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, February 3, 2016

Are you keeping up with the Kardashians?

Take a shot glass, insert lips and suck. Congratulations! You have completed the #kyliejennerlipchallenge and now your lips look as puffy as Kylie Jenner’s big pout.

Kylie Jenner, the 18-year-old star of the reality show Keeping Up with the Kardashians has started a worrying new trend dubbed the '#kyliejennerlipchallenge' after posting a picture of her puffy lips on social media. The picture above shows her lips transformation from thin lips to much fuller lips. Countless teens, both boys and girls try to recreate her look by blowing their lips up using shot glasses. Photos and videos uploaded with the hash tag Kylie Jenner lip challenge is sweeping the social media, even though this challenge is considered to be harmful because suction can lead to disfiguration of the lips and severe bruising around the mouth. Why has the #kyliejennerlipchallenge gone viral?

A past study has examined the effect of social status on people’s reaction of a prohibition, specifically, the violation of traffic signals and found that people are significantly more compliant to high status individuals than those of low status. A total of 2,103 pedestrians who crossed the three roads that were being monitored served as participants. There were three conditions: high status, low status and control. In the high status condition, the confederate dressed like a businessman with a tailored-made suit and well-polished leather shoes. The same confederate changed into a very wrinkled denim shirt, scuffed shoes and a pair of dirty, patched pants in the low status condition. There were no confederates in the control condition. In both the high and low status condition, the confederate violated the traffic signals by jaywalking across the road. Participants who followed the confederate and crossed the road against the ‘wait’ traffic signal, given they were standing with the confederate on the side of the road and had reached the centre of the road whilst the ‘wait’ traffic signal was still on, were counted as violators. For the control condition, participants who jaywalked across the road in the absence of a confederate were counted as violators. In each condition, the experimenters counted the total number of violators and non-violators. Results are shown in figure 1.

Figure 1. Percentage of participants who violated the traffic signals (jaywalk) across conditions.  

Figure 1 shows that 14% of the participants copied the jaywalking behaviour of the confederate when he was perceived to be of a high status. The percentage is over three times higher than when the confederate was perceived to be of a low status. The percentages of participants jaywalked across the road in the low status and control condition do not differ significantly. Results illustrate that individuals of a high status have significantly more influence on participants’ behaviour than those of low status, even when the behaviour is clearly prohibited.

This study provides evidence for a persuasive technique - the high-status admirer altercast (Pratkanis, 2007), which can be used to explain the #kyliejennerlipchallenge trend. This technique suggests that people always idolize and aspire to be like high-status individuals and thus high-status individuals possess a great degree of influence on others’ behaviours and decisions. Kylie Jenner, the famous reality TV star, as well as being one of the 30 most influential teens of 2015, has a particularly high status in this society. Therefore, regardless of all the warnings against the lip challenge, teens from all over the world are persuaded to emulate her and do the challenge.


Lefkowitz, M., Blake, R. R., & Mouton, J. S. (1955). Status factors in pedestrian violation of traffic signals. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology51(3), 704.

Pratkanis, A. R. (2007). Social influence analysis: An index of tactics. The science of social influence: Advances and future progress, 17-82.

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