Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills 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, February 28, 2014

Men; Using scarcity to get what they want when they want

‘Only 10 tickets remain!’ and similar tactics of scarcity which tell customers that the ‘must-have’ thing they ‘need’ is in short supply work to persuade people to comply and buy-into the product on offer.

Following on from this logic then, surely the same should be possible for men and women who at different times in life are in different levels of supply. Can men and women use the supply and demand curve to their advantage? The answer is seemingly yes…

Generally it is accepted that there are lower levels of males compared to females, meaning that it is the men who can use their market-scarcity to attract females and establish marital relationships. Whilst the marriage market is not quite subject to the influences of numerical supply and demand; it should naturally be expected that the scarcer sex in the population should have a greater chance of getting married.

However, counter-intuitively when males are scarce they are less likely to get married… Why is this? The answer; because their market scarcity also enhances their short-term mating success and therefore reduces their incentives for commitment. Younger men are quite happy to have several short-term relationships and so do so, and this means that despite being an available option to them, they choose not to marry.

Figure 1- Assuming a constant population of males, the likelihood of marriage increases with ages whilst the likelihood of a short-term relationship decreases. 

What did the study show?

The main finding from the study was that men who were scarce – in low male-sex ratio populations – used their low supply (scarcity) to improve their mating efforts when young. However as the men grew older, these still scarce males would change towards strategies of commitment and marriage.

The Main Takeaway

So basically, the study suggests that men can use their low supply to dictate compliance from a female partner; a scarce man can choose whether he wants a short-term or long-term relationship. Just as on a shopping channel a low-stocked item is viewed in a completely new and desirable way, when it comes to relationships a similar pattern exists.


Kruger, D. J., & Schlemmer, E. (2009). Male Scarcity is Differentially Related to Male Marital Likelihood across the Life Course. Evolutionary Psychology, 7(2).

Alex Lee

ABA could make ‘Live and Let Dye’ big business!

Since I currently have no career aspirations, I will resort to my 5-year-old self’s fantasy of hairdressing.  Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is based on the principles of behavioural reinforcement, aiming to increase the frequency of good behaviour and decrease the frequency of bad behaviour. As owner of ‘Live and Let Dye Hair Salon’ the main customer behaviour I want to increase (the target behaviour) is visiting the salon. An appropriate method of increasing the target behaviour is through negative reinforcement. For instance by removing split-ends, unwanted frizziness and greys, my service can reward customers by taking away aversive stimuli, thus increasing their salon-visiting behaviours. Additionally these reinforcers occur immediately after visiting the salon which should help strengthen the power of the reinforcement. There is much evidence for the effectiveness of negative reinforcement in the literature. For example, Carr, Newsom & Binkoff (1980) showed that when a child was permitted to leave a situation after emitting a set amount of aggressive responses, they were highly aggressive. So aggressive behaviour was negatively reinforced because it resulted in the child being able to escape the demanding situation.

Providing good customer service by complementing the customer on their new look and providing drinks, magazines and juicy gossip would positively reinforce the target behaviour. The customer receives favourable outcomes from visiting the salon and thus they are more likely to engage in that behaviour. On a more serious note, positive reinforcement has shown to increase target behaviours in those suffering clinical disorders. For example Leitenburg, Agras & Thomson, 1968 showed that sufferers of Anorexia Nervosa who were provided with positive activities contingent on their gradual weight gain responded better to treatment.  Thus there is empirical support for the effect of both positive and negative reinforcement on behaviour change. But what other ABA tools could I use to ensure customers continue to visit my salon? The next example may seem somewhat extravagant.

My customer may come under the illusion that she can treat her hair just as well by herself, this behaviour would reduce the target behaviour and I therefore need to prevent it. I could achieve this by tripling the price of hair dye in all local cosmetic stores (let’s say I have contacts) making non-salon methods of hair treatment unpleasant and aversive. Customers who engaged in non-salon behaviours would be punished because of the greater expense. This type of punishment is characteristic of response cost whereby the low-cost benefit (positive reinforcement) of non-salon treatment (a bad behaviour) is taken away (by increased prices). A cruel but justified means of achieving hair-world domination.

Thus using the power of applied behavioural analysis I can identify the behaviours I want to strengthen, i.e. customers visiting my salon and those I want to weaken, i.e. customers going elsewhere for hair treatment.

Alice Goodman


Carr, E. G., Newsom, C. D., & Binkoff, J. A. (1980). Escape as a factor in the aggressive behavior of two retarded children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 13, 101–117.

Leitenberg, H., Agras, S. W., & Thomson, L. E., (1968). A sequential analysis of the effect of selective positive reinforcement in modifying Anorexia Nervosa.  Behaviour Research & Therapy, 6, 211-218. Pergamon Press. Printed in England

Confessions of A Hypothetical Housewife

Whilst my goal in life is not to label myself as being a “housewife”, I will undoubtedly come to experience many of the aspects of the “stay-at-home mum” stereotype in the future. For example, getting married, having children and maintaining a comfortable and clean home. However, as many televisions programs highlight, such as Super Nanny, Desperate Housewives, and Outnumbered (to name a few), the role can often come with its difficulties. Exaggerated images of reckless children, spaghetti-spattered kitchens and frequently absent husbands come to mind.
But never fear, Applied Behaviour Analysis is here!

Applied Behaviour Analysis aims to change people’s behaviour by altering the frequency of an occurring behaviour and is based upon the principles of Skinner’s operant conditioning (Skinner, 1963), whereby if behaviour is reinforced the likelihood of it occurring again increases and if behaviour is punished the likelihood of it occurring decreases. It analyses relationship between a behaviour and the environmental events that before behaviour, called antecedents, and the environmental events that occur after behaviour, called consequences.

In the life of a housewife, one situation that I can envision frustrating me would be my children not helping out around the house as they feel “Super Mum” can do it all. Well, with behavioural analysis, that would change. Firstly, I would have to identify the behaviour I want to change, which in this case would specifically be my children not putting their plates away after dinner. In order to change this, I would need an intervention that motivates them to put their plates away. An example of this intervention would be to introduce a reward as reinforcement, such as allowing them to have a chocolate after they have put the dishes away. This hopefully would be enough for my children to understand that putting plates away equals receiving a reward. This use of rewards to reinforce behaviour has been shown to be effective by Roberts and Fanurik (1986), who found that children given reward coupons were more likely to increase their use of seat belts.

As for my imaginary husband, let’s say he’s very dedicated to his work but needs to spend more time with his family. How do I encourage him to do so? Well, because I would have been moaning at him for being at work too much, not only would this aggravate him, it just wouldn’t help encourage him to come home earlier. So in order to make being at home more enjoyable for him, I would use differential reinforcement, which combines the techniques of extinction and reinforcement (Kramer & Rilling, 1970). I would stop moaning at my husband (which is the extinction of the consequences of his behaviour) and when he is at home, I would make the time special by encouraging family activities (hence positively reinforcing the desired behaviour). Therefore, this technique (if carried out properly) should induce my hypothetical husband to spend less time at work and encourage him to spend more time at home, thus reducing how often his “staying at work” behaviour occurs.

So ladies, if you ever get to that point in your future where your kids are driving you crazy and your husband never seems to be around, look no further than Applied Behaviour Analysis!

Because using Applied Behaviour Analysis means “Happy Families”!  

By Daniela Mackie 


            Kramer, T. J., & Rilling, M. (1970). Differential reinforcement of low rates: A selective critique. Psychological Bulletin, 74, 225-254.

Roberts, M. C., & Fanurik, D. (1986). Rewarding elementary schoolchildren for their use of safety belts. Health Psychology, 5, 185-196.

Skinner, B. F. (1963). Operant behavior. American Psychologist, 18, 503.

Good morning Sir, how are you today?

The goals of applied behaviour analysis (ABA) can be regarded simply as trying to solve behaviour problems, by providing antecedents and/or consequences to shape behaviour in a desired way. If a behaviour is followed by positive consequences, it is more likely to be repeated - this is positive reinforcement. In a future career as a store manager, I might use positive reinforcement to encourage good customer service behaviours in my employees, as good customer service is required in order to retain existing customers, a process far cheaper than obtaining new ones (Barlow & Maul, 2000).

When using reinforcement, it is important to clearly define the target behaviour, and then choose appropriate reinforcers. These reinforcers are more effective if they occur straight after the behaviour, and are certain to happen, thus ensuring a strong link between the behaviour and consequence. Lastly, results must be monitored, to determine whether or not the intervention was successful.

A study of staff in an American grocery store followed these principles in order to improve customer service behaviours in their employees. Rice, Austin and Gravina (2009) carried out a functional assessment in order to develop a relevant intervention. They discovered a lack of antecedents (the staff had not been told how to behave), and a lack of reinforcement (staff were not told when they were behaving correctly). For this reason, their intervention involved task clarification, and used social praise as positive reinforcement, all delivered by the store manager. A follow-up was conducted 48 weeks later.  

As figure 1 shows, customer service greetings both when customers entered (greeting) and left (closing) the store increased significantly during the task clarification and social praise phase, and remained high at follow-up for those staff who received the treatment (Rice, Austin, & Gravina, 2009). The manager did not implement the treatment for new members of staff, which could be why their customer service behaviours were not so high. Overall it is clear that the ABA was effective for those staff members who underwent the intervention, and their improved behaviour was maintained over a lengthy follow-up period, making this a viable treatment for managers seeking to improve customer service behaviours in their workers.

Barlow, J., & Maul, D. (2000). Emotional value: Creating strong bonds with your customers. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler.

Rice, A., Austin, J., & Gravina, N. (2009). Increasing customer service behaviors using manager-delivered task clarification and social praise. Journal of applied behavior analysis, 42, 665-669.

Sophie Hitchcock

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Free-To-Play: Make more money by charging nothing

Sim City is the oldest city-building franchise developing games that put you in the role of a virtual city planner. In 2013, the franchise released its latest title, selling 3 million copies to this date.

CityVille is a facebook game based around the very same theme. The game offers very similar features with one exception - there is no upfront cost to play. How many monthly users did CityVille have in its prime of 2011? Over 100 million.

The number of people playing online video-games has risen exponentially over the last five years. Player numbers are no longer given in millions over the course of the product's lifetime, but in tens of millions a month. This evolution not only means fierce competition, but also results in innovative business approaches to delivering entertainment. While these business models are fairly unknown to the general public, they hold incredible potential if used properly and literally change struggling corporations into thriving industries making hundreds of millions a term.

This blog post is tightly liked to Roberto Dillon and Ori Cohen's (2013) research paper on the evolution of business models in the video gaming industry and applies their concepts to our everyday world.

I invite you on a life-changing journey of imagination and dare you to look behind the veil of videogaming, applying these business models to fields like education, psychotherapy or medicine.

We start our journey with a simple, yet powerful phrase: Free-to-play. While most games either charge you when first using the product (upfront purchase of the game box), or operate on monthly subcription, free-to-play works very differently. You get a large portion of the product for free, with an optional opportunity to pay at a later stage.

The payments are often not for the actual product, but for vanity perks such as limited edition goodies, addons that make your experience a little more comfortable or simply a donation to the developer. This lets you enjoy most of the service free of charge, while letting the company profit (often to a much greater extent than they would with alternative business plans).

But how is all this possible? How does a company make millions by making charging optional? The answer is strikingly obvious: This payment model utilises persuasion techniques to not only make customers pay, but to make them excited and extremely happy about handing their money over. The first technique used is reciprocity. Giving someone a product for free makes the player feel obliged and in turn more open to making an optional payment (Flynn, 2002).

Secondly, while there is no monetary payment upfront, the users invest a lot of their time into the product. This triggers an effect called loss aversion. When people build an emotional link to an item through it's ownership, they go out of their way to maintain the ownership in the long run - even if there are equally attractive alternatives present (Novemsky, & Kahneman, 2005).

The list goes on: Seeing other users enjoying their premium perks brings up social pressure and the need for approval; limited offer benefits introduce time pressure and scarcity; the positive image of the company giving you the service for free makes them come across as very likable; no upfront payment barrier maximises the effectiveness of referrals and makes the product easily available; the fact that you already are a user lets you come up with ideas you like it (self-generated persuasion); and also being a user gives the company incredible power over the shape and form their information reaches you. (To understand these techniques in detail, read Pratkanis, 2007)

Is this business model nothing but a fraud, or is there more to it? Star Wars: The Old Republic is the second most expensive game ever made, costing over $200 million to develop. This is the budget of most blockbuster hollywood movies. Released under the monthly subscription model, the game was off to a perfect start when it reached 1 million sales over the first three days. However not even two months in, subscriber numbers started dropping rapidly and the developers began to realise they won't even cover their costs. The struggling company was desperate and went for a wild gamble. They reorganised and shifted the product into the Free-To-Play (F2P) business model. In 2013 only, the product made $137 million through free-to-play transactions and the active playerbase doubled since the introduction of the model, now being one of the most profitable F2P games.

Dillon & Cohen (2013) predict a significant increase in the use of this payment model in the coming years. But let's look beyond. This payment model offers a unique opportunity to make money while delivering a service to the majority of users for free. Why not take the very same model and apply it to private education. Imagine students going to university for free, with the option to pay for guest lecturers, priority in marking papers or a small charge for sitting in the front rows of the lecture theatre. If designed right, this could result in a model as profitable as charging £13.000 a year in tuition fees, yet completely removing the payment barrier to actually get university education.

Paulo Coelho, the author of Alchemist - one of the world's most read books - took on board a very similar idea. When releasing his last book, Aleph, he did something unexpected - shared the whole novel online for free. With the positive uproar of his community and certainly a very surprised look on his publisher's face, he says: "The world has evolved. With everyone being connected through internet, it is no longer about releasing a product, it is about engaging with your audience. If people enjoy my book, they will buy it in store - nothing is more bothersome than reading a whole novel on a computer screen."

So we come to our last step on our journey of imagination - you. I dare you to think of an idea how we could use free-to-play and apply it to a service in our everyday life to make it more accessible, more flexible and more positive. Dream big and dream far. Comment on this blog and make the world a brighter place with one idea on how you would use free-to-play.

After all ... it doesn't cost anything to share an idea, right?

Blog by Tomas Engelthaler (#3)

Note: While the article (Dillon, & Cohen, 2013) does not explore a single persuasion technique specifically, through my post I argue that the business model is a collection of persuasion techniques, hence the article is an analysis of all the persuasion techniques mentioned throughout - presented in an efficient and applied package.


Dillon, R., & Cohen, O. (2013). The Evolution of Business Models in the Video Game Industry. In Proceedings of the International Conference on Managing the Asian Century (pp. 101-108). Springer Singapore.

Flynn, F. (2002). The relative impact of perceived imbalance and frequency on favor exchange among employees: Tradeoffs between social status and productivity. Academy of Management Journal.

Novemsky, N., & Kahneman, D. (2005). The boundaries of loss aversion. Journal of Marketing Research, 42(2), 119-128.

Pratkanis, A. R. (Ed.). (2007). The science of social influence: Advances and future progress. Psychology Press.


Back at home, I work at a children’s play centre. Although this might not be my lifelong ambition, this Easter, the techniques of Applied Behaviour Analysis will be coming back with me!

One situation in which I can use positive reinforcement is at the ball pit. Boys LOVE to empty that thing! They throw the balls out every which way (or worse… towards me) and pathetically, I used to crawl around on my hands and knees picking them up one by one. Now I will do one of two things…

Firstly, if I see a child clearing up the balls (it is usually a girl, sorry to reinforce the stereotype) then I will praise her; “Wow, you are a superstar! Come and get a balloon from me to say thank you!” Not only does this reward her for the behaviour and therefore increase the likelihood of her continuing to tidy but by vicarious operant conditioning others might copy her behaviour as well. This was demonstrated by Bandura, Ross and Ross (1963) in an adaptation of their classic Bobo doll study. They showed that children were more likely to copy the aggressive behaviour of a role model if their behaviour was rewarded rather than punished.  

An alternative technique would be to make the act of putting the balls back reinforcing in itself by turning it into a game! “Who can put all the balls back in the fastest?” Then once again plenty of praise for the fastest ball returners. Innocent children falling foul of the most basic Skinnerian (1938) operant conditioning but who cares if they are having fun!

Unfortunately, unlike most roles working with children, I have very little authority for punishment. Under the scrutiny of parents watchful eyes I wouldn’t dare punish little Freddy. The most I tend to do is an authoritative shout;
“Don’t ride the motorbike down the slide!”
 “Don’t bite that girl’s arm!”
“Don’t take your nappy off in the ball pit!”
However, reprimanding is only level one of a behaviour analyst’s punishment.  A good alternative might be a time out. The whole play experience is rewarding for the child so removal from it will be punishing. However, this would need parent cooperation. Parents who listen to you when you tell them their child has done something wrong are fine. The problem parents are those who believe that little Freddy cannot possibly do anything wrong and they contradict your punishment.

So watch out kids… I am coming back and I have applied behaviour analysis with me!


Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S. A. (1963). Vicarious reinforcement and imitative learning. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology67, 601-607.

Skinner, B. F. (1938). The behavior of organisms: An experimental analysis. Cambridge, MA: B.F. Skinner Foundation.

Do you know your ABC?

As an aspiring teacher, behavioural management is one of the challenges I will face. Anyone who has watched ‘Tough Young Teachers’ recently, will appreciate that this is not always the easiest task. However help is at hand, and through using Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) ensuring good behaviour is as easy as ABC – Antecedents, Behaviour and Consequences, to be precise.

Applied Behavioural Analysis discovers the relationships between behaviour and its antecedents and consequences. Some antecedents may make behaviour more likely to be carried out and some will make it less. The same for consequences – we are more likely to repeat a behaviour which sees us rewarded. By identifying what, in an environment, is reinforcing a certain behaviour, whether this be shouting out in class, or hitting another child, we can then take steps, using Skinner’s principles of Operant Conditioning (Skinner, 1958) to change this.

Imagine you have a child in your class who is extremely shy and doesn’t readily volunteer answers or interact a lot with the other children. First we need to define the behaviour we want to change – in this case, social withdrawal. Next we need to select appropriate reinforcers – something we think will encourage the child to engage in the desirable behaviour. According to Flora (2004) this is the most important principle of behaviour. Depending on the child this could vary from praise, sweets or extra time on the computer. These are all positive reinforcers, which give the child something as a result of behaviour. Alternatively you could take away something undesirable such as extra homework, which acts as a negative reinforcer for the behaviour. It is important that whatever reward is given is immediate and certain, in order to allow the child to associate the behaviour with the consequences. Finally we should monitor the effectiveness of the intervention by comparing a baseline of times the child has volunteered to answer a question or interacted with peers, to the number of times the child does this during the intervention. If this has increased we can presume that it is the reward that has led to the change in frequency of behaviour (this can be tested by removing the reinforcement and observing whether the behaviour goes down again).

The ABA technique could also be used in managing a disruptive child. The reinforcement again could be positive (e.g. praise for sitting down when asked, or writing lines for not being quiet when asked) or negative, through removing privileges such as break time or attention.

Time Out is a punishment strategy used to reduce the frequency of behaviour, by removing the person from a reinforcing situation, (Cooper, Heron & Heward, 1987). For example, if a child hits another child whilst playing a game, you may send them out of the classroom, which prevents them participating in the fun game anymore. It is important to make sure that the ‘time-out’ is not a desirable punishment, such as sending them to a teacher who they like spending time with; otherwise this may act in the opposite way, strengthening the behaviour.

It is often possible to change the A (antecedents) and C (consequences) which reinforce behaviour. Therefore, if you want to survive in the classroom, remember your ABCs.

Jessica Brett – Blog 4.


Cooper, J. O., Heron, T.E., & Heward, W.L. (1987). Applied Behavior Analysis. Merril: Prentice Hall. p. 355.

Flora, S.R. (2004). The power of reinforcement. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Skinner, B. F. (1938). The Behavior of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis. New York: Appleton-Century.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"Shall we up the blinds?"

When I grow up I want to own a casino in Las Vegas.

This casino will be the envy of all other casinos on the strip because it will make a lot of money. “How?” you ask. Through applied behavioural analysis of course! Now some may say this is really awful and that I should be using ABA to help people not to gamble. In the real world I would of course never advocate the use of ABA to increase gambling behaviour. As long as you’re not my flatmate who wants to bet doing the washing-up. This is a purely hypothetical exercise.

The crux of ABA is increasing the frequency of behaviour you want and decreasing that which you do not. For the casino example then I need to increase the frequency of betting in the casino and decrease any behaviour that is not betting. To do so associations need to be instated in the gamblers between positive affect and betting, and reinforcers implemented to modify behaviour. Allow me to paint you a picture of your time in my casino…

You walk through the elaborate double doors on to the casino floor. A hostess approaches you.
“Welcome back Mister Bond, may I say you’re looking very suave today. If you’d like to join us at the third Black Jack table I’ll prepare a drink for you. We’ve had some great wins at that table today sir and that can’t last forever; I hope you get lucky as well!”

The likelihood you’ll gamble today vastly increased with just that short interaction. Naturally you’re inclined to stop off at table three then. Through flattery, reciprocity and scarcity you feel inclined to play; just one hand couldn’t hurt. Taking your seat you’re greeted by the smiling dealer who remarks it is a pleasure to have you at the table today. You’re feeling pretty good. Gambling was definitely a good idea.

The hand is dealt and you receive a comfortable pair of kings. The first of two other patrons at the table strikes out and the second holds a confident silence. The dealer asks for your cards and it becomes apparent you have beaten not only the other shmuck at the table but the dealer as well. Dopamine floods your system and just as you lean back in your chair the hostess appears with your favourite beverage; a vodka martini, shaken. Well, it would be a shame to get up now wouldn’t it? You couldn’t possibly get up to go now with a full glass, a lucky streak in the making and all these lovely smiley people around you who seem to worship your visage.

“Let’s go again” You declare.

It’s three hours later. You’ve lost a lot of money. You made a few gains here and there but it seems every time you got up to leave the incredibly attractive hostess would either start a conversation about how she’s always wanted to see England, hand you another drink or serve another plate of delicious canopies straight to your side of the table. Those few hands you did win earned jubilation and a gentle caress of the shoulder from her. Every time your chips went to the dealer she cooed and encouraged the next hand; “This next one will be the winner!”.

You push yourself up from your chair. There’s no reaction from the hostess this time. She knows your pockets are empty and the treasury certainly won’t let you put this one on the credit card. How did this happen?

Well it goes something like this;
1.       Your behaviour was defined. Putting chips on the table and no leaving until you had none left.
2.       Appropriate reinforcers were picked. Gambling itself brings its own cocktail of reward neurotransmitters but other more natural appetitive reinforcers were in place; booze, fancy food, good looking caressing women and everyone smiling at you for your good (gambling) behaviour.
3.       Power factor. Reinforcers were implemented as soon as behaviour was performed. Win or lose when you put those chips on the table there was a drink placed in your hand or a squeeze of your arm.
4.       Monitor results. You upped your bet just a little bit more after that delicious fresh sushi was delivered to you. Better notify the kitchen to start churning that out pronto!

And so, with my army of pretty men and women at your side day or night on my casino floor I’m pushing you here, nudging you there and always correcting your behaviour to bet, bet, bet!

Persistent Gambling
Dickerson, M., & Adcock, S. (1987). Mood, arousal and cognitions in persistent gambling: Preliminary investigation of a theoretical model. Journal of Gambling Behavior, 3 (1), 3-15.

Food Motivation
Wise, R. A. (2006). Role of brain dopamine in food reward and reinforcement. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 361 (1471), 1149-1158.

Attractive People Motivation
van Leeuwen, M. L., & Neil Macrae, C. (2004). Is beautiful always good? Implicit benefits of facial attractiveness. Social cognition, 22 (6), 637-649.

Alcohol Motivation
Kambouropoulos, N., & Staiger, P. K. (2001). The influence of sensitivity to reward on reactivity to alcoholrelated cues. Addiction, 96 (8), 1175-1185.

James Ulke

Monday, February 24, 2014

How to get free cigarettes

There has been a great deal of research into the effect of touching on persuasion, showing that it does seem to have a positive effect on compliance. This research has now begun to look at which parts of our bodies lead us to be more easily persuaded when touched (we’re talking arms and legs here, nothing dodgy).

Studies into the effect of touch on compliance include:
·         Hornik (1991): Shoppers who were touched on the arm as they entered a store spent more money than those who were not.
·         Hornik & Ellis (1988): Shoppers were more likely to complete a survey if they were touched on the arm as they were asked.
·         Crusco & Wetzel (1984): Diners who were touched on the arm gave significantly bigger tips than those who were not.

However, I’d like to explore this idea from more of a biological angle. How could stimulation of different areas of our bodies have any effect on how easily persuaded we are? This would suggest that different areas of our brain are more likely to respond to persuasive measures than others (bear with me on this). It has been proven that both touching someone, and directing a request at their left hemisphere can lead to increased powers of persuasion.  This can be done by speaking into or towards the contralateral ear (the ear on the opposite side of the body to its corresponding brain hemisphere). So, Left ear = right brain hemisphere, Right ear = left brain hemisphere.
To explain this idea better, let me present a piece of research conducted into hemispheric asymmetry by Marzoli and Tommasi in 2009. Their study involved an experimenter approaching 176 subjects in a busy nightclub. He/she then asked them for a cigarette, directing the request at either their right or left ear. They found that twice as many cigarettes were obtained when request was directed at the right ear, implying the influence of the left hemisphere.
Yes, at first this does just seem like a drunk psychology researcher scrounging cigarettes and calling it a study, but it really is an empirical journal article and a rare naturalistic study on brain function conducted outside of a laboratory. This means it has high ecological validity and can be applied to real life.

So what is the explanation for these findings? Well, According to several studies on hemispheric asymmetry, the left side of the brain is the one most often associated with the comprehension of language. Although the right hemisphere can also process language, it does so slower. Moreover, the left hemisphere is associated with a more positive mood and approach responses: this could explain why directing a request towards someone’s right ear means that they are more likely to comply. This research therefore implies the left hemisphere is more easily persuaded because it is associated with approach behaviours and a positive mood, not just because it processes language faster.

Crusco, A. H. and Wetzel, C. G. 1984. The Midas Touch The Effects of Interpersonal touch on Restaurant Tipping. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 10 (4)
Hornik, J. 1991. Shopping time and purchasing behavior as a result of in-store tactile stimulation. Perceptual and motor skills, 73 (3)
Hornik, J. and Ellis, S. 1988. Strategies to secure compliance for a mall intercept interview. Public Opinion Quarterly, 52 (4)

Marzoli, D. and Tommasi, L. 2009. Side biases in humans (Homo sapiens): three ecological studies on hemispheric asymmetries. Naturwissenschaften, 96 (9)

Lauren Grainger

Treating autism with applied behavior analysis

Nowadays there are many different fields were you can work as a psychologist. In my case, I would like to specialize in clinical and health psychology and probably one of the things I will have to deal with is autism. It is important to know that one of the ways of treating autism is by applied behavior analysis (ABA).  We know that applied behavior analysis can be defined as the attempt to solve behavior problems by providing antecedents and/or consequences that can change the behavior and the use of it in treating autism has increase recently.

The National Research Council’s book Educating Children with Autism (2001) concluded that ABA was most effective and best research supported treatment for the main characteristics of autism spectrum. ABA is fully recognized as an effective and safe treatment to this disorder. We have to bear in mind also that applied behavior analysis is an objective discipline which is focused on the reliable measurement and objective evaluation of observable behavior.

There have been different studies that have proved that ABA procedures can create improvements in social relationships, self-care, communication, play and employment. It has been seen that these techniques can develop basic skills such as listening, looking, and imitating; skills which are not present on an autistic patient. It also affects positively more complex skills such as conserving, reading and understanding another person’s point of view.

A meta-analysis carried out by Virués-Ortega showed in the results that long term, comprehensive applied behavior analysis treatment leads to positive effects in intellectual functioning, language development, acquisition of daily living skills and social functioning in children diagnosed with autism. It is important to mention that language-related outcomes such as IQ, receptive and expressive language and/or communication, were superior to non-verbal IQ, social functioning and daily living skills.

All of the studies done in this field involved different age groups from preschoolers to adults. It doesn’t matter in which group the autistic patient is in; results have shown that ABA increase participation in family and community activities, among other things.

This method of intervention can be used to increase behaviors, tech new skills, maintain behavior, transfer or generalize behavior from one response or situation to another, narrow or restrict conditions under which interfering behavior appears and also reduce this interfering behavior.

It is important to know that therapist personalize the intervention and treatment to each patient’s needs, skills, preferences, skills and family situation.  This is way probably one ABA treatment directed to a specific patient may not work with another learner and will look different to the program customized for the latter.  


Virués-Ortega, J. (2010). Applied behavior analytic intervention for autism in early childhood: Meta-analysis, meta-regression and dose–response meta-analysis of multiple outcomes. Clinical psychology review, 30(4), 387-399.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Online outlet shops

According to the past studies of consumer behaviour, consumers’ choice of retail outlets is influenced by their own shopping preference for a particular product. Consumers usually choose to shop online to get better-valued products, but they would also purchase at stores to minimize the purchase risk (Bhatnagar et al., 2000; Korgaonkar, 1982). The field of fashion and luxury items is often categorized in the high purchasing rate area, however, online outlet shops like “BrandAlley”, which is famous for its fashion and designer sales, are still very popular among the consumers. The compliance tactics used by BrandAlley will be analyzed, which also applies to most of the other luxury online outlets.

Price is often related to the quality of the product (Monroe and Petroshius, 1981), and higher priced items are usually also indicators of higher social status (Veblen, 1965). Social status symbols can be explained by the rules of “liking’ and “social proof’. BrandAlley’s target group of consumers can be largely divided into two groups: people who want to process a designer item but wouldn't like to spend as much money, or the smart buyers, who tend to purchase the item for the sake of it being discounted. These two groups are highly interactive.

One simple tactic that is used a lot on the website is “scarcity”. It is heavily advertised with those massive pressuring signs everywhere (ENDS ON 2ND FEB!), and I have to admit that it works, at least for me. Also, once you have chosen an item, a red warning would appear saying “this item will be in your basket for 20 minutes”. This indicates the uniqueness of the product perfectly without saying too much. Moreover, as a costumer you’ll have to sign in or sign up to view the items, which naturally means that you will have to be a member of it, the tactic of commitment?

Another very obvious tactic being “contrast”, contrast of the original prices and discounted prices. According to the study of Schindler (1989), consumers’ satisfaction increases with the increase of the discount. The online shop has also used the “referral” tactic: “10 pounds off your next shopping when you recommend us to a friend!”

The effect of “mere exposure” might as well contribute to the profit of the shop. Once you become a member, you are very likely to receive their weekly (or even daily) emails and just by checking the emails (or deleting them), one may find it easier to accept deals from the shop simply because it is exposed to you more than the others.


Bhatnagar, A., Misra, S. and Rao, R.H. (2000), “On risk, convenience, and internet shopping behavior”, Communications of the ACM, Vol. 43, pp. 98-105.
Korgaonkar, P.K. (1982), “Consumer preferences for catalog showrooms and discount stores: the moderating role of product risk”, Journal of Retailing, Vol. 58, pp. 76-88.
Monroe, K.B. & S.M. Petroshius. (1981). ‘Buyers’ subjective perception of price: An update of the evidence’. In: T. Robertson and H. Kassarjian (eds.), Perspectives in consumer behavior. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman. pp. 43-55.
Schindler, R.M. (1988). The role of ego-expressive factors in the consumer's satisfaction with price. Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction, and Complaining behavior, 1, 34-39.

Veblen. T., 1965. The theory of the leisure class. New York: A.M. Kelly. (Original work published 1899.)

Hui Xie (Blog 2)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Lecturers are fwends: Non-verbal responses on liking and compliance

As many of us already know or will have learnt, we usually try to say yes to the people we like. Research has found that we are more likely to comply with and give power to those we like or have respect for (McCroskey & Richmond, 1992). With this knowledge, it is quite easy to see how we could influence significant people in our lives, i.e teachers, parents, friends, to our advantage. And, in some cases, we don’t even have to say anything!

Mottet, Beebe, Raffeld and Paulsel (2004) were interested in finding if there was any effect of student’s verbal and non-verbal responsiveness on teachers’ liking of students and willingness to comply with their requests. Hmm, interesting…

Method: 112 instructors viewed one of four videos of a staged classroom situation. Independent variable 1: students’ non-verbal responsiveness (high/low), which included posture, eye-contact, note-taking, and vocal assurances.
Independent variable 2: students’ verbal responsiveness (high/low), which included asking questions and responding to teacher’s questions.
This gave a 2x2 design.
After watching the video, instructors were given a questionnaire on “liking” of students (using Mottet’s [2000] scale) and a questionnaire on their willingness to comply with potential student requests (see figure 1).

Results: The authors did predict an interaction between students’ verbal and non-verbal responsiveness on teachers’ liking of students, however, this did not happen. In fact, only the non-verbal responsiveness factor was significant, accounting for a whopping 66% of the variance. A similar story was found for the willingness to comply measure, where non-verbal responsiveness accounted for 31% of the variance (see table 3 for a summary).

In real-speak: high non-verbal responsiveness (making eye-contact, taking notes, upright posture, etc.) increased teachers’ liking of students and therefore made them more likely to comply with students’ requests. Verbal responsiveness, such as asking and answering questions, didn’t have much of an effect (in this study!).

So, what does this mean for us, as students? Well, here are a few tips if you want to get your lecturers to like you (and hence give you an extension on that all-important deadline…):

  • Sit up in lectures! Look like you’re interested and paying attention (this one will probably prove too difficult after a night at Pop! or Smack. Gotta be dedicated);
  • Make eye-contact with lecturers – most of them aren’t that scary anyway;
  • Actually make real notes (this is much easier on paper rather than your laptop, as it doesn’t look like you’re just on Facebook…also interferes with the above point!);
  • Nod, make vocal reassurances, and generally agree with the lecturer’s points so it makes him/her look clever -> feel better about him/herself -> like you. J


McCroskey, J. C., & Richmond, V. P. (1992). Increasing teacher influence through immediacy. In V. P. Richmond & J. C. McCroskey (Eds.), Power in the classroom: Communication, control, and concern (pp. 101-119). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Mottet, T. P. (2000). Interactive television instructors' perceptions of students' nonverbal responsiveness and their influence on distance teaching. Communication Education, 49, 146-164.

Mottet, T. P., Beebe, S. A., Raffeld, P. C., & Paulsel, M. L. (2004). The effects of student verbal and nonverbal responsiveness on teachers' liking of students and willingness to comply with student requests. Communication Quarterly, 52, 27-38.

Lauren Rosewarne (Blog 3)