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, November 30, 2016

How fish and chips proved rational decision making is a hoax

“Anyone’s NOT ordering fish and chips?”

It was a typical Friday afternoon when I heard this call from the lady behind the counter as I queued for a plate of fish and chips myself.

While I always knew that fish and chips is a popular dish in the menu, what are odds that given there are ten people in a line but no one is intending to order anything besides fish and chips?

“Word of mouth,” the lady further whispered to herself as she turned the other way.

Bedazzled by her utterance, it was then and there that I thought to myself I must investigate this awesome demand for fish and chips further. 

From a layperson standpoint, I totally agreed with her. Word of mouth as an advertising tool made sense. It should explain a great deal of the picture. At least that was how I got into this fish and chips situation. A senior of mine told me about it once and I was hooked ever since.

However, it would be more amazing if psychology could provide me with better insights. So, I dove deeper. 

Well, perhaps too deep that I found my answer handsomely intersected in fields such as behavioural economics, behaviourism, psychobiology, social psychology, and statistics.

Behavioural Economics
Firstly, I have uncovered that scarcity plays a huge role in increasing the sales of the fish and chips. Research has shown that packaging a product as 'limited edition', or in this case the fish and chips being a ‘Friday-only deal’, it aids the fish and chips to be more desirable (Lynn, 1991). From a customer standpoint, no fish and chips for oneself this week means that one has to wait for the following week.

I have also realized that a very powerful learned association has been established in my mind between the concept of “Friday” as unconditioned stimulus and “fish and chips” as conditioned stimulus (Kimmel, 1966).

From a customer’s perspective, this could translate to an irritating, rather unwelcome voice at the back of our mind every Friday which whispers, “Friday is fish and chips day, go spend that £5.25 (conditioned response),” over and over again, which makes rational decision making almost impossible. So please stop, my dear brain. I want my free will back!

Not only that, just like it has happened to me, I believe that the fish and chips has also invaded the reward system of other people. Yes, even our biology has been invaded by fish and chips disguised as this mischievous idea of, “it is the end of the week. I deserve to be pampered with a nice meal for having such a productive week! Well, what should I have today?” Being a strong extrinsic motivator, the picture of deliciously prepared fish and chips flashes in our mind, rather unwelcomely. 

Social Psychology
Next, since eating fish and chips has become a social norm in the particular setting, it might influence one’s decision on what is the ’right’ thing to eat. By ‘right’, I mean socially acceptable. 

Asch (1951) has found that social conformity (i.e, the tendency of an individual to conform to the norm of the majority) does exist. In this particular case, it’s really hard NOT to choose something besides fish and chips considering everybody is having it.

To test further whether such norm exists, let us do a simple statistical investigation.

Method: Observational study

Time and date: 2.35pm, November 18, 2016.

Results: Out of 28 people who were having something at that time, 20 of them were having fish and chips and the other 8 people were having meals such as salad, sandwich, chips, and jacket potato.

To explore this fish and chips demand phenomenon further, a chi-squared goodness of fit test might also help.

Null Hypothesis: There is no preference for any particular meal

Expected frequency: 14 for both ‘fish and chips’ and ‘non-fish and chips’

Calculated chi-squared value = 5.14

Critical value: 1 df at alpha = .05 is 3.84

Results: Null hypothesis is rejected. There IS preference for a particular meal.

Discussion: Apart from the small sample size, it is safe to conclude that the fish and chips norm does exists. 

Take home message
To conclude, the fish and chips being scarce, perceived as an extrinsic motivator, and a norm in the particular context is enough of an influence to prove that rational decision making is a mere hoax. 

So, taking this idea to a broader concept, the next time people tell you, “I don’t want anyone to influence me, I want to DECIDE it for MYSELF,” just smile to them and hope that others will not prey on their naivety.


Asch, S. E. (1951). Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgments. Groups, leadership, and men, 222-236.

Kimmel, H. D. (1966). Inhibition of the unconditioned response in classical conditioning. Psychological Review, 73(3), 232.

Lynn, M. (1991). Scarcity effects on value: A quantitative review of the commodity theory literature. Psychology & Marketing, 8(1), 43-57.

Donald Trump King of Persuasion, why TV image did not matter - part 2

Although the hype and disbelief surrounding the US presidential election appears to be dying down; there is still one question that I am deeply interested in…. How did Donald Trump actually win the elections? I am not going to pretend to be in any way an expert in politics especially American politics because I’m not. In my last blog post, I discussed how people tend to rely on the peripheral route when choosing who to vote for and a big influence is a good personal TV image. This is because people use heuristics to make value judgements based on appearance of the candidates. Generally when you see Trump on TV it’s because he’s said or done something ridiculous; prime examples are depicted above which for me show quite the opposite of competence and good leadership. However, despite consistent bad media coverage, Trump won the election so he must have done something right. Clearly there is no way I could comment on all the factors or persuasive techniques that lead to Trump winning the election so I will focus on one: Trumps use of the availability heuristic.

Trump’s TV image prior to the Elections
Since 2003 Trump has been the host of the US version of ‘The Apprentice’. For over 10 years on this TV show Trump is portrayed as successful businessman, able to make successful decisions and being able to fire and hire people which all give the impression of a good leader. This has worked well for Trump as it taps into the availability heuristic as described by Tversky and Kahneman (1973); there are lots of instances of where Trump appears to be a good leader and therefore the more people are likely to infer/judge him as one.

Make America Great Again’
For his campaign, Trump copied Ronald Reagan’s promise to ‘make America great again’ and repeated this simple message constantly. In comparison to this, Hillary Clinton’s campaign used a number of slogans (‘Stronger Together’, ‘I’m with Her’ and ‘Fighting for Us’ to name a few). This links very well to ideas from Adolf Hitler who famously said: “the most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly. It must confine itself to a few points, and repeat them over and over.” Although there is no evidence that America needs to be great again (click here), this slogan appeals to the emotions of voters and leads to associations between what they think America has lost and that Trump is the leader to get it back for them. Coupled with insulting nearly every minority in America, Trump makes this a very powerful use of the availability heuristic. The more Trump highlights minorities as problems (regardless of whether true or not), the more people are actually going to start thinking they are because it becomes more available to them. In the same way, the more Trump repeats his simple and effective slogan, the more he is going to be associated with being the leader who can solve the problems.  

I think something that Trump understands very well is the use of fear to persuade. It is well documented that increasing fear is associated with increased persuasion (Petty, DeSteno, & Rucker, 2001; Brader, 2005). The media also has a big part to play in this, a quick search in google and you can find a host of normal things (i.e. vehicular crashes, heart attacks, cancer and so on) and even some strange things like being crushed by furniture are more likely to kill you than terrorist attacks. However this things are very rarely reported as big news, terrorist attacks are. Because of the availability heuristic, terrorist attacks are seen as more threatening and worrying because they are a regular occurrence in the media but in actual fact we should be more worried about every time we drive to university or to work. This unfortunately may be one of the contributing factors in the rise of Islamophobia. I think Trump has used this to his advantage effectively, Petty, DeSteno, & Rucker, (2001) point out that fear itself is most effective for persuasion when it highlights severe and likely consequences if a recommended actions is not taken. In this case Trump has highlighted the consequence: terrorism (because of the availability heuristic) and has suggested simply to vote for him because he can tackle this problem (ban on Muslims entering the US – totally not ridiculous).

To summarise, although it very easy to find many faults with Donald Trump, he knows how to persuade and has done so very well throughout the election campaign. Particularly Trump appears to understand heuristic processing (specifically the availability heuristic) and has used this to his advantage to beat Clinton in the elections and debates. Clearly, Trump used a number of persuasive techniques and mechanisms, and these should not be discounted when it came to winning the election. However, these persuasive techniques will not make him a good president, and hopefully we will not see same Donald Trump we saw during the election but a better, less racist, less misogynistic, less narcissistic and generally a less hate inciting Donald Trump as president. But I’m not going to hold my breath.


Brader, T. (2005). Striking a responsive chord: How political ads motivate and persuade voters by appealing to emotions. American Journal of Political Science49(2), 38

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan

Petty, R. E., DeSteno, D., & Rucker, D. D. (2001). The role of affect in attitude change. Handbook of affect and social cognition, 212-233.

Designer Brands: What Makes People Buy Them?

Can you tell without the brand name?

Some brands are known worldwide to be “it” labels. Brands like Hermès, Céline and Givenchy are regularly sought after by both fashion icons and more regular people, like you and me. The question is: why do these names so intensely affect how these products are viewed? Truly enough, many designer label products are well made and durable. This doesn’t answer the question, however, of why such highly priced and sometimes frankly gaudy merchandise is continuously bought off the shelves.

While designer brands continue to do runway shows directed towards a certain clientele, much information and “hype” is now also being translated through other forms such as social media and brand ambassadors. One of Robert Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion outlines why this type of marketing works. The Principle of Consensus suggests that, as social creatures, we tend to want to do what other people are doing. People want to do what the group is doing. Another way of looking at this is that people want to do what influential and desirable people are doing. This might be why designer brands work. People see celebrities and important people carrying a particular handbag from a designer brand and want that handbag too. On a wider scale, people want to embody the persona of the rich and famous. Radha and Jija (2013) found that people were more likely to remember a brand when a celebrity has endorsed it. While not being able to speak for everyone, at least a good number of people desire to be rich and live a lavish lifestyle like the celebrities that they admire.

Cialdini (2005) suggested that people are more likely to adhere to a request when social proofing is in action. He conducted an experiment within a hotel room setting, which showed that people are more likely to reuse their towels when the environmental information card compared their use to that of other guests. People were more likely to reuse their towels when the card said that 75% of other guests did, rather than when a request only was made. Though this seems far removed from the realm of designer handbags and clothing, it runs on the same principle. People want to be as good as or better than the people before them.

Lastly, designer brand products are scarce and scarcity makes people want that item more. Parker (2011) found that people are more likely to select an item in a store that is shown to be scarce. The logic behind this is that regardless of what the item is, if there isn’t much of it, it’s because everyone else has already bought it. This means that item is worth buying, according to the rest of the shoppers. Further to this, designer brands are made of expensive materials and aimed at a small group of people, making them a limited-quantity and limited-edition product. Limited-edition products create a sense of exclusivity, with consumers finding them to be more ‘special, unique and valuable’  (Aggarwal, Jun & Huh, 2011; Cialdini, 2008). Jan, Ko, Morris and Chang (2015) investigated limited edition products created by luxury brands and found that a limited-quantity message regarding the luxury product is most effective in increasing response. The less there is known to be, the more people want it.

In the end, people want to be like or be better than the rest, and they might actually believe that having something with a fancy name makes them this way.

Aggarwal, P., Jun, S. Y., & Huh, J. H. (2011). Scarcity messages. Journal of Advertising40, 19-30.

Cialdini, R. B. (2005). Don’t throw in the towel: Use social influence research. American Psychological Society Observer18, 33-34.

Cialdini, R. B., Goldstein, N., & Martin, S. J. (2008). Yes: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive.

Jang, W. E., Ko, Y. J., Morris, J. D., & Chang, Y. (2015). Scarcity Message Effects on Consumption Behavior: Limited Edition Product Considerations. Psychology & Marketing32, 989-1001.

Parker, J. R., & Lehmann, D. R. (2011). When shelf-based scarcity impacts consumer preferences. Journal of Retailing87, 142-155.

Radha, G. & Jija, P. (2013). Influence of celebrity endorsement on the consumer’s purchase decision. International journal of scientific and research publications, 3, 1-28. 

Why didn't celebrity endorsement work for Clinton?

2016 has been a memorable year across the globe, from Brexit to Protest against South Korean President, and from the Turkish coup d'état attempt to the Nice attack. Somehow Trump became the President of the US by winning 278 electoral votes, but how come Hilary Clinton did not win the election despite having so many celebrity endorsements?

Figure 1. Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, ex-competitor Bernie Sanders, Katy Perry supporting Hilary Clinton.

Figure 2. Leonardo DiCaprio, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, George Clooney supporting Hilary Clinton.

Figure 3. Kendall Jenner, Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Oprah supporting Hilary Clinton.

As shown above, Hilary Clinton was able to get support from both celebrities and famous politicians. Research indicates that celebrity endorsements have positive and effective impact on preference from the audience (Dean and Biswas, 2001; Silvera, & Austad, 2004), and celebrities are viewed as highly trustworthy, believable, and persuasive in terms of endorsing the targets (Freiden, 1984). Curiously, with all the celebrity supporting Clinton, why didn’t she win? Well, the reason is partly due to the 'Just-Plain-Folks' propaganda and peripheral route in the elaboration likelihood model.

1.     'Just-Plain-Folks' propaganda

Politicians often act as plain folks rather than a posh and wealthy congressman, in order to communicate the message of ‘I am just like you and I understand you’ across to the audience that they want the votes from. When presidential candidates act ordinarily, down-to-earth and participate in normal activities, it gives the voters a sense of trust and comfort, believing that the candidate and the voters share common grounds and they therefore should agree with the candidate.

People vote for political candidates that they feel empathic towards (McCue & Gopoian, 2000), and people are more likely to show empathic concerns and helping behaviour to someone who they believe are similar to them (Batson, Duncan, Ackerman, Buckley & Birch, 1981). In the experiment, when the participants are told that the sufferer had similarities in attitudes, they chose to offer help and replace the confederate that was given electric shocks, even in situations where participants could easily leave without being irritated and stressed by observing the sufferer’s painful appearance. If people felt that they are similar to Clinton, they would have been more empathic towards her, and hence potentially helped her by voting for Clinton in the election.

Figure 4. Results from Batson, Duncan, Ackerman, Buckley & Birch (1981).

However, seeing celebrities posting pictures with Hilary Clinton on multiple social media sites, voters tend to gain the impression that Hilary Clinton is another one of those wealthy politicians instead of a more practical plain folk comparable to voters, therefore the empathy/similarity votes that could’ve belonged to Clinton went to Trump (or maybe not).

2.     Elaboration likelihood model plays a big part in the election

Campaigns fundamentally change voters’ decisions and propaganda techniques prime people’s view on candidates (Iyengar & Simon, 2000; Druckman, 2004). To determine candidate liking and vote choice, voters' perceptions of character and personal attributes have large impact on the vote (Aylor, 1999). Also, voters evaluate presidential candidates on the basis of a set of general criteria, which they use to judge the candidates’ personal attributes before voting (Miller et al., 1986). Stokes (1966) argued that personality best explains for shifts in the vote from one presidential election to the next, which is an example of voters utilizing peripheral route of persuasion in the elaboration likelihood model (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986)When voters go down the peripheral route of persuasion, they use cues such as characteristics and attractiveness of the candidate to make the voting decision, and decisions are generally unrelated to the logics of the presidential speech or partisan quality. 

Figure 5. Results from Aylor (1999).

 Figure 6. Two distinct routes in the Elaboration Likelihood Model.

Surprisingly, research has shown that highly educated individuals are more prone to use the peripheral route by focusing more on personal attributes of the candidate and using personality categories rather than the candidate quality to make the decision, compared to less educated individuals (Glass, 1985; Miller et al., 1986). The reason might be because educated individuals view political elections sceptically, as policy making depends not only on the president. Hence, educated individuals would pay more attention to the candidates' personal attributes as they give a true and clear picture of the potential president.

Figure 7. Results from Glass (1985).

Therefore, Trump’s very ‘strong’ personality attracts voters’ attention, and those who were using the peripheral route of persuasion would ignore the candidate quality of Trump, despite some of his messages and opinions on multiple issues were disrespectful and outrageous. In other words, if voters were attracted by Trump's personal attributes and his unique enthusiasm, they would have forgotten about Clinton and supported Trump instead, and it seems like they have.

Although Hilary Clinton did a good job getting support from all of her celebrity friends, these factors might have prevented her from becoming the president. Next time she runs for presidency, it is best to remind her of taking a Behaviour Change course before any campaign begins.

Sijia Zhou (Katie)


Aylor, B. (1999). Source credibility and presidential candidates in 1996: The changing
nature of character and empathy evaluations. Communication Research Reports16(3), 296-304.
Batson, C. D., Duncan, B. D., Ackerman, P., Buckley, T., & Birch, K. (1981).
Is empathic emotion a source of altruistic motivation?. Journal of personality and Social Psychology40(2), 290.
Dean, D. H., & Biswas, A. (2001). Third-party organization endorsement of products:
An advertising cue affecting consumer prepurchase evaluation of goods and services. Journal of Advertising30(4), 41-57.
Druckman, J. N. (2004). Priming the vote: Campaign effects in a US Senate
election. Political Psychology, 25(4), 577-594.
Freiden, J. B. (1984). Advertising spokesperson effects-An examination of endorser
type and gender on 2 audiences. Journal of advertising research24(5), 33-41.
Glass, D. P. (1985). Evaluating presidential candidates: Who focuses on their personal
attributes?. Public Opinion Quarterly49(4), 517-534.
Iyengar, S., & Simon, A. F. (2000). New perspectives and evidence on political
communication and campaign effects. Annual review of psychology51(1), 149-169.
McCue, C. P., & Gopoian, J. D. (2000). Dispositional empathy and the political gender
gap. Women & Politics21(2), 1-20.
Miller, A. H., Wattenberg, M. P., & Malanchuk, O. (1986). Schematic assessments of
presidential candidates. American Political Science Review80(02), 521-540.
Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1986). The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion.
In Communication and persuasion (pp. 1-24). Springer New York.
Silvera, D. H., & Austad, B. (2004). Factors predicting the effectiveness of celebrity
endorsement advertisements. European Journal of marketing38(11/12), 1509-1526.
Stokes, D. E. (1966). Some dynamic elements of contests for the presidency. American
Political Science Review60(01), 19-28.

Framing effect - Is it worth it ?

Framing effect  is one of the significant components in the marketing field. The L’Oréal advertisement is one of the best examples of framing effect.

Framing effect is considered to occur when equivalent description of a decision problem lead to systematically different decisions. (Shafir & LeBoeuf 2002.)  In other words, it means that customer's decisions can be affected by any phrases in the advertisement. The Loreal campaign for marketing its brand of women's cosmetics is very popular for its phrase "Because you are worth it". 

This phrase affect issues that women may have about self-esteem and beauty. It also addresses the issue of a woman's independence. Why does a woman buy the cosmetics form Loreal? It is because they are worth it !.

There are some empirical evidences for the framing effect. Levin, Schneider, and Gaeth's (1998) found a valence- consistent shift. This means that objects described in terms of a positively valenced proportion are generally evaluated more favorably than objects described in terms of the corresponding negatively valenced porption.
For example, when the participants were exposed to those phrases,

A; If this program is adopted, 200 people will be saved
B: If this program is adopted, there is a one-third probability that 600 people will be saved and a two-thirds probability that no people will be saved.

they tend to prefer the sure thing when given options A and B.

On the other hand, when the subjects were exposed  to phrases like
C; If this program is adopted, 400 people will die
D: If this program is adopted, there is a one- third probability that nobody will die and a two-thirds probability that 6000 people will die

the participants tend to choose more risky one for this negative phrases containing the word "die".

This empirical evidence clearly supports how important it is to have a positive or a negative phrase in the advertisement. Depending on the phrases, the customer's behaviour can be changed.


Shafir, E. & R. A. LeBoeuf. 2002. “Rationality.” Annual Review of Psychology 53: 491- 517.

Levin, I. P., & G. J. Gaeth. 1988. “How Consumers are Affected by the Framing of Attribute Information Before and After Consuming the Product.” Journal of Consumer Research 15: 374-378

Jack Wills' BANNED Advertisement

Following the release of the company Jack Will's Spring Catalogue was released in this year of 2016, accompanied by a television advert, the advertisement project was banned. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) deemed it inappropriate due to it's overt sexual suggestiveness that may directly or indirectly reach audiences younger than Jack Will's target demographic of 18-24. This uncontrollable sexual exposure, said to be potentially influential to impressionable youth, was enough to persuade the marketing team of the company to completely withdraw the advertising campaign to prevent a potential drop in sales. The sexualisation of this banned advert as well as the reasoning behind banning it both portray very clearly the effects of using sex as visual persuasion tool and how it is potentially dangerous to use.

King, McClelland, and Furnham (2015) conducted a study addressing a similar topic which in fact, questions whether 'sex sells' and it's effectiveness in viewer recall. In the context of Petty and Cacioppo's (1986) Elaboration Likelihood Model, the message was well retained by the target audience of 18-52 through testing free recall, prompted recall, and brand recognition. This a result of sexual appeal or visual motivation causing a shallow and short lived, yet immediate influencing change.

Fig.1: Results of the King, McClelland, and Furnham study regarding the recall measure of different             variants of sexual exposure in television and advertisements.

As evidently put in Figure 1, the results clearly shoe a higher measure of recall of the brand itself, and the nature of the imagery freely and when prompted when a sexual advertisement is contrasted after following a non-sexual programme. This evidently shows us how that in spite of standard deviations weakening the effect, the conducted Repeated Measures ANOVAs reveal that sexual advertisements did significantly influence peoples short term recall, of not just the imagery, but the branding/ message being intentionally advertised. This is the understandable effect we can see Jack Will's aspired to achieve.

However, in spite of a potential peripheral effect, this campaign overlooks the over side of the Elaboration Likelihood Model in which those that are motivated to perceive the advertisement critically. As sexual imagery is a topic of controversy, being perceived as inappropriate to specific audiences, it has a boundary in which, if crossed, becomes too visibly inappropriate and taboo, and becomes more of a sexual statement rather than a tool for expressing the appeal of the message/ products at hand. The advert was evidently over the line, as put by the APA, and the marketing was commented on as unnecessary. Evidently, sex is something to use with caution in persuasion.


King, J., McClelland, A., & Furnham, A. (2015). Sex really does sell: The recall of sexual and non‐sexual television advertisements in sexual and non‐sexual programmes. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 29(2), 210-216.

Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1986). The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (vol. 19, pp. 123-205). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.