Token Gestures Can Lead to Big Changes in Behaviour

Token gestures can lead to big changes in behaviour

If we show some small commitment to a point of view, it can greatly influence our future behaviour and opinions. This is why marketers hold competitions where you are encouraged to state why you like a particular product. That small sign of commitment (even if you don’t like the product and are making it up) works to influence your opinion. You don’t like to appear inconsistent so you behave in accordance with your expressed view. That is, you are more likely to buy the product.

Jonathan Freedman and Scott Fraser, in 1966, asked people in California to put a large billboard in their garden promoting safe driving. Very few agreed. Others were asked to put a small, unobtrusive card in their window with the same message. Almost all agreed because it was so small. However, when these people were subsequently asked to put a large billboard in their garden, 75% agreed.

Agreeing to the small card in the window showed a commitment by those people to encouraging safe driving. It also made them feel that they were civic-minded people who do what they can to aid safety. Therefore, when asked about the billboard, it was much harder for them to say no. Saying no would go against what they had demonstrated their commitment to, and would go against what was now their belief that they were civic minded people.

Find out more about how the mind plays tricks on you and how your memory works by reading my books, Bias Beware and Memory Matters.