Tools for Changing the World

Social psychology for social good

Complete list of posts

  • Tragedy versus statistics 

    October 17, 2011

    Statistics deter us from giving by emphasizing the number of people we can’t help, rather than the number we can.

  • Change is hard – make not changing harder 

    October 6, 2011

    You can change behaviour by making unwanted actions more difficult to do.

  • I’d do it if you’d just tell me how! 

    October 3, 2011

    People are more likely to change if they’re given clear, specific actions to take.

  • Easy does it (and it often does) 

    September 29, 2011

    People will be more likely to behave as you wish if you make it easier for them to do so.

  • Prohibition didn’t work for alcohol either 

    September 26, 2011

    Prohibition signs (like “No littering”) are effective when most people are already following the rule, but tend to backfire in an environment in which many people are ignoring it.

  • I’m expert or I’m sure, but not both 

    September 22, 2011

    A tentative opinion expressed by an expert and a confident opinion expressed by a non-expert are both more likely to persuade listeners than the other way around.

  • Because we’ve always been quick to change! 

    September 19, 2011

    Describing a policy as part of the status quo makes it more attractive than describing it as a proposed change.

  • All talk, some action 

    September 16, 2011

    Talking about new behaviours in peer groups can spur change more effectively than providing information one-on-one.

  • Why we don’t catch 39 winks 

    September 12, 2011

    Some numbers are more “likeable” than others, and this affects how we view brands and advertisements.

  • Don't tell ME who to like 

    September 8, 2011

    Anti-prejudice messages can backfire if they focus on what their targets ought to do, rather than on the benefits of acting differently.

  • Will you read this post? 

    September 5, 2011

    Asking people questions about their actions or opinions can change their future behaviours.

  • Do ask, do tell 

    September 1, 2011

    Individuals performed better on tasks when working with an openly gay partner than when working with one whose sexual orientation was unknown.

  • Nice guys help everyone finish first 

    August 29, 2011

    Experiencing or watching rude behaviour reduces our creativity, helpfulness and problem-solving abilities.

  • Considering the environment 

    August 25, 2011

    Physical positions, smells and sensations can alter our behaviours and beliefs.

  • Pulling a fast one 

    August 22, 2011

    Speaking quickly is generally more persuasive than speaking slowly – but not if your audience already agrees with you.

  • Some (most) like it hot 

    August 15, 2011

    Not only does good weather tend to make us happier, it also affects the way we think and make decisions.

  • Please don’t hang up – this is not a recording 

    August 11, 2011

    Specific words and actions on the part of a caller will make people more likely to agree to participate in a telephone survey.

  • Be a noun and watch your verbing 

    August 8, 2011

    Choices in nouns or verbs can influence the behaviour of the people you’re addressing.

  • When you reach farther, it goes further 

    August 4, 2011

    Learning that others have helped those very different or distant from themselves makes us more charitable.

  • Let's go into space 

    August 1, 2011

    Crowding and intrusions into personal space can affect our decision-making.

  • It's all in your tone of choice 

    July 28, 2011

    When we actively choose between two options (rather than opting in or out of a single choice), we consider the decision more carefully and are more likely to make behavioural changes.

  • Change the frame, change the picture 

    July 25, 2011

    Reframing a situation can change the way people perceive it.

  • Try to see it my way 

    July 21, 2011

    When we view the world through another person's perspective for a short while, we often become less prejudiced toward the group that person represents.

  • Running for office, jogging for votes 

    July 18, 2011

    People who have been encouraged to think about activity are more likely to participate in politics.

  • How to extinguish those burning pants 

    July 14, 2011

    There are ways to encourage people to lie and cheat less frequently.

  • My group makes better decisions than your group 

    July 11, 2011

    People often make poor decisions in groups, but there are ways to counter this tendency.

  • White rabbits can't dance and other stereotypes (part 2) 

    July 7, 2011

    More ways to counter stereotype threat.

  • Math, maple syrup and morals – pick your stereotype (part 1) 

    July 4, 2011

    Stereotype threat (performing poorly due to stereotyped expectations) can be countered by retraining attitudes and affirming personal values.

  • Strut your altruistic stuff 

    June 30, 2011

    Getting status or recognition for prosocial behaviour can encourage people to do more of it.

  • Positive pressure 

    June 27, 2011

    Reminders tend to urge us to cooperate rather than causing resentment.

  • It's no good, we're sunk (no, we're not) 

    June 23, 2011

    Counter the effects of "sunk costs" on decision making by focussing on gains instead of losses.

  • In subliminals we trust 

    June 20, 2011

    Subliminal images can affect our opinions and behaviours.

  • Even invisible prophecies fulfil themselves 

    June 16, 2011

    Our expectations of other people alter their behaviours even when they're unaware of those expectations.

  • Too much… too little… just right! 

    June 13, 2011

    Both too many and too few options can make a choice less appealing, as can other factors such as how the options are presented.

  • I want to get you committed 

    June 9, 2011

    Once we have committed ourselves to doing something or stated that we are likely to do it, our wish to remain consistent makes us more likely to go through with it.

  • If it's mine, it's better 

    June 6, 2011

    The endowment effect – our tendency to overvalue things once they are ours – can sometimes be countered by offering an option halfway between the current situation and the hoped-for one.

  • How to generate prejudice in one easy step 

    June 2, 2011

    Individuals divided into two groups for almost any reason will tend to discriminate in favour of their own group.

  • Reduce crime - plant a tree 

    May 30, 2011

    The presence of trees, grass and plants can improve physical and mental health and reduce aggression, violence, greed and crime.

  • Can't top the music 

    May 26, 2011

    Listening to prosocial music (or even hearing it in the background) can inspire empathy, generosity and helpfulness.

  • This one's a sleeper 

    May 23, 2011

    When your audience is likely to discount your message because of its source, you may be able to increase its impact through the "sleeper effect".

  • Choose your examples – and t-shirts – wisely 

    May 19, 2011

    Exposure to subtle or incidental messages can have surprisingly large effects on attitudes.

  • Eat, drink and be wary 

    May 16, 2011

    Food and caffeine intake affect decision-making and susceptibility to persuasion.

  • Your price or mine? 

    May 12, 2011

    Offering buyers the opportunity to pay what they wish for a product with the proviso that half the proceeds will go to a charity increases profits for both the seller and the charity.

  • Where the body goes, the mind follows 

    May 9, 2011

    Our own facial expressions and physical movements can affect our opinions of the things and people around us.

  • Make an example of yourself 

    May 5, 2011

    Setting an example of the behaviour you want to encourage does lead other people to copy it.

  • Let me hear your body talk 

    May 2, 2011

    Body language can make a message more effective if it matches the personal approach of the listener and/or the persuasive strategy being used.

  • Tell me about yourself – carefully 

    April 28, 2011

    We like people more if they disclose personal information later rather than sooner – except when the information is damaging to the one admitting it. Then we prefer to have it volunteered sooner.

  • Seeing red, feeling blue 

    April 25, 2011

    Colours can influence our abilities to do certain tasks and increase the effectiveness of certain types of messages.

  • Shall I compare thee to a winter's day? 

    April 21, 2011

    Comparing a group to another, less socially responsible, group increases their sense of social responsibility.

  • First impressions last 

    April 18, 2011

    First impressions have a large influence on later opinions, especially if they involve a breach of trust.

  • All very touching 

    April 14, 2011

    A light touch (or two) on someone's arm makes him or her more likely to be cooperative, generous and helpful.

  • I don't have anything against insert-group-here but... 

    April 11, 2011

    To reduce prejudice, highlight differences among minority group members, incorporate ideals and self-affirmation, and encourage contact between minority groups and those prejudiced against them.

  • Sex, violence, focus groups and pop-ups 

    April 7, 2011

    Sex and violence don't actually sell, and focus groups aren't effective ways to learn what consumers like. And pop-ups don't work at all.

  • What's a metaphor for? 

    April 4, 2011

    The choice of metaphor to describe a situation or problem affects how people react to the situation or attempt to solve the problem.

  • Guilt trips don't go very far 

    March 31, 2011

    Using guilt to persuade people often doesn't work, and can backfire.

  • Sometimes fundraising products don't 

    March 28, 2011

    The availability of fundraising products can reduce the amount of money donated to charity – resulting in an overall loss for the charity.

  • If the words aren't new, we'll think they're true 

    March 24, 2011

    Words, phrases and statements that rhyme or contain repetitive syllables are seen as more appealing and more likely to be true.

  • Repeat yourself (repeat yourself) 

    March 21, 2011

    We perceive an opinion to be more likely to represent the majority if we hear it more than once – even if only one person is saying it.

  • Limited supply - today only! 

    March 17, 2011

    The perception that an opportunity is limited makes that opportunity more attractive.

  • Seeing is, unfortunately, believing 

    March 14, 2011

    The availability error: we are most likely to believe what most easily comes to mind.

  • Just lie, low 

    March 10, 2011

    The "low-ball" effect: It's more effective to get someone to agree to something before disclosing its disadvantages than to disclose the disadvantages up front.

  • The blame's afoot 

    March 7, 2011

    Blaming others for our mistakes encourages the people around us to do the same, although we can block this effect.

  • If it's this hard, I must be wrong 

    March 3, 2011

    Asking people to come up with too many examples or reasons will reduce their commitment to the idea they're supposedly supporting.

  • Your idea's not from around here, is it 

    February 28, 2011

    People prefer their own ideas to anyone else's, but it's possible to present new ideas in a way that makes them more palatable.

  • Compare and contrast 

    February 24, 2011

    The contrast effect: we judge things more or less harshly based on similar things we've just seen or experienced.

  • The more things change… the better 

    February 21, 2011

    People are most open to making changes and trying new things when they are already undergoing life changes.

  • I can't control myself - and neither can you 

    February 17, 2011

    Self-control is an exhaustible resource: self-supervision and making choices temporarily deplete our ability to do further acts requiring self-control.

  • The weight of waiting 

    February 14, 2011

    When we choose to delay making a decision, we are less likely to eventually pick the status quo option.

  • In the priming of life 

    February 10, 2011

    Priming: We unconsciously change our behaviours and attitudes after being exposed to certain words, pictures or concepts.

  • I helped you – I must like you 

    February 7, 2011

    Asking a person who dislikes you for a favour can improve that person's opinion of you.

  • How to use a red herring 

    February 3, 2011

    Waiting for information before making a decision makes that information seem more vital to the decision-making process.

  • Always look on the bright side – and the dark side 

    January 31, 2011

    Except in advertisements, messages are more persuasive if they show both sides of the issue then refute the opposing arguments.

  • Feint by numbers 

    January 27, 2011

    The anchor effect: When a number is present, people making an estimate will tend to shift their estimate toward that number.

  • Let's get personal 

    January 24, 2011

    People are more likely to grant a written request when it is personalized with a handwritten note and their name – especially if written on a Post-It™.

  • The downside of dollar signs 

    January 20, 2011

    Activities or images that make us think of money make us behave more independently but also more selfishly.

  • Mirror, mirror... 

    January 17, 2011

    When a person "mirrors" our words and body language, we are more likely to feel positive toward (and help) that person.

  • The magic word isn't "please" 

    January 13, 2011

    Being thanked makes people more likely to do further kind acts, both for the person who thanked them and for others.

  • Location, location, location 

    January 10, 2011

    The position of an item or person in a list or visual presentation affects how we see that item or person.

  • The power of positive replying 

    January 6, 2011

    If you ask a question designed to get a positive answer, people will be more likely to respond positively to your next question.

  • Startle them into agreeing 

    January 3, 2011

    Phrasing a request in a startling or unusual way increases the likelihood that people will agree to it.

  • Helping me help you 

    December 27, 2010

    Because we underestimate the difficulty people have asking for help, we need to offer help more actively to be effective.

  • The world is very much with us 

    December 23, 2010

    The warmth, texture and other characteristics of our surroundings affect our behaviours and perceptions of other people.

  • I'll help you because you're just like me 

    December 20, 2010

    We are more likely to help or pay attention to a person who is similar to us in some way.

  • Wake up and smell the behavioural change 

    December 16, 2010

    Background smells can encourage people to be tidier, more helpful or more giving.

  • But wait! There's more! 

    December 13, 2010

    Adding bonuses to an offer in quick stages (the "that's not all" technique) makes people more likely to accept that offer.

  • You are not stupid, not immoral, not offensive... and probably not thrilled 

    December 9, 2010

    Using negative phrasing to describe a person implies that you expected (perhaps stereotypically) the opposite from them.

  • Sweet reason isn't always sweet enough 

    December 6, 2010

    We tend to look for information that supports our beliefs – and sometimes opposing facts just make us more certain we're right.

  • Don't give them something to talk about 

    December 2, 2010

    When we describe a trait in someone else, our audience tends to associate that trait with us.

  • I'm good, so I'm allowed to be bad 

    November 29, 2010

    Performing a moral act makes us more likely to behave badly later.

  • The return of the favour 

    November 25, 2010

    Doing someone a favour instills a sense of obligation that makes the recipient want to help the person who did the favour.

  • Time is money, except when it isn't 

    November 22, 2010

    Making people think about time makes them more generous and more likely to socialize.

  • Let us make ourselves perfectly clear 

    November 18, 2010

    Clear fonts and simple language make your audience more likely to read, believe and act on your message.

  • I don't want a lot, I just want more than he has 

    November 15, 2010

    People will often accept less if they know they'll have more than their peers.

  • Symbolically speaking 

    November 11, 2010

    Viewers really do associate people with the symbols they see them pictured with.

  • Winning isn't everything – but losing is 

    November 8, 2010

    Choices expressed as a loss instead of a gain provoke different responses.

  • How not to use social authority 

    November 4, 2010

    Don't point out how common a bad behaviour is if you're trying to convince people to do less of it.

  • When one head is better than two (and much better than three) 

    November 1, 2010

    The more people in a group, the less effort each one will put in (and how to minimize this tendency).

  • I'm original, you're a little odd, he's a complete nutbar 

    October 28, 2010

    We perceive the actions of other people to reflect their characters, not the situations they're in.

  • Since I'm already part way there... 

    October 25, 2010

    People are more likely to complete a goal if they start with a sense of already having made some progress.

  • Two psychologists walk into a bar 

    October 21, 2010

    Humour and laughter can increase cooperation, altruism and willingness to compromise.

  • If you can't start small, start big 

    October 18, 2010

    If you ask for a large favour, which is then rejected, people will be more likely to grant the smaller favour you ask next.

  • Let's all be nonconformists together 

    October 14, 2010

    How to encourage conformity or nonconformity among group members.

  • You paid me – I must have hated it 

    October 11, 2010

    Paying people to do something they would have done anyway reduces their interest in doing it again.

  • I did it – I must have enjoyed it 

    October 7, 2010

    When people argue on behalf of an idea they don't support (without an external reason), they start to agree with that idea.

  • That hurt – I must have liked it 

    October 4, 2010

    The more people have to do to achieve a goal, the more they will value it once they reach it.

  • The downside of 31 flavours 

    September 30, 2010

    When too many options are offered, we are less likely to make a choice and less likely to be satisfied with the choice we make.

  • No-fault default 

    September 27, 2010

    Changing the default option on a choice affects which option people will choose.

  • Cooperation is viral – pass it on! 

    September 23, 2010

    People respond to examples of generosity and cooperation by behaving more generously and cooperatively themselves.

  • Ask for crumbs... and get bread 

    September 20, 2010

    The phrase "even a penny will help" makes people more likely to donate.

  • Start small 

    September 16, 2010

    Once someone has responded to a small request (particularly for a good cause), he or she is more likely to respond positively to a larger request later.

  • We are what we do 

    September 13, 2010

    Labelling people's behaviours as characteristic of a certain kind of person makes them more likely to see themselves as that kind of person -- and act on that.

  • Don't do what I say, be what I say you are 

    September 9, 2010

    Telling people they have positive traits makes them more likely to display those traits.

  • Do what the cool kids do (with their towels) 

    September 6, 2010

    We are more likely to do something if we believe that everyone else is doing it.

  • So. Why this blog? 

    September 2, 2010

    Why start a blog about using social psychology to make social changes? Here's why.

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