Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Smart car - an alternative perspective

This advert does make use of the techniques described, namely selective presentation of information, and the power of imagination, but there is also an additional persuasive tactic at work: perceptual contrast. Put simply, this contrast principle means that when we see two things in succession which are different to one another, we tend to view them as more different than they really are (Cialdini, 2001).
Drawing on this tactic, the advert depicts two environments which differ greatly. You either notice the ugly, polluted environment in the background first, followed by the clean, green environment in the foreground, or vice versa. Either way, a contrast is created between the two, emphasising how different the first environment you notice is compared to the second. A study by Kenrick and Gutierres (1980) illustrates this principle well. Male college students were exposed to extremely attractive females, before being asked to rate the attractiveness of an average looking female in a photograph. Prior exposure to the attractive females led males to rate the average female as significantly less attractive, compared to a control group who were not exposed to the attractive females, suggesting that the contrast created affected their judgements.

Perceptual contrast has also been demonstrated in many other domains. In a simple experiment, Sherif, Taub and Hovland (1958) had participants first lift a heavy object. When they subsequently lifted a lighter object, they underestimated how much it weighed – because the difference between weights was exaggerated via perceptual contrast. In a similar fashion, this advert draws your attention to one environment, and then compares it to a different one. Our cognitive shortcuts then take over and do the rest, emphasising the difference between those environments. Thus even though we may not have strongly positive views about a green, clean environment in our day-to-day lives, when contrasted with the polluted environment, its appeal is boosted, and this should encourage viewers to strive for a cleaner environment – by buying a Smart car, which is the “the less polluting car of the world”. 

Cialdini, R. B. (2001). Influence: Science and practice. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Kenrick, D. T., & Gutierres, S. E. (1980). Contrast effects and judgments of physical attractiveness: When beauty becomes a social problem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38, 131.

Sherif, M., Taub, D. and Hovland, C. I. (1958). Assimilation and contrast effects of anchoring stimuli on judgements. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 55, 150-155.

Sophie Hitchcock

1 comment:

  1. I think there are stronger techniques than contrast being used here, but what you have is good.


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