaviour change in sales?
The advert’s emphasis on emotional stimulation and increasing empathy is probably the biggest teller of its success. By using employing storytelling (Pratkanis, 2007) we as an audience are immediately captivated by the causal narrative of two young men bravely stepping into ‘No Man’s Land’ to greet one another. This narrative technique is often used within charitable organisations to help create positive emotions in the consumer to help the person in need when being given the opportunity to donate (Merchant et al., 2010).
Another main influential technique used within the narrative of the advert was reciprocity (Cialidini, 2001) . In the advert we first see a young British solider going to the top and then a German Solider repaying the favour in doing the same. This rule of reciprocity is effective in building relationships with people we may not ordinarily like by using this feeling of indebtedness (Cialidini,2001). The power of this strategy is shown when two notorious enemies German and British soldiers follow suit in exchanging greetings and gifts. Furthermore, I realised that this would have also increased customers motivations to buy chocolate bars by making us feel indebted to the sacrifice of past veterans and feel obligated to pay this forward.
While watching, we remain constantly on edge between feelings of happiness at the soliders camaraderie and fear at the impending war. This effect of ‘emotional see-sawing’ is likely to have been effective in fuelling sales since change in emotional equality can often increase compliance (Dolinski & Nawrat, 2007). For example, increased emotional stimulation tends to release oxytocin (the neurochemical responsible for both empathy and narrative transportation) that research has linked to increased generosity (Barazza & Zack, 2011). Linn et al. (2013) also found that the people who were given oxytocin before watching public service advertisements donated 56% more money than the placebo group. Similarly, by getting the audience emotionally invested in the veterans’ brave sacrifice we are likely to have a greater inclination to want to donate to the cause.
Lastly, by tying their Christmas Advert to the significance of WWI starting 100 years earlier, Sainsburys effectively uses the strategy of the availability heuristics (Tverysky & Kahneman, 1973 ). In making us associate Christmas with the haunting memory of WWI, greater emotional meaning is ascribed to the advert, making it more likely to be impressed into our long-term memories. This effect of strengthening emotional associations to increase memory recall has been shown from early research. For example, Hamann et al (1999) found that amygdala encoding when watching emotional films led to enhanced memory recognition for the stimuli when assessed month later. Research also shows that invoking personal nostalgia in this way by linking Christmas with a historic British Event is likely to have enhanced people’s inclinations to donate (Ford el at., 2010)


·         Barraza, J. A., McCullough, M. E., Ahmadi, S., & Zak, P. J. (2011). Oxytocin infusion increases charitable donations regardless of monetary resources. Hormones and Behavior60(2), 148-151.

·         Cialdini, R. B. (2001). The science of persuasion. Scientific American284(2), 76-81.

·         Ford, J. B., & Merchant, A. (2010). Nostalgia drives donations: The power of charitable appeals based on emotions and intentions. Journal of Advertising Research50(4), 450-459.

·         Hamann, S. B., Ely, T. D., Grafton, S. T., & Kilts, C. D. (1999). Amygdala activity related to enhanced memory for pleasant and aversive stimuli. Nature neuroscience2(3), 289.

·         Lin, P. Y., Grewal, N. S., Morin, C., Johnson, W. D., & Zak, P. J. (2013). Oxytocin increases the influence of public service advertisements. PloS one8(2), e56934.

·         Merchant, A., Ford, J. B., & Sargeant, A. (2010). Charitable organizations' storytelling influence on donors' emotions and intentions. Journal of Business Research63(7), 754-762.

·         Nawrat, R., & Dolinski, D. (2007). " Seesaw of Emotions" and Compliance: Beyond the Fear-Then-Relief Rule. The Journal of social psychology147(5), 556-571.

·         Pratkanis, A. R. (2007). Social influence analysis: An index of tactics. The science of social influence: Advances and future progress, 17-82.

·         Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive psychology5(2), 207-232.

Divya Sharma  

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Once you’re in, there’s no getting out: How do casinos keep us gambling?

We encounter influential stimuli everyday that can often cause us to act in ways that we may not actually want to and sometimes leave us wondering, with the power of hindsight, why we ever did so. It has been shown that “a casino’s servicescape has a significant influence on the cognitive and affective satisfaction of gaming customers” (Lam, Chan, Fong, Lo, 2011). Casinos use a wide range of techniques to influence their visitors, enticing them through their doors, keeping them inside and getting them to bet (and inevitably lose) as much money as they possibly can. They manage this whilst also maintaining a healthy number of return customers who, more often than not, don’t even know the extent to which they are being manipulated.

Lights, sounds, activity…

Casinos are colourful hives of activity, lights and sounds. The stimulating environment is designed to keep one’s attention constantly engaged. The brightly coloured machines with their positive noises and lighting give hope to those betting in their quest to win and to entice them to spend more money. In some areas of the casino, softer, repetitive music may be played to create a trance-like mood for patrons, particularly in areas where card games requiring higher concentration may be being played.
When a “big win” occurs within the casino, it is broadcast to everyone and anyone that is listening, this adds to the exciting atmosphere and also may work to influence the behaviour of gamblers through the application of social validation. As individuals will see normal everyday people winning, they are given hope that they too may get lucky and win a jackpot. The announcements of “big wins” also works to carefully balance social validation, building an individual’s belief that they could win with the scarcity effect, whereby individuals find goods and services more attractive with regard to how rare they may be (i.e. jackpot wins; Cialdini, 2007).
It has also been suggested that the presence of extremely garish and ugly carpets in casinos is as a counter measure to any patron attempting to rest their eyes for a moment away from the lights, sounds and hubbub of the betting halls.

Air circulation and aromas…

Research has shown that specific pleasant smelling aromas can cause individuals to spend more time in an area, perhaps as it smells nice (Hirsch, 1995). The same research showed an increase in gambling in these areas however not at the expense of gambling levels in other areas of a casino where the aroma was not circulated – showing the smells in actually increases average expenditure by patrons. It has also been suggested that these aromas may work on a nostalgic trigger, whereby “the associated emotions were affectively congruent with, and enhanced, the gambling mood” (Hirsch, 1992).
Another little known fact is that the air circulated inside casinos is more oxygen rich than normal outside air, in an attempt by casino managers and owners to keep clients awake for longer periods of time so as to increase the amount of time one might spend gambling.

Near misses…

When experiencing a win whilst gambling, dopamine is released by the brain and a positive sensation is felt by the individual. This same feeling and dopamine release can also be experienced in the case of a near miss even though a loss has actually occurred (Oberg, Christie, & Tata, 2011). This feeling can be addictive and games that involve many near misses create more positive feelings within gamblers and casinos use them in an attempt to create increased game engagement.


The reciprocity effect is seen to be exploited by many of the tactics used by casinos, patrons (especially those spending well) are regularly provided with free drinks, food vouchers and in some extreme cases even free rooms. People who have been provided with favours and services etc are more likely to comply with requests (Cialdini, 2007), such as being asked to sit at a blackjack table or being asked to partake in a game of roulette. The casino’s “freebies” are a lot less free than we think they are.

It’s a surprise that people ever come out of casinos with the amount of psychological techniques exploited by management teams and owners. Every last detail of floor plan, interior design and gaming variables are carefully considered in an attempt to maximise the amount of money being spent by gamblers on their floors. Next time you’re about to drop a coin into a slot machine just pause for a second and consider whether you’d still be doing it if you’d just been offered simple odds on increasing your money or whether you too have been pulled under the casino’s enticing spell.


Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. New York: Collins.

Hirsch, A. R. (1992). Nostalgia: A neuropsychiatric understanding. ACR North American Advances.

Hirsch, A. R. (1995). Effects of ambient odors on slot‐machine usage in a Las Vegas casino. Psychology & Marketing, 12(7), 585-594.

Lam, L. W., Chan, K. W., Fong, D., & Lo, F. (2011). Does the look matter? The impact of casino servicescape on gaming customer satisfaction, intention to revisit, and desire to stay. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 30(3), 558-567.

Oberg, S. A., Christie, G. J., & Tata, M. S. (2011). Problem gamblers exhibit reward hypersensitivity in medial frontal cortex during gambling. Neuropsychologia, 49(13), 3768-3775. 

Tiger: How shop layout and the presentation consumables can draw us in.

Tiger have developed from a small Danish outlet store into a major European chain across more than 20 countries. They’re unique shops offer customers a fun and amusing shopping experience with a wide range of products to choose from. The shop has a circular layout by which the shopper has to walk around the entire store before reaching the check-out tills. This design means that customers have to walk past every product before they pay and exit the store. The more expensive products are often seen earlier on the shop route, followed by some of the cheaper items. This is no accident. This layout of consumables creates perceptual contrast. Seeing the expensive products first means that once the attention of the shopper moves to the cheaper items having not selected an expensive one, they seem even cheaper by comparison (Cialdini, 2007). Similarly, if a customer was the pick up a more expensive product it would seem like much less of a big deal to purchase a few cheaper products too as they are relatively so much more inexpensive. However, in reality, the cost of these items all adds up.
The presentation of products in Tiger stores is also particularly interesting as the store often capitalises upon evidence that somewhat untidy shelves and products presentation designs may lead to increased sales figures (Castro, Morales & Nowlins, 2013). People like to know that other people have been interested in the items they are interested in. This effect is explained by the concept of social proof. It isn’t by chance that products are left slightly out of place by employees when a previous customer has been playing with it.
Tiger stores engage with behavioural techniques that many other stores in the UK do not and by that factor they stand out and are different. Their widespread and speedy of success around Europe shows the power of their influential behavioural tactics.


Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. New York: Collins.

Castro, I. A., Morales, A. C., & Nowlis, S. M. (2013). The influence of disorganized shelf displays and limited product quantity on consumer purchase. Journal of Marketing, 77, 118-133.