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.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Censorship and the Effect of Age Restrictions

Censorship is the suppression or control of speech and other forms of public communication (e.g. books, films, TV). It is the suppression of information in society which has been considered to be dangerous, harmful or objectionable. Censorship does its advantages as it does protect people from destructive information. However, the very act of censoring something can be considered a paradox because while it takes the information out of the general public eye, research has also found that it causes this information to be viewed more favourably (a sort of doubled edged sword).

 Generally, our response to censored materials is that we actually want to see it more. This is known as commodity theory (Brock 1968). It is mainly concerned with the psychological effect of scarcity. In principle, its claim is that “any commodity will be valued to the extent that it is unavailable”. In other words, the less available something is, the more attractive it becomes. This is what happens when something is censored. Because access to the material is limited, it becomes more sought out and viewed as more favourable.

One study that looked into this was Zellinger at al’s (1975) study on the effect of age restrictions on pornographic materials. In this study, participants were informed that they were taking part in a study investigating the impressions formed from the blurb (the short summary) written on the back of a book. The participants were then instructed to read short statements and quotes which would usually be found on the back of a book and to answer a post-experimental questionnaire to assess their evaluation of them.  This was manipulated by the use of age restrictions in half of the participant’s summaries. Half of them received a “book for adults only… restricted to those 21 years and over” while the other half were not provided with such a statement.

Overall, the pornographic material was viewed as more desirable than the non-pornographic. But this is where it gets interesting; results showed that those subjects in the age restriction group wanted to read the book more than those who were in the non-age restriction condition. They also reported that they thought they would like the book more than those in the non-restriction conditions and found it more desirable. These results supper the commodity theory prediction as placing limitations on the accessibility of the group actually did lead to an increase in value associated with the book. By adding some sort of censorship, even light censorship such as an age rating we can influence how people view a material and make it appear more desirable.

Alice Owen


                Brock, T. C. (1968). Implications of commodity theory for value change. In A. G. Greenwald,
T. C. Brock, & T. M. Ostrom (Eds.), Psychological foundations of attitudes (pp. 243-
275). New York: Academic Press

Zellinger, D. A., Fromkin, h. L., Speller, D. E., & Kohn, C. A. (1975). A commodity theory analysis of the effect of age restricted upon pornographic materials. Journal of Applied Psychology, 60, 94-99.

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