Belief, Attitude, and Behavior Change -

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Belief, Attitude, and Behavior Change -

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These papers have been published by an independent body. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UK Government.
Belief, Attitude, and Behavior Change: Leveraging Current Perspectives for Counter-Radicalization
To effectively prevent vulnerable audiences from being persuaded by extremist ideologies, it is important to first understand the processes by which individuals change beliefs, attitudes, intentions, and behaviors independent of context. In this vein, this paper describes and explores multiple persuasion theories, frameworks, and practices that have been utilized and studies in several other domains that can be brought to bear for the purpose of counter-radicalization.
Two of these subject areas focus on psychological processes—both of which can be prompted by persuasive messaging—that individuals undergo that lead to changes in beliefs, attitudes, intentions, and behaviors. These processes include:
• Emotional experiences and • Goal-setting and implementation intention
Other subject areas highlight specific strategies that can be employed to facilitate audience conformity to persuasive goals. These strategies include:
• Use of narrative communication, • Promotion of self-monitoring, • Emphasizing reciprocity, • Promotion of consistency with committed goals, • Presentation of social proof, • Highlighting scarcity, and • Appealing to authority
Finally, there exists one strategy that is not intended to promote persuasion, but is instead meant to prevent persuasion. This strategy—called attitudinal inoculation—is included in this report because of its proven effectiveness in different contexts, as well as its natural applications for efforts intended to dissuade the adoption of extremist ideologies.
The next section of the paper will offer brief synopses of these theories, frameworks, and approaches. Each section will also discuss how each framework can be used for counterradicalization via preliminary recommendations for policymakers.
Persuasion Theories, Frameworks, and Perspectives Discrete Emotions Although a comprehensive account of the persuasive potency of emotions is beyond the scope of this report, it is important to note how the elicitation of different kinds of emotions can prompt various attitudinal and behavioral outcomes. The discrete emotion perspective dictates that emotions are evolved psychological and biological reactions to environmental stimuli that are either consistent with or contrary to our goals. Depending on the stimulus a person encounters in their environment and appraises as goal-congruent or goal-discordant, they will experience a variety of different responses, the combination of which define the emotion they are feeling. Specifically, emotions are defined via the following criteria:

• Qualitative “feel” – Different emotional experiences feel subjectively distinct • Physiological changes – Different emotional experiences prompt physical changes (e.g.,
anger increases adrenaline output) • Neurological stimulation – Different emotions trigger different kinds of neural activity • Expression – Different emotions prompt changes in facial expressions and body posture • Cognitive changes – Different emotions change how we analyze the world around us

Most important with respect to the discrete emotion perspective is that the experience of different emotional states also prompts different action tendencies. Action tendencies are behavioral pressures that motivate individuals to act in certain ways in response to emotions. Although they are categorized as being one of two types—approach or avoidance—action tendencies can be further distinguished according to the emotion felt. Table 1 outlines different environmental stimuli that prompt the various emotions, as well as the action tendencies associated with them.

Table 1

Discrete emotions, appraisals, and action tendencies



Action Tendency


Unwarranted obstruction of a goal

Approach: Attack, remove, or

reject the source of the



Probability of harm to one’s body

Avoidance: Retreat from or

acquiesce to a threat


Probability of harm to one’s health

Avoidance: Abstain from

interacting with or consuming

material that can make oneself ill


Violation of personally held moral

Approach: Redress the moral



Irrevocable failure to achieve a salient goal Avoidance: Review plan for

continued pursuit of goal; regain

strength and resources


Recognition that one’s goal (performance Approach: Seek to obtain that

or possession of an object) has been

which rival possesses; dispossess

achieved by another

rival of that which he/she has

Happiness Acute movement towards a goal

Approach: Bask in continued

success toward a valued goal


Change in probability of goal achievement Approach: Renew and strengthen

efforts towards achieving a

valued goal


Recognition of credit for an achievement Approach: Bask in celebration of

by oneself or a group with which one

completion of goal


Note: Adapted from Dillard and Peck, as well as Lazarus, Izard, and Frijda and Kuipers.1

1 James Price Dillard and Eugenia Peck, “Persuasion and the Structure of Affect: Dual Systems and Discrete Emotions as Complementary Models,” Human Communication Research 27(1) (2001), p. 41; Lazarus, Emotion and Adaptation; Izard, Human Emotions; Nico H. Frijda, Peter Kuipers, and Elisabeth ter Schure, “Relations among

The specific action tendencies associated with each emotion are critical for issues related to persuasion. Specifically, by targeting and eliciting different emotional responses, message designers can trigger desired behaviors via the action tendencies associated with each emotion and environmental appraisal.
Eliciting emotions via communication to challenge violent extremist ideologies. In contrast to many of the other perspectives and theories outlined in this paper, the discrete emotions perspective can inform the development of all kinds of messages. That is because persuasive messages of all types can highlight different stimuli to arouse different emotions and yield different outcomes.
For counter-radicalization researchers and practitioners, there are a handful of emotions that can be elicited in a manner that can achieve desired outcomes. Recall, however, that emotional experience is contingent on movement towards or restrictions on message recipients’ goals. So, as a first step in the successful use of emotions to achieve successful belief, attitude, or behavioral change, it is necessary to identify and understand the nature of target audiences’ valued goals. This can be achieved through various audience-analysis techniques, including the collection of survey data or interviews with individuals or focus groups. Once salient goals are identified, message designers can elicit emotions that can motivate changes in beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors such that they do not align with extremist groups’ ideologies.
There are three emotions that show promise for driving individuals away from violent extremist organizations: anger, hope, and pride. Assuming the valued goals of target audiences are identified prior to developing persuasive messages, each of these emotions can be elicited through persuasive messaging with specific guidelines:
For anger2: 1) Highlight extremist acts that obstruct target audiences’ ability to achieve valued goals. 2) Target individuals predisposed to agree with the content of a counter-radicalization message with messages that will induce a high level of anger and recommend behaviors that can resolve their anger that require significant effort 3) Target individuals with no predisposition to agree with the content of a counterradicalization with messages that emphasize the importance of challenging violent extremist behaviors and ideologies and recommend behaviors to resolve their anger that do not require significant effort 4) Incorporate content into anger appeals that communicate the ease with which behaviors that challenge the violent extremist group can be performed (i.e., increase the efficacy of target audiences.
For hope:
Emotion, Appraisal, and Emotional Action Readiness,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 57(2) (1989), pp. 212-228. 2 Monique Mitchell Turner, “Using Emotion in Risk Communication: The Anger Activism Model,” Public Relations Review 33 (2007), pp. 114-119.

1) Identify specific behaviors that target audiences can perform that help them achieve valued goals and are inconsistent with violent extremist propaganda/objectives
2) Indicate how recommended behaviors are superior to those advocated by violent extremists for achieving valued goals
3) Highlight the ease with which recommended behaviors can be performed
For pride: 1) Identify different kinds of groups that target audiences can identify with who do not engage in violent activity 2) Highlight audience goals that the groups have achieved without using violence 3) Emphasize similarities between target audiences and non-violent groups with whom they identify 4) Highlight activities performed by the non-violent group that contradict the violent extremist ideology 5) Identify behaviors that target audiences can perform to support the non-violent group
These recommendations are heavily summarized, and there are nuances to communication intended to arouse emotion that must be considered prior to persuasive message development. Interested message designers should turn to the work of Richard Lazarus and Caroll Izard for a firm grasp on discrete emotions and how they influence behavior.3
Goal-Setting and Implementation Intentions Many theories of motivation are based on the premise that setting a goal is the most important thing a person can do to promote the attainment of that goal.4 These theories contend that there is a relationship between how much a person intends to perform a given behavior and their actual performance of that behavior. There is ample evidence to suggest simply setting a goal helps people to achieve that goal,5 but there are also some studies to show that having the intention to do something is not sufficient to guarantee that the behavior is performed. Gollwitzer argued that in addition to setting a goal, individuals must also have specific contingency plans for achieving their goals under different circumstances—these plans are called implementation intentions.6 Gollwitzer’s assertion suggests that communicating and coordinating specific contingency plans with message targets would facilitate the adoption of beliefs, attitudes, and intentions consistent with desired behaviors, as well as the eventual performance of those behaviors.
3 Richard Lazarus, Emotion and Adaptation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991); See also R. S. Lazarus, “From Psychological Stress to the Emotions: A History of Changing Outlooks,” Annual Review of Psychology 44 (1993), pp. 1-21. 3 Carroll E. Izard, Human Emotions (New York: Plenum Press, 1977); Carroll E. Izard, Human Emotions (New York: Plenum Press, 1977). 4 E.g., Icek Ajzen, “The Theory of Planned Behavior,” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 50 (1991), pp. 179-211; Albert Bandura, Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control (New York: W. H. Freeman, 1997). 5 e.g., Paschal Sheeran, “Intention-Behavior Relations: A Conceptual and Empirical Review,” European Review of Social Psychology 12(1) (2002), pp. 1-36. 6 Peter M. Gollwitzer, “Implementation Intentions: Strong Effects of Simple Plans,” American Psychologist 54 (1999), 493-503.

To determine the degree to which implementation intentions affect goal achievement, Gollwitzer and Sheeran7 performed a meta-analysis of 94 studies involving over 8,000 participants. They found that developing specific implementation intentions has a medium- to large effect on the achievement of a goal.8 Further, the authors found that implementation intentions have a particularly strong effect on goal attainment for individuals with psychological problems. They hypothesized that the formation of implementation intentions would be particularly useful for helping those with “difficulties regulating their behavior” to achieve salient goals.9
Offering suggestions for behavioral implementation to promote counterradicalization. As indicated above, research has shown that the development of specific plans for achieving goals has a positive effect on goal attainment. This conclusion suggests that the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of those at risk for violent radicalization can be influenced by providing them with specific “roadmaps” for moving away from extremist ideologies. These roadmaps can be provided via several channels, including individualized counseling sessions or media campaigns. Regardless, research on implementation intentions shows that the lynchpin of this strategy involves getting target audiences to develop specific, tangible strategies for avoiding engagement with violent extremist ideologies.
Moreover, there has been some research to suggest that the development of implementation intentions can be useful specifically for individuals at risk for radicalization. This research has shown that individuals with incomplete self-definitions or depleted senses of self—both of which make them at increased risk for being drawn to an extremist ideology that promises to resolve them—are more likely to engage in promoted behaviors if specific implementation intentions are developed. Even more promising, a meta-analysis of research on implementation intentions and goal attainment has shown that the development of specific plans for achieving goals related to anti-racist behavior significantly predicts the performance of that behavior.
Taken together, these results indicate that counter-radicalization efforts intended to dissuade the adoption of beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors consistent with violent extremist ideologies should highlight specific plans of action for achieving goals that are inconsistent with those ideologies.
Self-Monitoring Like goal-setting and the development of implementation intentions, self-monitoring relates to how individuals come to engage in targeted behaviors. Specifically self-monitoring involves the periodic assessment of whether and how one’s behavior is (or is not) consistent with desired goals.10 Researchers contend that monitoring one’s own progress should promote the achievement of desired goals because monitoring will highlight shortfalls between an individual’s current state and their desired state. In so doing, it allows them to see when greater effort or self-control is required to achieve goals they set for themselves.
7 Peter M. Gollwitzer and Paschal Sheeran, “Implementation Intentions and Goal Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of Effects and Processes,” Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 38 (2006), pp. 69-119. 8 Jacob Cohen, “A Power Primer,” Psychological Bulletin 112(1) (1992), pp. 155-159. 9 Gollwitzer and Sheeran, “Implementation Intentions and Goal Achievement,” p. 94. 10 Benjamin Harkin, Thomas L. Webb, Betty P. I. Chang, Andrew Prestwich, Mark Conner, Ian Kellar, Yael Benn, and Paschal Sheeran, “Does Monitoring Goal Progress Promote Goal Attainment? A Meta-Analysis of the Experimental Evidence,” Psychological Bulletin 142(2) (2016), pp. 198-229.

Given that self-monitoring can influence how one pursues a goal, it follows that messages intended to promote self-monitoring can be tailored to promote the adoption (or avoidance) of desired (or undesired) behaviors. Research in health psychology and communication has illustrated the popularity of this technique, showing that nearly 40% of communicative interventions intended to promote diet and exercise involved participants’ monitoring of their progress.11 Self-monitoring has also been shown to be employed in clinical practice and assessment,12 as well as energy consumption.13
Despite the prevalence of self-monitoring in interventions intended to promote certain behaviors, there has been little work on determining its effectiveness in doing so. One exception is Harkin and colleagues,14 who showed that when interventions promote self-monitoring, participants tend to engage in self-monitoring more frequently. More importantly, when individuals engage in self-monitoring on a more frequent basis, they are more likely to achieve the goals they set for themselves.
In short, these results indicate that when individuals set goals for themselves and keep track of how well their behaviors are guiding them towards those goals, they are more likely to achieve them.
Narrative Persuasion A narrative is a “cohesive, causally linked sequence of events that takes place in a dynamic world subject to conflict, transformation, and resolution through non-habitual, purposeful actions performed by characters.”15 For years, communication researchers have attempted to determine whether exposure to narratives induces changes in beliefs, attitudes, intentions, or behaviors consistent with (or opposite to) ideas espoused within narratives. Unfortunately, this research has been historically inconsistent.
Some studies have shown that reading, watching, or listening to a narrative with an embedded persuasive message causes audiences to adopt narrative-consistent perspectives.16 Other research has failed to identify any link between narrative exposure and persuasion.17 Even more confusing, most studies that have evaluated the persuasive effectiveness of narratives have
11 Susan Michie, Charles Abraham, Craig Whittington, John McAteer, and Sunjai Gupta, “Effective Techniques in Health Eating and Physical Activity Interventions: A Meta-Regression,” Health Psychology 28(6) (2009), pp. 690701. 12 e.g., William J. Korotitsch and Rosemery O. Nelson-Gray, “An Overview of Self-Monitoring Research in Assesment and Treatment,” Psychological Assessment 11(4) (1999), pp. 415-425. 13 Wokje Abrahamse, Linda Steg, Charles Vlek, and Talib Rothengatter, “A Review of Intervention Studies Aimed at Household Energy Conservation,” Journal of Environmental Psychology 25(3) (2005), pp. 273-291. 14 Harkin et al., “Does Monitoring Goal Progress Promote Goal Attainment?” 15 Kurt Braddock and James Price Dillard, “Meta-Analytic Evidence for the Persuasive Effect of Narratives on Beliefs, Attitudes, Intentions, and Behaviors,” Communication Monographs 83(4) (2016), pp. 446-467. 16 See Hyuhn-Suhck Bae, “Entertainment-Education and Recruitment of Cornea Donors: The Role of Emotion and Issue Involvement,” Journal of Health Communication 13 (2008), pp. 20-36; Kenneth Mulligan and Philip Habel, “An Experimental Test of the Effects of Fictional Framing on Attitudes,” Social Science Quarterly 92(1) (2011), pp. 79-99. 17 See Seoyeon Hong and Hee Sun Park, “Computer-Mediated Persuasion in Online Reviews: Statistical versus Narrative Evidence,” Computers in Human Behavior 28(3) (2012), pp. 906-919.

compared them to other forms of communication.18 Informative though they are, they do not show whether or how exposure to a narrative (or a series of similar narratives) would affect different persuasive outcomes.
In 2016, Braddock and Dillard performed a meta-analysis of narrative research to clarify the situation.19 Their evaluation of 74 studies related to narrative persuasion showed that exposure to narrative communication positively predicted changes in narrative-consistent beliefs, attitudes, intentions, and behaviors. Braddock and Dillard’s results further suggested that neither the fictionality of a narrative (fiction vs. nonfiction) or the medium through which it is presented affects how persuasive it is.
Moreover, the literature on narratives have shown them to be persuasive in a wide array of domains, including political beliefs,20 health and wellness,21 philanthropy,22 attributions of causality,23 and other issues.
Counter-narratives. Given the demonstrated persuasive efficacy of narratives, it naturally follows that counternarratives—narratives that challenge the themes intrinsic to terrorist narratives—should be useful tools for affecting audience beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors such that they do not align with extremist ideologies. There is little work on the successful development of counter-narratives based on established communication theory, but Braddock and Horgan offered specific guidelines for doing so.24
To develop counter-narratives, Braddock and Horgan recommend: 1) Perform content analyses of the targeted extremist narratives to identify themes that resonate within those narratives 2) Avoid reinforcing themes that are emphasized within the targeted extremist narratives 3) Incorporate themes in counter-narratives that highlight incongruities between what the extremist narratives say and what the extremist group does in real life 4) Disrupt analogies that equate elements of the extremist narrative to real-world events
18 See Mike Allen and Raymond W. Preiss, “Comparing the Persuasiveness of Narrative and Statistical Evidence using Meta-Analysis,” Communication Research Reports 14 (1997), pp. 125-131; E. James Baesler and Judee K. Burgoon, “The Temporal Effects of Story and Statistical Evidence on Belief Change,” Communication Research 21(5) (1994), pp. 582-602; Dean C. Kazoleas, “A Comparison of the Persuasive Effectiveness of Qualitative versus Quantitative Evidence: A Test of Explanatory Hypotheses,” Communication Quarterly 41(1) (1993), pp. 40-50. 19 Braddock and Dillard, “Meta-Analytic Evidence for the Persuasive Effect of Narratives on Beliefs, Attitudes, Intentions, and Behaviors.” 20 e.g., Lisa D. Butler, Cheryl Koopman, and Philip G. Zimbardo, “The Psychological Impact of Viewing the Film ‘JFK’: Emotions, Beliefs, and Political Behavioral Intentions,” Political Psychology 16(2) (1995), pp. 237-257. 21 e.g., Fuyuan Shen and Jiangxue (Ashley) Han, “Effectiveness of Entertainment Education in Communicating Health Information: A Systematic Review,” Asian Journal of Communication 24(6) (2014), pp. 605-616. 22 Susan E. Morgan, Lauren Movius, and Michael J. Cody, “The Power of Narratives: The Effect of Entertainment Television Organ Donation Storylines on the Attitudes, Knowledge, and Behaviors of Donors and Nondonors,” Journal of Communication 59(1) (2009), pp. 135-151. 23 Jeff Niederdeppe, Michael A. Shapiro, and Norman Porticella, “Attributions of Responsibility for Obesity: Narrative Communication Reduces Reactive Counterarguing among Liberals,” Human Communication Research 37(3) (2011), pp. 295-323. 24 Kurt Braddock and John Horgan, “Towards a Guide for Constructing and Disseminating Counternarratives to Reduce Support for Terrorism,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 39(5) (2016), pp. 381-404.

5) Disrupt binary themes that are cornerstones of the extremists’ ideology (e.g., Muslim vs. the West, Black vs. White)
6) Incorporate themes in the counter-narratives that provide an alternate view of those the extremist narratives target
Cialdini’s Modes of Influence As one of the most influential scholars of persuasion and social influence, Robert Cialdini highlighted six principles that can inform the development of messages intended to gain compliance from message targets. These principles are: reciprocity, commitment/consistency, social proof, scarcity, authority, and liking. The next sections cover five of these (liking is not included due to the complexity of operationalizing it in a counter-radicalization context).
Reciprocity. The principle of reciprocity in the context of persuasion dictates that people tend to exert effort to pay back a favor that has been done for them.25 When a message target is in debt to a source, that person is likely to comply with persuasive requests made by the message designer to resolve the discrepancy in benefits received by each party.26 This has been shown to be particularly effective in social dilemma games whereby resources are limited.27
The efficacy of reciprocity has been lauded as an “exceptionally strong” catalyst for persuasion.28 Empirical research on the motivating tendency of reciprocity has revealed that individuals are so driven by the need to resolve benefit discrepancy that they will often reciprocate to favors that they had not even requested.29
The principle of reciprocity has been applied most readily to purchasing behavior. That said, theoretical work has argued that it can be applied not only to active behaviors, but concession behaviors as well. That is, not only does the need for reciprocity drive individuals to give something in return for a favor, it also motivates individuals to concede things if another person has conceded something to them.30 However, evidence for this conclusion is mixed, as some researchers have found that the magnitude of a concession does not necessarily influence the
25 Robert B. Cialdini, “The Science of Persuasion,” Scientific American Mind 14(1) (2004), pp. 70-77. 26 Martin S. Greenberg, “A Theory of Indebtedness,” in Kenneth J. Gergen, Martin S. Greenberg, and Richard H. Willis, eds., Social Exchange: Advances in Theory and Research (New York: Plenum Press, 1980), pp. 3-26. 27 S. S. Koromita, J. A. Hilty, and C. D. Parks, “Reciprocity and Cooperation in Social Dilemmas,” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 35(3) (1991), pp. 494-518. 28 Maurits Kaptein, Panos Markopoulos, Boris de Ruyter, and Emile Aarts, “Personalizing Persuasive Technologies: Explicit and Implicit Personalization using Persuasion Profiles,” International Journal of Human-Computer Studies 77 (2015), pp. 38-51. 29 Jeannine M. James and Richard Bolstein, “The Effect of Monetary Incentives and Follow-Up Mailings on the Response Rate and Response Quality in Mail Surveys,” Public Opinion Quarterly 54(3), pp. 346-361. 30 Robert B. Cialdini, Joyce E. Vincent, Stephen K. Lewis, Jose Catalan, Diane Wheeler, and Betty Lee Darby, “Reciprocal Concessions Procedure for Inducing Compliance: The Door-in-the-Face Technique,” Journal of personality and Social Psychology 31(2) (1975), pp. 206-215; Edwina S. Uehara, “Reciprocity Reconsidered: Gouldner’s ‘Moral Norm of Reciprocity’ and Social Support,” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 12(4) (1995), pp. 483-502.

effectiveness of the foot-in-the-door persuasive technique (i.e., preceding a large request with a smaller one).31
Nevertheless, knowledge of how the need for reciprocity affects audiences can inform the design of persuasive messages. Specifically, emphasizing a discrepancy between what an audience member receives and what the message source has received in return may prompt a motivation to resolve this discrepancy by performing (or avoiding) a specific behavior.
Highlighting reciprocity for the purpose of counter-radicalization. The concept of reciprocity hinges on the idea that individuals engage in a desired behavior in exchange for something that they have received. Interestingly, research has shown that individuals will even trend towards reciprocating favors they have not asked for. Though there is no empirical work on the use of reciprocity as an element of counter-radicalization efforts, the psychological processes associated with reciprocity that have been identified in other domains suggests that “negotiations” with those at risk for engaging in violent activity have a better chance at succeeding if message targets are made aware of something they have received from those who wish for them to avoid violence.
As such, counter-radicalization efforts may benefit from including communicative elements that highlight the benefits enjoyed by message targets coupled with the implicit suggestion that those benefits can be “paid back” by avoiding violent activity. Message designers should be careful, however, not to make the demand for “payback” too overt, as this could arouse psychological reactance in message targets that would induce them to do the opposite of what message designers wish.32
Commitment and consistency. Commitment-making involves linking individuals to specific opinions or behaviors,33 often by asking that those individuals make a pledge to adopt those opinions or engage in those behaviors. When individuals make these commitments, they often feel the need to think or act in a way that is consistent with them.34 This need for consistency can be particularly strong when a commitment has been made in public or has the potential to be publicly revealed.35
Researchers have explained the connection between committed action or opinion and the enactment of those actions or opinions using several psychological mechanisms. First, some researchers have contended that when individuals commit to engaging in a behavior, their beliefs and attitudes related to that behavior become more salient to them and remain stable over time.36 Moreover, when an individual’s attitudes are made public, they are more likely to remain
31 Daniel J. O’Keefe and Scott L. Hale, “The Door-in-the-Face Influence Strategy: A Random-Effects MetaAnalytic Review,” Annals of the International Communication Association 21(1) (1998), pp. 1-33. 32 Jack W. Brehm, A Theory of Psychological Reactance (New York: Academic Press, 1966). 33 Charles A. Kiesler, The Psychology of Commitment (New York: Academic Press, 1971). 34 Robert B. Cialdini, Influence: Science and Practice (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2001). 35 Ibid. 36 Ibid.; Michael S. Pallak, David A. Cook, and John J. Sullivan, “Commitment and Energy Conservation,” in Leonard Bickman, ed., Applied Social Psychology Annual (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1980), pp. 235-253.

committed to them than attitudes that have remained private.37 Other researchers have found that individuals who have publicly committed to opinions or actions are vulnerable to persuasion via information that is consistent with their positions and are more resistant to persuasion via information that contradicts their publicly stated positions.38 Finally, when an individual makes a public commitment to an action or opinion, they may be more susceptible to maintain the action or opinion they committed to because of social pressure from those who were audience to their commitment.39
Given the clear motivational pressure exerted by making a public commitment, it can be used to promote advocated behaviors (or dissuade audiences from engaging in unwanted behaviors). If a message designer can elicit commitment—particularly public commitment—to adopt (or avoid) specific beliefs, attitudes, intentions, or behaviors, they can exert persuasive pressure on target audiences towards these outcomes.
Emphasizing commitment and consistency for counter-radicalization. The implications of the research on verbal commitment and behavioral consistency are clear—if an individual makes a commitment to engage (or avoid) a behavior, they are more likely to do so. The relationship between commitment and behavioral consistency is even more pronounced if the commitment to behavior is publicly known.
In line with this principle, developers of messages meant to induce changes in beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors in the domain of counter-radicalization would do well to secure verbal commitments from message targets that they will not engage in violent activity on behalf of an extremist ideology. Moreover, if these commitments could be made public, they are even more likely to promote positive psychological, cognitive, and behavioral outcomes.40
Social proof. The principle of social proof (or consensus) dictates that when individuals see other people expressing a specific belief/attitude or engaging in a specific behavior, they are more likely to adopt that belief/attitude or engage in that behavior themselves.41 One simple explanation for
37 Wokje Abrahamse and Linda Steg, “Social Influence Approaches to Encourage Resource Conservation: A MetaAnalysis,” Global Environmental Change 23 (2013), pp. 1773-1785. 38 Charles A. Kiesler and Joseph Sakumura, “A Test of a Model for Commitment,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 3(3) (1966), pp. 349-353. 39 Anne Mrike Lokhorst, Carol Werner, Henk Staats, Eric van Dijk, and Jeff L. Gale, “Commitment and Behavior Change: A Meta-Analysis and Critical Review of Commitment-Making Strategies in Environmental Research,” Environment and Behavior 45(1) (2013), pp. 3-34; Glen Shippee and W. Larry Gregory, “Public Commitment and Energy Conservation,” American Journal of Community Psychology 10(1) (1982). 40 Of course, message developers should respect the privacy of message recipients. Without receiving permission to make commitments public (or without message targets making their commitments public themselves), their commitments should be kept private. 41 Icek Ajzen and Martin Fishbein, Understanding Attitudes and Predicting Social Behavior (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1980); Cialdini, “The Science of Persuasion”; Feng Zhu and Xiaoquan (Michael) Zhang, “Impact of Online Consumer Reviews on Sales: The Moderating Role of Product and Consumer Characteristics,” Journal of Marketing 74(2) (2010), pp. 133-148.