How to socialise behaviour change

Human beings are social animals. We were social before we were human - says Peter Singer. Using the right techniques to socialise behaviour change will make the difference between coexistence and conflict. Explore this science with the following story about Alba.

Mireia Villalonga

March 23, 2021

Humans are social beings with instincts and social traits that have been developed through what we call social proof and peer pressure. Social proof happens when we treat our social environment as a source of information and integrate it into our behaviours, thinking and beliefs. On the other side, peer pressure happens when we conform to the standard norms to be accepted within a group. 

Our friend Alba (15 years old) who we are trying to send a message to is under two stimulus. Alba is receiving information from her parents and taking it as truth without questioning “Be careful with the wolves Alba, bears will eat you if you don’t pay attention in the woods”. When she goes to school, Alba is also feeling pressured to integrate certain information/behaviour at school to feel included “Come join us, Alba, we are throwing a stone to this beehive”. Even if Alba thinks differently, she will be afraid of bears and will end up throwing stones at beehives. In both scenarios behaviour change takes place. In this case, for the bad. But understanding this can help professionals like you, flip the coin and promote positive behaviour change.

Once this is understood and you have analyzed how these patterns are present in your audience, you can now have a look at the identification form. This is a bit more tricky to perceive and looks at how humans, like Alba, will change their behaviour and beliefs to match those of who she identifies with, not out of pressure, not out of social proof, but as an act of self-expression and group membership. 

Alba cares for the wildlife that lives in the woods around her community. One day she finds out that in another school students care about wildlife and those who do, wear a green ribbon. Soon Alba will be likely to wear a green ribbon too. This time Alba doesn’t feel pressured. By wearing the ribbon, Alba expresses her ideologies and makes a social statement.

Exploring the idea of identity is important to socialise change for the ideas developed above and for understanding who to choose as a messenger of our communication campaign. We, and I include myself in the equation, are likely to integrate information coming from someone we can identify with. People that share our cultural views, traditions, narrative, etc.

When communicating to socialise change, it is important to promote desirable behaviour. It seems obvious but sometimes we lose track of our objectives. Here you want to consolidate a norm or present a new one. Using messages that contain the following words can help you socialise change “9 out of 10 people are no longer afraid of wolves” or “more and more people are coexisting with bears” but make sure not to make up the numbers!

Additionally, you also want to take into consideration reciprocity. When given a gift or a benefit, humans have the ignite tendency to return gifts and feel guilty when they don’t. Perhaps you could consider giving an award to the community for exemplarily coexisting with bears hopping that it triggers responsibility and reciprocity.

Behavioural observability has proven to be another very effective strategy in socialising change, especially in developing countries. Think about it. Would you try harder if your performance was made public? Students at Albas school might have not through stones to the beehives should there have been teachers nearby.

Finally, encourage commitments. We are less likely to fall back on a promise made publicly or to a friend than we are to ourselves. By turning commitment into notable events it becomes a bigger deal to break the promise. This has been put in practice in many school clubs and should be encouraged through adulthood too.

**Note this is the fourth article of a series to be published around Behaviour Change. Stay tuned and don’t miss out on the upcoming articles!

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