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, March 3, 2016

So-ya want to know about Soya?


This advert attempts to persuade the audience to use soya products (as an alternative to eating meat), by outlining the various benefits of soya-based food products. The title of the poster features a play on words as a means to grab the audience’s attention. Perceptual contrast to increase compliance is employed in this advert. The poster features two sources: a relatively unattractive man wearing everyday attire and an attractive woman wearing a lab coat. The former argues for a position in which people should eat meat (an opposite to the position that this poster advocates), whereas the latter provides counter arguments to explain why soya-based products are a better alternative. The rationale behind this contrast between sources is that the presence of an unattractive source would increase audience’s perceptions of attractive source’s attractiveness, thereby increasing the persuasive influence often accompanied with the physical attractiveness bias.  

Regarding the use of wordplay in the above advertisement, research has shown that the use of puns (as well as their relevancy to the advert) can influence the extent to which targets consider slogans funny. Kenrick and Gutierres (1980) presented subjects with 24 different slogans, which fell into three categories: those that did not contain a pun, those that contained a pun with one relevant meaning, and those containing a pun with two relevant meanings. Subjects were asked to rate the extent to which they felt the puns were ‘well-chosen’ and ‘pleasing’. It was revealed that slogans containing a pun were better appreciated than those that did not. In addition, slogans with with two relevant interpretations were considered better than those with only one, and were thus considered to be ‘better chosen’. Given this finding, it seems possible that the appreciation of such slogans could extend to the adverts in which they are featured, thereby increasing their persuasive influence on the audience.

There is research to show that physical attractiveness can enhance the persuasive influence of a communicator. In a field experiment, Chaiken (1979) had several communicators approach university students on campus and ask them to fill out an opinion survey (that the University should stop serving meat in the common rooms), as well as supporting the survey’s position with their own brief arguments. On this survey, targets indicated their agreement along with their perceptions of the communicator’s friendliness, knowledgeability, and attractiveness. Subsequent analysis of the data revealed that attractive communicators yielded greater agreement form targets than did unattractive communicators. In addition, it was revealed that targets perceived attractive communicators as friendlier than unattractive ones.

As mentioned, the advert contains an attractive communicator and an unattractive one, with the latter of the two conveying the advert’s persuasive message. In a field study by Kenrick and Gutierres (1980), groups of male students who had watched a TV show with three attractive female protagonists were asked to judge the attractiveness of an average-looking female (shown in a photo). It was found that, compared with control groups, those who had watched the TV show beforehand gave the lowest ratings of attractiveness. The findings here suggest an effect of perceptual contrast – that is, when presented with two stimuli that contrast on a certain quality (i.e. physical attractiveness), people have a tendency to view the disparity between those two stimuli in a more extreme manner than is usual. When applied to the concept of physically attractive communicators in advertising, it seems plausible that having an unattractive communicator alongside an attractive one could increase audience perceptions of the latter’s attractiveness, therefore leading to an enhanced persuasive effect of the physical attractiveness bias. In addition, the contrast in attire between each communicator in the above advert could possibly lead to a heightened audience perception of the latter’s expertise (although this extends beyond the domain of attractiveness explored by Kenrick and Gutierres).  

The refutation of counterarguments in an advert can help to take away the target’s excuse for not complying with a request. One such compliance tactic that uses this rationale is the ‘defusing objections technique’, which involves acknowledging counterarguments and then refuting them. Pardini and Katzev (1986) found that using this technique to defuse common objections for energy conservation in homeowners actually lead to increased support for it (compared to controls).

In the domain of persuasion and influence, source credibility refers to aspects of the communicator that audiences perceive and use to judge their trustworthiness as messengers of a persuasive message. One aspect that can affect such perceptions is the attire of the communicator. Several studies have demonstrated that clothing associated with authority or expertise (e.g. a police officer’s uniform or a scientist’s lab coat) can have an impact on behavioural compliance. In one of Milgram’s studies on obedience, the experimenter wore a lab coat (as symbol of their expertise and authority). One manipulation of this study had the experimenter replaced by a person wearing everyday clothes, which lead to a significant drop in participant obedience. Overall, this study illustrates the way in which symbols of expertise can lead to an increase in behavioural compliance. Furthermore, Cialdini (1993) explained that symbols of expertise (such as the uniform of a doctor) can place the target of influence into the role of “unknowing public”. That is, the communicator’s ornaments of expertise implicitly serve to highlight the target’s own lack of knowledge on a certain matter, making it more likely that the target is receptive to information and arguments form that perceived expert. 

References (used in advert)
Anderson, J. W., Johnstone, B. M., & Cook-Newell, M. E. (1995). Meta-analysis of the effects of soy protein intake on serum lipids. New England Journal of Medicine333(5), 276-282.
Sadler, M. J. (2004). Meat alternatives—market developments and health benefits. Trends in Food Science & Technology15(5), 250-260.

References (used below advert)
Chaiken, S. (1979). Communicator physical attractiveness and persuasion.Journal of Personality and social Psychology, 37(8), 1387.

Cialdini, R. B. (1993). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. New York: Morrow.

Kenrick, D. T., & Gutierres, S. E. (1980). Contrast effects and judgments of physical attractiveness: When beauty becomes a social problem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38(1), 131.

Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral study of obedience. The Journal of abnormal and social psychology, 67(4), 371.

Pardini, A. U., & Katzev, R. D. (1986). Applying full-cycle social psychology to consumer marketing: The defusing objections technique. Journal of economic psychology, 7(1), 87-94.

Van Mulken, M., Van Enschot-van Dijk, R., & Hoeken, H. (2005). Puns, relevance and appreciation in advertisements. Journal of pragmatics, 37(5), 707-721.



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