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.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Artist's Sh**

The picture above shows a can filled with an artist’s faeces – a piece which sold for £97,250 in 2008. In 1961 the artist Piero Manzoni released 90 cans of his own faeces as an act of mockery and defiance against the world of art. Ironically, these pieces are now worth thousands of pounds and in high demand with art collectors.

The bizarre price that people are prepared to pay for a can of human faeces may be partially explained by the concept of scarcity. Since there are only 90 cans available in the whole world, it makes the item more desirable and makes people perceive the price of the item to be higher, making people willing to pay thousands of pounds to possess this rarity.

Lynn (1989) did a study which demonstrates this phenomenon. They used a between subject, 2x2 design with the first variable being scarce vs abundant and the second variable being unknown price vs known price of the item. Students were given some information regarding a particular wine. In the scarce condition, they were told that there were only 5000 bottles of this wine made whilst in the abundant condition, they were told that there were 50,000 made. In the no price condition, participants were not told the value of the wine whereas in the known price condition, they were told that it could be purchased for $20 per bottle.

The participants were then asked to rate the scarcity, the expensiveness, the desirability and their willingness to buy of the wine they had been given information about. The table below shows the results:

The table shows that when there was no price available, the participants rated the wine which only had 5000 bottles (scarce condition) as more scarce, more expensive, more desirable and stated a higher willingness to buy the product than when there were 50,000 bottles (abundant condition). However, when there was an acceptable price available, although the participants still rated the product as more scarce, they there was no significant difference in their expensiveness rating or desirable rating between the scarce versus abundant wine, and they were still more willing to buy the scarce wine compared to the abundant wine.

This explains why people are willing to buy Artist’s Sh** for ridiculous amounts of money. Since there are only 90 available in the world, people see it as a desirable product, and since it was an innovative idea of which nothing alike had ever occurred before, there was no price information available, so people perceived it to be worth a lot and so are willing to pay thousands to have it.


Lynn, M. (1989). Scarcity effects on desirability: mediated by assumed expensiveness?. Journal of Economic Psychology, 10, 257-274.

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