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.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Make Yourself Scarce!

Note. From “Headphones for sale at bargain price £10!! Black and white pairs available” by GumTree, 2014, retrieved from

This is an advertisement placed on the website GumTree. The advert is selling a particular brand of headphones. It fails to persuade the reader that the headphones are worth purchasing, because the description states that there are ‘many available.’ This therefore does not use the persuasive technique of making an item appear scarce to increase its perceived value.

Worchel, Lee, and Adewole (1975) provide evidence for this scarcity effect. In their study, participants were asked to sample cookies and rate them on liking, attractiveness and the amount they should cost.

Participants were either in a ‘scarce’ condition, where there were few cookies available, or an ‘abundant’ condition, where there were many cookies available.

Table 1
Mean measures of liking, attractiveness and cost for participants in ‘scarce’ and ‘abundant’ conditions
Dependent Measure
  4.23 (21)
  7.00 (23)
  4.19 (21)
  6.61 (23)
50.75 (21)
37.50 (23)

Note. A lower number on ‘liking’ and ‘attractiveness’ indicates higher ratings of liking and attractiveness. These were rated on a 9-point scale, with 1 being the highest and 9 being the lowest possible rating. A higher number on ‘cost’ indicates a greater estimate of how much the item should cost per pound, in cents. The numbers in parentheses are the number of participants in each condition.

Table 1 displays the results of this study. It indicates that participants liked the cookies significantly more in the scarce condition than the abundant condition (means = 4.23 and 7.00 respectively) and rated them significantly more attractive in the scarce condition than the abundant condition (means = 4.19 and 6.61 respectively). There was no significant difference between participants’ estimation of cost in the two conditions.

These results show that scarcity leads to increased liking and attractiveness ratings of an item. The persuasive impact of the headphones advertisement could therefore be improved by removing the phrase ‘many available’ from the description, and replacing this with an indication that the product is scarce. This would make the headphones appear more likeable and attractive.


GumTree, 2014. Headphones for sale at bargain price £10!! Black and white pairs available. Retrieved from
Worchel, S., Lee, J., & Adewole, A. (1975). Effects of supply and demand on ratings of object value. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32, 906-914.

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