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.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Come to Smack! It's your last chance.

Although my friend touches upon two persuasive techniques (scarcity and social consensus) in his (successful!) attempt to convince me to go on a night out, I would like to focus particularly on the scarcity principle.

The scarcity principle states that making an option appear scarce or rare increases its perceived value and makes us want it more. Worchel, Lee and Adewole (1975) looked at how scarcity affected participants’ ratings of the attractiveness of cookies.

The subjects were split into high and low participation conditions. In the high condition subjects were told that many subjects were part of the experiment that day, whereas in the low condition they were told the opposite. They then compared subjects rating of liking, attractiveness of the cookies and how much they thought they should cost. The subjects were also put into separate conditions regarding abundance and scarcity.

In the scarcity condition, the subjects had a jar containing 10 cookies placed in front of them which were then either swapped by a ‘interrupting’ experimenter for a jar containing just 2 cookies due to ‘demand’ or in another condition, due to ‘an accident’. In a third condition no change occurred. The opposite occurred in the abundance condition, the jar containing 2 cookies was replaced with the jar containing 10 as a result of the same justifying reasons. A no change condition was once again included.

As the table below shows the researchers found that the more scarce the cookies appeared to be the more attractive they were to participants. The cookies were rated on liking, attractiveness and how much the subject thought they should cost. The cost was measured in pence, whereas the liking and attractiveness was measured on a 9-point scale with 1 being the most positive option. The numbers in brackets refer to the number of participants taking part in each condition.

This table shows how participants opinions of the cookies was most positive when the change of cookies from 10 to 2 was from demand, slightly less positive when it was a result of an accident, and yet again less positive when there was no change. Yet even in the no change condition, cookies were rated much higher than in the abundance conditions. As expected, the results in the abundance condition had an inverse pattern as the more abundant the cookies seemed, the less positive the opinions were.  

As can be seen by the text message conversation, my friend employs the scarcity principle in reminding me that it was the last chance I would be able to go to Smack Tuesday (a favourite of mine) before the exam period. Despite the fact that I am entirely bogged down with work, the idea that I wouldn’t have the chance to go to another smack Tuesday for a long time convinced me, without much of a struggle, that I should go, as indicated by my suggestion for my friend to buy us queue jumps so we can bypass the masses also trying to make it to this (rare) occasion.


Worchel, Stephen, Jerry Lee, and Akanbi Adewole, 1975, Effects of Supply and Demand on Ratings of Object Value,Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32 (5), 906- 914. 

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