Influencing Attitudes & Behaviors for Social Change

Neil Wollman

Unpublished Paper


The following general principles have been established from research and experience in laboratory or real life settings, involving diverse areas such as education, business, environmental behavior, and public health, as well as direct application to political change. Because people are different and situations vary, the ideas will not always work, but if applied creatively, in combination, and over time, they will help you move closer to your political goals. Choose and then apply the below ideas for the situation you are in; one could not, and there is no need to, apply all the ideas in any given situation. Utilizing these ideas the best will take time, brainstorming, practice, setting objectives and regularly evaluating progress, and (sometimes) doing research about those you want to reach and the political situation they are in (either informally or via a structured poll)--whether your "audience" is approached in one-on-one or small group conversation, through speeches, by written materials, or via other media.

In your strategizing, you'll need to determine

Work your outreach campaign, fundraising appeal, etc. around the principles by starting first with those ideas and seeing which ones and how they can best be utilized. Such an effort likely means eliminating certain of your ventures so that the ones you do are done better--hopefully bringing more success and perhaps an expanded program later. You will also need to judge whether you consider some of the below ideas to be too manipulative or unethical. Finally, be aware that most of the ideas below derive from work in psychology; there are other social change perspectives and principles that would also be helpful (and sometimes necessary) in order for you to reach certain goals (or realize certain others may be relatively unobtainable given current circumstances), be the knowledge from political science, sociology, communications, marketing, religion, the arts, or from the work of activists who have learned from practical experience.

Listening to those you are trying to reach during conversations

For a number of reasons it is important to listen to the views (and understand the feelings) of those you are hoping will take on your political perspective or become involved in promoting your cause. These reasons include the following:

Influencing Attitudes

(though most of the below is relevant to attempts to influence others' attitudes, it is certainly true that we learn from honest dialogue with others in which both parties are open to change)

Aspects of the message you present:


Basing messages around the current opinions of the listener:

Aspects of the source, the interaction, or the setting:


Promoting behaviors which will help your cause

(be it volunteering, voting, practicing environmentally sound behavior, talking to friends about an issue, going to events, or giving money)


Depending on your situation, you may wish to utilize certain of the many ways and modes of getting out your message



Neil Wollman
Department. of Psychology
Manchester College
N. Manchester, IN 46962

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