When the time comes for me to act, will I? Studies say you will

social persuasion

According to a recent University of Illinois study, if you ask yourself if you will do something rather than tell yourself, chances are, you will.

Based on the research of Dolores Albarracin, Ibrahim Senay, and Kenji Noguchi, the language we use to prepare ourselves for certain behavioral changes is largely affected by the way we present the idea in our own mind. The research from this study compared participants who spent time asking themselves if they would complete a task, with participants who told themselves they would do the same; a process well known to the self-help community as affirmation. Well it appears that those who asked themselves if they would complete the task outperformed those who affirmed their completion by a significant degree.

This research points to the power of unconscious formation of ideas and behavioral outcomes based on self-talk – something we’re all very familiar with. Based on this research, Professor Albarracin has found evidence that language and self-motivation are interdependent. “The popular idea is that self-affirmations enhance people’s ability to meet their goals,” Professor Albarracin said. “It seems, however, that when it comes to performing a specific behavior, asking questions is a more promising way of achieving your objectives.”

These findings have an interesting implication for cause-related and social marketing campaign development in terms of how we present ideas about pro-social behavior change. If we can position messages so that individuals ask themselves, “will I?” rather than “I will…quit smoking, eat more veggies, conserve energy”…. the campaign will have a much greater potential for success. Interestingly, this research supports studies in the area of conformity and commitment that suggests the “extent to which one’s commitments are made actively is one powerful determinant of the likelihood of request compliance” (Cialdini & Trost 1998).

So when creating messages around social change (or heck, even writing the next self-help bestseller), rather than providing affirmative statements about behavior change, inspire your audience to ask themselves if they will comply the behavior you’re suggesting. By creating an opportunity for constituents to ask themselves whether they will vote for a particular candidate or donate to a specific cause, you are inviting active participation in the decision-making process and increasing your odds for a successful outcome.


University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2010, June 1). Will we succeed? The science of self-motivation. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 17, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2010/05/100528092021.htm

Will we succeed? The science of self-motivation. (n.d.). . Retrieved October 17, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100528092021.htm

Social Influence: Compliance and Conformity – Annual Review of Psychology, 55(1):591. (n.d.). . Retrieved October 17, 2010, from http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev.psych.55.090902.142015

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