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, March 21, 2018

EASY WAY To Stop Smoking


Being a smoker, I have tried many times to stop. I’ve cut down, gone cold turkey, used nicotine gum, tried vaping, practically everything! So, at one last futile attempt to quit, I travelled back in time to the 1980s and purchased this book. Allen Carr promises that after reading it, you will never smoke another cigarette again. So, how does he do it?

One persuasion technique I noticed when reading the book is repetition of the message “It is easy to quit smoking” or a similar phrase. It is repeated on almost every other page. Boehm (1994) suggested that repetition of a message increases the perceived validity of the statement – this is called the validity effect. He found that the validity and familiarity were enhanced by repetition, and that familiarity is the basis of judged validity. Meaning, the more something was repeated, the more familiar it is perceived to be, therefore the more valid and believable the message is. Therefore, the more I read that quitting smoking was easy, the more I believed it. However, if a message is repeated too often, it can result in a decrease in persuasion, due to the message being “worn-out” (Pratkanis, 2007). Research suggests that this can be avoided if the message that is being repeated is varied (Schumann, Petty, & Clemons, 1990). For example, “I call it the EASYWAY” or “an easy way to stop smoking”. This way, the message doesn’t become as tedious.

Another persuasion technique is creating the psychology of the inevitable, whereby the person believes that there is nothing to be done about a certain outcome, meaning they will eventually come to accept it and possibly like it (Pratkanis, 2007). This book suggests that as soon as you stop reading it, you will inevitably stop smoking; no ifs, not butts. Brehm (1959) demonstrated this effect. He found that children were more willing to eat a disliked vegetable if they believed it was inevitable they would have to eat more in the future and had convinced themselves that it wasn’t as bad as they originally thought. In this book, there is no doubt from the author that you will quit smoking when you finish it, and therefore leads the reader to believe this outcome is inevitable.

Another technique used is valence framing, in which an outcome is framed as a gain, which is positive, or a loss which is negative (Pratkanis, 2007). Normally, people talk about “quitting” smoking, suggesting something was originally gained from smoking and that stopping will be negative. However, Carr explains everything that is to be gained from stopping, and describes it as escaping rather than quitting. Framing the situation like this makes readers think of smoking as a loss, rather than a gain.

So, after reading this book that's packed with persuasion techniques, did I manage to escape smoking?

Well, no.

But when my time comes, I feel that I will stop smoking the EASYWAY.



Boehm, L. E. (1994). The validity effect: A search for mediating variables. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20(3), 285-293.

Brehm, J. W. (1959). Increasing cognitive dissonance by a fait accompli. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58(3), 379.

Pratkanis, A. R. (2007). Social influence analysis: An index of tactics. In A. R. Pratkanis (Ed.), Frontiers of social psychology. The science of social influence: Advances and future progress (pp. 17-82). New York, NY, US: Psychology Press.

Schumann, D. W., Petty, R. E., & Scott Clemons, D. (1990). Predicting the effectiveness of different strategies of advertising variation: A test of the repetition-variation hypotheses. Journal of Consumer Research, 17(2), 192-202.


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