In part one, we looked at the resistance to change that we all have to a greater or lesser extent, and how that inertia might be combated. So how can we apply these ideas to the Leave campaign?
If the Leave campaign wins both the financial and emotional arguments for leaving the EU as we firmly believe it can, voters will still not actually vote to leave unless the psychological factors surrounding the vote are articulated and won. We call this the “Uncertainty Argument”. The Leave campaign must explain that a vote to leave is NOT in fact a vote for change but actually a vote for stability, normality and oddly much less change. As a consequence of leaving, when change does occur it will be decided by a government elected by the British people. Such change is also reversible if a mistake is made, as national governments can reverse bad decisions. The EU and its unelected, unaccountable support institutions are hell bent on ever closer integration and indelible, unchangeable diktats to be forced on its people.
One is reminded of the boiling frog anecdote (no xenophobic pun intended). The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death because it will not jump out. The EU could be viewed as a vat of water being slowly heated by the bureaucrats at a slow and deterministic rate such that the citizens will not feel anything until it is too late. The frog story is often used as a metaphor for such an inability or unwillingness of people to react to threats that occur gradually such as the creeping super state control of the EU collective. However, here is the rub; contemporary biologists report that actually this premise is false. Even a frog that is submerged and gradually heated will jump out. Frogs will jump out to avoid unpleasant change and so must we in the UK. The psychological case for action has to be taken to avoid future unpleasant change. If not, winning the economic and emotional arguments will count for nothing in the ballot box.
The IN campaign will trade on Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) stating that to leave the EU constitutes a change to be feared. On the contrary it is staying within the EU that constitutes change to be feared. A vote to leave needs to be explained in psychological terms that people can relate to as a vote for no further change, a vote for stability and a vote for controlling any future change agenda
People will feel fear coming up to the referendum; they will associate the fear with a decision of having to choose between change and no change. It is essential that the argument for a Leave Vote is articulated as a vote for future stability and control, if not the irrational will trump the rational in this regard. Scientific study has shown that people can make mistakes in how they attribute their arousal in circumstances of stress. This mislabelling of our feelings, and drawing mistaken conclusions about the causes of those feelings, is called ‘the misattribution effect’ (Ross and Nisbett, 1991). It is a real effect and one that needs to be addressed. . The IN campaign will attempt to profit from this effect with attempts to single out particular statements by the OUT campaigns which its feels it can easily dismiss e.g the Norwegian example where in fact it was only given as a small example and was not stated as the future aim…
Messaging alone will not always result in action. Studies by Janis and Terwillinger (1962) presented a mild and strong fear message concerning the relationship between smoking and cancer. These studies suggest that, in McGuire’s terms, “you can frighten people into attending to a message, comprehending it, yielding to it and retaining it, but not necessarily into acting upon it”. Indeed, fear may be so great that action is inhibited rather than facilitated. However, if the audience is told how to avoid undesirable consequences and believes that the preventative action is realistic and will be effective, then even high levels of fear in the message can produce changes in behaviour. The more specific and precise the instructions, the greater the behaviour change (the high availability factor). It’s critical when using fear to motivate behaviour change to also encourage self-confidence that the person can do something effective to reduce the threat (Dunn, 2007). (Goss 2010. Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour). It therefore follows that we must articulate a Leave vote as an action to do something to avoid future unpleasantness.
A vote to leave is a vote for continued existence of the UK as a Nation State, not a vote of whether we in the UK exist on our own. We can only exist logically going forward when out, and the EU has, at its core, continued and greater integration. A boiled frog cannot jump out of the pan.
In conclusion the psychology of change is important and it needs to be addressed by anyone giving talks or lectures about leaving. The IN campaign starts with, from their respect at least, a positive cognitive bias, already in place remember.