I did an MSC. So you don’t have to

Well, not quite true, but week seven into my behavioural change course and here’s a summary of some studies, theory and areas of interest which might just help your next communications campaign.

I’ve cut out the long academic words as – who knew – they baffle us and confuse the message. Well at least they do according to the studies undertaken by the same academics who then write up their report in said alien language…

1. The photocopier queue.

Langer et all did a study where a researcher asked people in the library photocopier queue if they could cut in (this was 1978 for some context on the queue). The question was asked in three different ways: 1) excuse me, can I use the copier machine; I have five pages?, 2) excuse me, can I use the copier machine; I have five pages because I am in a rush?, and 3) excuse me, can I use the copier machine; I have five pages because I have to make some copies?

Question 1 got a compliance rate of 60%, and the others 94% and 93% respectively. In short, adding a reason why you want someone to do something makes them more likely to do it. Even if that reason is a lie or not actually valid. Our brains hear the word ‘because’ and immediately short cut to the fact there’s a reason for the request.

Check this out for more on the experiment.

2. Our short-term memory is, well, short term.

Studies show we can hold in our heads a greater amount of shorter words than we can long. So keep it simple and reduce the syllable count where you can.

3. And for those times when you can’t keep it simple…

…give people a previous association or create clusters or patterns to help aid retention and recall. As a basic example, GFDGUYSTA is much harder to remember than RAC, BBC, MTV and CIM. And you’re more likely to remember cow, hen, pig, goat, sheep, dog and chicken than fresh, jump, daily, than, excitement, cold and Thursday.

4. Self-efficacy is the route to effective learning.

We need to:

 Surround people with people who have already successfully trodden the same path
 Remind them of when they’ve achieved something similar previously
 Give them positive encouragement
 Teach them to recognise a physical reaction to learning as a good thing.

Find out why some people put effort in and others don’t here.

5. Conforming is normal.

We also all conform to the idea that we individually think we aren’t as susceptible to others to conforming. With me still?

This brilliant study shows how people will deliberately pick the wrong answer to a simple task if that makes them fit in with others. We love to conform so much, we are prepared to be wrong rather than be a lone voice.

For those of us trying to inspire behaviour change, the take-out is that if you can prove that everyone else is already behaving in a set way, and reinforce that with peer examples, then you are more likely to have the impact you are seeking.

Now for me to apply my own memory and learning behaviours for the next unit…

Michelle Hallmark

About Michelle Hallmark

Leads our new business and client development strategy. Formerly our head of communications and a NCTJ and CIPR qualified news reporter with local, regional and national experience.
Michelle’s passion: snazzy shoes.