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.

Monday, March 17, 2014

All You Need is a Little Bit of Crazy, Stupid Love

Why anyone would need persuading to go out with Ryan Gosling will remain a mystery to me, but in the real world, men often find themselves floundering when trying to pick up women. This is the case for 40–something Cal Weaver from the movie “Crazy Stupid Love”. Played by the always-hilarious Steve Carrell, Cal is an awkward, bumbling middle-age man who has just separated from his long-time wife and hasn’t picked up a girl in over 20 years. In comes my personal superhero, Ryan Gosling, who plays smooth-talking Jacob, to teach Cal a few tricks from his playbook for picking up women. Jacob takes Cal under his wing and shows him his rules of how to get any woman he wants.

 One of the first persuasive techniques Jacob uses, which he may not even be aware of, is physical attractiveness. If a man comes up to you in a club and tries to pick you up, it definitely helps if he is attractive, and Jacob certainly is. As shallow as this may be, we are influenced to a greater extent by individuals who are deemed physically attractive compared to those who are not.  Researchers found that attractive individuals were able to persuade a general student population to a higher degree compared to their ‘unattractive’ counterparts (Chaiken 1979).

The next technique employed by Jacob is reciprocity. The first thing he does when he meets a girl in the bar is buy her a drink. Regardless of if she wants the drink, he always insists on buying them the drink. The reasoning behind this is the rule of reciprocity. We feel obligated to do something for others once they have done something for us. In a study conducted by Kunz & Woolcott (1976), experimenters sent strangers Christmas cards, and surprisingly received many Christmas cards back. Despite having no idea who was sending them Christmas cards, individuals felt that it was necessary to return the favour. In this case, since Jacob has already bought the woman a drink, they automatically feel more obligated to go home with him, as they feel as if they owe him.

Another major method used, and probably the most common type when trying to pick up a woman, is compliments.  People are more likely to be persuaded when they like the person persuading them. And how do we convince people to like us? We tend to be easily persuaded when there are compliments (or presents) involved. Research has found that we are more likely to comply with someone when they have complimented or flattered us (Howard et al., 1995). Jacob begins every conversation by excessively complimenting the women, using his large amounts of charm to put them under his spell.

Another method of persuasion applied by Jacob is the use of authority. Everything from his appearance to his mannerisms indicates that he is in control of the situation, which actually leads to higher levels of compliance. Milgram (1974) tested this theory by having individuals shock other subjects as per the instructions of the experimenter. Participants were willing to follow the experimenter’s directions even up to the point where physical harm could come to the subject as they felt they had to listen to the authority figure. While Jacob’s tactics are not quite as vicious, he does exert authority by simply telling the girls that they are coming home with him rather than asking permission. He also uses the symbols of authority as he is always impeccably dressed and wears a nice watch, which signifies that he is an important figure. Looking like that, the girls don’t stand a chance!

After using all of these techniques, Jacob has a 100% success rate when it comes to picking up women, but who wouldn’t want to be charmed by him? But a fair warning for all of the guys looking to use these methods, Jacob is only able to pick up the girl of his dreams after he drops the act and becomes sincere. Like all romantic comedies, they end up together and live a happy life; cue the tears and applause.


Emily Winters (Blog 5)


Chaiken, S. (1979).
Communicator physical attractiveness and persuasion. Journal of 
Personality and Social Psychology37(8), 1387.

Howard, D. J., Gengler, C., & Jain, A. (1995). What's in a name? A complimentary means of persuasion. Journal of Consumer Research, 200-211.

Kunz, P. R., & Woolcott, M. (1976). Season's greetings: From my status to yours. SocialScience Research5(3), 269-278.

Milgram, S. (1974). Obedience to authority: An experimental view. Harper: New York 

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