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.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

‘Maybe it’s because I’m really really really really ridiculously good-looking’ (Zoolander et al., 2001)

From the powers of persuasion to being more likely to be let off a jail sentence (Stewart, 1980) being attractive makes many walks of life just that bit easier.

Attractive people are less likely to be sentenced to jail than unattractive people, attractive people are more likely to be chosen for a job than unattractive people and attractive people are generally considered more kind, friendly and intelligent than unattractive people (Cialdini, 1987). Due to the fact that the general public unwittingly assign these positive characteristics to attractive people - we are, generally, more likely to view attractive people in a favourable light and/or admire them. So, as the public, we immediately 'like' attractive people and because we are more likely to conform to the needs of the people that we like, it makes logical sense that the world of advertising uses physically attractive people in their campaigns.

Julia Roberts
David Beckham 

 The use of these gorgeous celebrities is a perfect example of the Halo Effect, ‘what is beautiful is good’ (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977). When the individual trying to ‘sell’ things, a.k.a. the person in the advert, is a good looking individual the consumers are drawn towards the advert and, subsequently the item, as they believe the physically attractive individual selling the said item to be trust worthy and reliable.

Chaiken (1979) Communicator Physical Attractiveness and Persuasion


To measure whether the physical attractiveness of the messenger/source makes a message more or less persuasive


110 male and female students from the University of Massachusetts - these are the communicators.

Lab Procedure: 

The communicators were trained to deliver a persuasive message and their performances were video-taped. 

Each communicator was then photo graphed and rated on a scale of physical attractiveness by two judges. The highest scoring third of communicators on this scale were considered the ‘attractive’ group and the lowest scoring third were the ‘unattractive’ group. These were the two groups chosen for inclusion in the design. 

Their video messages were watched by judges and they were scored on their vocal confidence and the number of vocal non-fluencies were recorded (the frequency of utterings such as ‘um’, ‘eerr’ and repetitions).

Field Procedure:

Each communicator was required to engage with 4 passerbys/targets (2 from each sex). 

The interaction between the communicator and the target went as follows:
  • The communicator introduced themselves to the target
  • The communicator stated that they were a member of a campus group who favoured the position that the University should stop serving meat at breakfast and lunch. The communicator backed up this point with 2 brief arguments
  • The target was then required to complete a questionnaire where they had to:
    • indicate their agreement with the communicators overall position
    • rate the communicators overall friendliness, knowledgeability and attractiveness
  • The target was then asked if they would like to sign a petition in order to stop meat from being served in the Uni cafeterias at breakfast and lunch
  • Once they had signed the petition (or refused to) they were thanked for their participation


Using the results from the table above it can be concluded Chaiken (1979) found that:
  • Attractive communicators were found to be more fluent and confident speakers
  • Attractive communicators elicited greater agreement from the targets than unattractive communicators
  • More targets signed the petition when being spoken to by an attractive communicator
  • Attractive communicators were perceived as more friendly than their unattractive counterparts


-          This research indicates that physical attractiveness can significantly enhance communicator persuasiveness


         Chaiken, S. (1979). Communicator physical attractiveness and persuasion.Journal of Personality and 

social Psychology, 37(8), 1387.

         Cialdini, R. B. (1987). Influence (Vol. 3). A. Michel. p. 171.

         Nisbett, R. E., & Wilson, T. D. (1977). The halo effect: Evidence for unconscious alteration of 

judgments. Journal of personality and social psychology, 35(4), 250.

         Stewart, J. E. (1980). Defendant's Attractiveness as a Factor in the Outcome of Criminal Trials: 

An Observational Study1. Journal of Applied Social Psychology10(4), 348-361

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