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.

Friday, November 25, 2016

You hair-ve to buy this!

I was reading a stranger’s blog the other day, and she was listing out the items she was planning to purchase during the Black Friday sales this week.

So one of the items on her list was the Hair Appliance A (HAA), a hair styler costing about 60pounds. To explain her choice, she said that her ex-colleague’s girlfriend has really nice hair that is blow-dried styled perfectly and when asked how she achieved this “salon-perfect finish” (I quote her words), she was told that it was due to this appliance. So down it went on her list of things to buy.

This is despite already owning Hair Appliance B (HAB) which she purchased just a few months ago in August (yes, I track her blog and purchases fairly often). According to her ex-colleague’s girlfriend who has both HAA and HAB, she needs to have both in her life.

Scrolling back to her old post back in August, I couldn’t help but find the scenario extremely familar.

Back in August, she posted that she had read on a friend’s blog (let’s call her R) about R’s HAB and R’s hair was perfect all the time. So she decided to get herself a HAB, and bought them at 109pounds, but after receiving the parcel, she thought of returning it as she didn’t think she would use it often enough.

That very night, she went out for drinks with her colleagues and “spent the entire evening obsessing over all the girls’ hair”. And this conversation happened:

Her: I just bought a pair of straighteners for 100quid…
Friend 1: OMG did you get HAB? Please tell me you got HAB
Her: Well yes but..
Friend 1: OMG everyone, she got HAB!
Friend 2: OMG what took you so long???
Friend 1: You will not regret it.
Friend 2: I’ve been using my HAB everyday for 4 years!
Friend 3: I adore my HAB!!
Her: I was gonna return it..
Friend 2: WHAT!!
Friend 1: You’re going to regret it!!

According to her, they all insisted she kept her HAB as it was their “magic weapon and secret to all successful hairdos”. And so she kept it.

So within a span of four months, she purchased 2 hair appliances because of - you guessed it - social proofing. Social proofing is a form of informational social influence and is highly prevalent in our daily lives. If you’ve ever looked at reviews before purchasing an item, you’ve been subject to social proofing. If you’ve asked your friend what’s good on a menu at a pub you’re never been to before deciding on your order, your meal that night was based on social proof.

According to Cialdini, we view a behaviour as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it. So in this case, the stranger whose blog I was reading felt that purchasing these hair appliances was what she needed to get the look she wanted no matter the cost/necessity. The principle of social proof is also activated here by similarity, as social proof operates most powerfully when we are observing the behaviour of people just like us. So in taking the views of people she knows (Her group of friends are all around her age with long hair, and we know from various studies that there is a high percentage of ingroup similarity), she is using their actions to decide on her own behaviour as she sees them as similar to herself. Cialdini mentioned in his book about how his son learned to swim from another boy his own age rather than from Cialdini or a lifeguard. The power of our peers translates to the power of social proofing.

Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Influence: the psychology of persuasion. New York, NY: Collins

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