Tools for Changing the World

Social psychology for social good

All talk, some action

September 16th, 2011

I’m sorry this post is late but my cat ate my printout (classic but overtaken by technology) I was sandblasting my oven (no, everyone knows I don’t cook) it’s National Apathy Day (too easy to check) I fell off a merry-go-round and my head’s still spinning (gosh, what a knee-slapper. No) I was recruited for Torchwood Canada (suuuuuure) I had to reset the sundial for Daylight Savings Time (damn, did that last week) I was plotting to take over the world (like I couldn’t do that in my spare time) I didn’t want to burden my readers in case they had fallen behind (the cynics will never buy it) I’ve been busy (lame. True, but lame).

Our house, is a very, very fine house....But if you made it through that paragraph, I do have an interesting new study for you.

I’ve written before about the effects of peer pressure – we’re all more comfortable doing what the people around us are doing. Carol Werner and Christina Stanley are interested in reducing the use of toxic* home and yard care products and they observed that these products are often used for social status purposes: to create a home and yard that will be admired (won’t be criticized) by others.

Group discussions sometimes persuade people more effectively than individual talks do, especially when they focus on group attitudes. Werner and Stanley theorized that having people get together with friends, neighbours or colleagues to discuss the issue of toxic products would be more likely to change their attitudes and behaviours than talking to individuals about the issue one-on-one.

They tested this by doing presentations to a variety of organizations that held regular meetings with invited guest speakers – community centres, student groups, church groups, social and service clubs, any organization made up of people who knew each other. The presentations included information handouts and group discussions guided by the presenter, who encouraged participants to talk about their positive experiences with non-toxic alternatives to the products being discussed.

A few months after each presentation, the researchers sent a questionnaire to someone who had attended the presentation, along with a second questionnaire to give a friend who had missed the meeting. Then they compared the attitudes and behaviours of those who had attended and those who had missed the presentations.

Discussion Group HAs expected, the attendees had more favourable attitudes about using non-toxic alternatives in their houses and yards. They were also more likely to believe that their peers agreed with the messages being endorsed, which supports the idea that group discussions work because participants learn that their peers agree with them about new behaviours.

This isn’t something that applies to every message you want to change the world with, but it’s a useful technique to keep in mind. Focus on bringing out positive experiences and opinions of what you’re promoting, provide lots of information about how to make change happen, and ask group members to respond to challenges brought up by other members.

And, of course, don’t make excuses, because they don’t work. But you knew that.

* Toxic, in this case, means chemical cleaners and pesticides, not emotionally codependent. Unless you have a passive-aggressive relationship with your bleach.

1 comment on 'All talk, some action'

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  1. Rob

    16 Sep 11 at 10:25 am

    Often, I find that peer pressure pressing against me. Yeah, I’m a loner, rebel, all that stuff, but mostly, I find I can’t work in groups because I have to back up, almost to the beginning, and push against peer pressure defending thoughtless behavior. For instance: a simple examination of the idea that putting toxic crap on lawns should result in the simple idea that maybe that’s the kind of thing you do because you aren’t thinking about what toxic crap does to you. And people resist knowing that.

    It’s often easier to go my own way and when people ask what the crazy person is doing I tell them. Show, then tell.

    Man, I am cranky about this very thing. Cranky!


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