It is the season to be festive and also to be disappointed, with yourself. It’s that time of the year when many of us will plan, and fail, to stick to our New Year’s resolutions. But now a team of researchers have found a way to influence behavior, and encourage yourself or others to keep those resolutions.
The team of marketing researchers came together from the University of California, Irvine, the University at Albany, State University of New York, the University of Idaho and Washington State University to look at over 100 studies from the past 40 years on the ‘question-behavior effect’, an effect in which asking people if they will perform a certain behavior influences whether they do it.
The team found, after looking at over the research, that a simple question related to future behavior, such as “Will you exercise this year?”, can influence others to carry out that behavior.
The reason behind this change in behavior is when people are asked a question, such as ‘Will you recycle?’, not only does it remind them that recycling is a good thing and something that should do, but it also makes them feel uncomfortable that they are not doing it. Therefore they change their behavior and start recycling in order to alleviate these feelings of discomfort.
The technique can be applied to many situations, and as well as influence recycling can also influence people to exercise more, reduce gender stereotypes, and dissuade people from cheating in exams. “We found the effect is strongest when questions are used to encourage behaviour with personal and socially accepted norms, such as eating healthy foods or volunteering,” commented Eric R. Spangenberg, first author and dean of the Paul Merage School of Business, University of California, Irvine. “But it can be used effectively to even influence consumer purchases, such as a new computer.”
This effect has also been shown to last more than six months after questioning, meaning that it would last long after the end of January when many of us have already given up on our New Year resolutions.
To increase the strength of the effect, the researchers found that the most effective way of influencing behavior is to ask questions via a computer or a paper-and-pencil survey, and to ask questions that can be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. Those asking the question should also keep it simple, and not ask about a deadline or time frame for the behavior.
The team also advised that when asking about vices, the method may have the opposite effect. In one study people asked about vices engaged in these vices more in the future than a control group.
And for influencing your own behavior and sticking to those resolutions, the researchers advised that asking a question rather than making a statement is the key to influencing both yours or someone else’s behavior. A question such as, ‘Will I exercise -- yes or no?’ may be more effective than declaring, ‘I will exercise’, and help you stick to your plan well into 2016.
The results were published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.