Using Principles of Social Influence to Create Prosocial Change

In this action teaching assignment, students begin by learning about six key principles of social influence from Robert Cialdini's book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion: (1) commitment and consistency, (2) social proof, (3) liking, (4) reciprocation, (5) authority, and (6) scarcity. The class then selects a social problem of concern and develops a "social change project" that applies social influence principles to creatively and effectively address the problem. In one case, for example, students raised over $2,000 for a United Nations anti-malaria program and generated 200 postcards sent to the White House urging the government to stand by its pledge to end malaria by 2015. In another case, students invited a survivor of human trafficking to speak on campus -- an event that drew over 300 students, faculty, staff, and community members and helped raise $540 for anti-trafficking organizations. Other social change projects included raising more than $1,000 to buy prosthetic limbs for landmine victims, soliciting nearly $2,000 for Pakistan flood relief, netting over $1,300 for Japanese tsunami relief, and, closer to home, securing free meals for local senior citizens. These projects served to show students how social influence techniques can be used as prosocial influence techniques.

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