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 4, 2016


With so many adverts taking over the screen, how can one grab your attention among the rest? And with so many advertisements promoting similar types of products, how can one stand out amidst the competition?

The advert above, featuring the famous Cheryl Cole has been created to promote the L’oreal True Match Foundation. It talks about what the product does, its unique properties and why you should buy it. You’re probably thinking that description is pretty generic for advertising product. So what makes this one different from the rest? Repetition! The word ‘match’ or some suffix of the word appears seven times in 30 seconds. Surely, hearing the same word again and again would not make you want to buy the product, but somehow it seems to work and women in 130 different countries use L’Oreal foundation on a day-to-day basis.

Zajonc (1968) looked into the idea of repetition and its effects on our attitudes and perception. He came up with the ‘mere exposure effect’ and stated that the more we are exposed to something, the more of a preference we develop for it, and this recurring stimulus increases familiarity and in turn likeability. This means that we are more likely to have a positive attitude towards a product without even trying it.

In one of his experiments, he found higher favourability ratings for words that were shown more frequently. However, to establish causality he carried out a three-part experiment and used a range of different stimuli, including nonsense symbols, nonsense Chinese symbols and photographs of faces to see whether the same results were obtained. The conditions were counterbalanced to prevent the problem of order effects. As Figures 1 and 2 show, it was found that the more frequently a symbol or photograph was shown, the more likely people linked them to positive meanings.

Figure 1: Average rates affective connotation of nonsense words and Chinese-like characters as a function of frequency of exposure

 Figure 2: Average attitude toward photographs as a function of frequency of exposure

Cacioppo and Petty (1979) also found the mere exposure effect to be true, whereby participants presented with an argument frequently were more likely to agree with it. This means that an increase in exposure leads to a change in behaviour.

Figure 3: The effects of pre-exposure position and message repetition on agreement and cognitive response.

As you can see from Figure 3, the mere exposure effect is an effective behaviour change technique is getting people to alter their attitudes. In the example of the L’Oreal advert, the simple idea of including the same word a number of times gets people associating it positively: as a result, they develop a preference for it without even realising. However, advertisers need to be careful not to fall into the trap of overexposure, which may in fact result in the opposite effect. Figure 3 shows just that, whereby seeing the message more than three times actually leads to a decrease in agreement and favourability.


Cacioppo, J. T., & Petty, R. E. (1979). Effects of message repetition and position on
cognitive response, recall, and persuasion. Journal of personality and Social Psychology37(1), 97.

Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of personality
and social psychology9(2p2), 1.

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