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.

Sunday, March 16, 2014


Allow me to introduce you to my favourite fictional TV couple, Gossip Girl's Chuck Bass and Blair Waldorf (or to those of us who know and love them, 'Chair'). In season four of the show, they went to war – meaning episodes of elaborate sabotage involving a make-your-own pizza bar and Tim Gunn – and wars with well-matched opponents are best resolved with peace treaties.

First of all, the fact that our two lovebirds agreed to make a mutually beneficial treaty shows that they understand the zero sum fallacy: there doesn't have to be a winner and a loser in a negotiation, even if you butt heads thrashing out the details (Sowell, 2011). What they don’t seem aware of is the effect of any residual boo-hoo or grrr-argh feelings they may still have for each other: sad people place more emphasis on short-term than long-term goals (Lerner, Li, & Weber, 2013); negotiators faced with negative emotion make more extreme demands (Kopelman, Rosette, & Thompson, 2006) – so when Chuck snarls, ‘you have to choose’, of course his reply is an immediate ‘never’ from Blair.

Blair is clearly a seasoned negotiator, as her ‘never’ follows the loss of Fashion Week being disaggregated: what Chuck should have done is asked her to cede Fashion Week, and not differentiate between Paris and Milan, making her double loss one easily digestible chunk. She turns the tables on him by counter-offering him Art Basel in Miami and Switzerland, making it seem like a better deal than if she’d just said, ‘but I will give you Art Basel’ (even though I’m pretty sure there are more good parties at Fashion Week, quantity beats quality [Alba & Marmorstein, 1987]). Blair, who goes on to run a fashion house, knows what matters most to her and is prepared to go without art to get it.

‘Moving on to article forty-seven, strip clubs in the outer boroughs’. You may be wondering why a blue-blooded nineteen year care about strip clubs, and the fact is, she doesn’t. She uses the pause to take Serena aside and chat about her birthday party, all the while making it look like the strip clubs matter and she’s prepared to fight for them. Although she goes on to cede said strip clubs, by pulling away at this point, she makes her opponent reconsider how much she values them and what he’s going to have to offer to win them.

If you’re wondering how this treaty business all turns out, type ‘Chuck Blair piano sex’ into YouTube.

  • Alba, J. W., & Marmorstein, H. (1987). The effects of frequency knowledge on consumer decision making. Journal of Consumer Research, 14, 14–25.
  • Kopelman, S., Rosette, A. S., & Thompson, L. (2006). The three faces of Eve: Strategic displays of positive, negative, and neutral emotions in negotiations. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 99, 81–101.
  •  Lerner, J. S., Li, Y., & Weber, E. U. (2013). The financial costs of sadness. Psychological Science, 24, 72–79.
  • Sowell, T. (2011). Economic facts and fallacies. New York: Basic Books.

Isobel Hall

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