Instilling Resistance to Scarcity Advertisement

Authors: Savia A. Coutinho and Brad Sagarin, Norther Illinois University

Publication: Studies in Learning, Evaluation Innovation and Development

Year: 2007

Focus Area: Decision Making, Emotions, Prevention, Persuasion

Relevance: Reducing the incidence of fraud depends in part upon reducing the public’s susceptibility to the tactics of fraudsters.  People are more vulnerable when they deny their own vulnerability.

Summary: This article expands on previous work (Sagarin et al 2002) investigating how to train people to detect and defend against unscrupulous persuasion methods.  The study focused on developing resistance to the use of illegitimate scarcity tactics by dispelling illusions of invulnerability.

  • Subjects of the study were either assigned treatment or left as controls.  Those who were assigned treatment were either a) demonstratively shown that they had been misled by advertisements, b) told that some advertisements use scarcity techniques illegitimately, or c) told of the illegitimate techniques and asked to rate the extent to which they were convinced by a set of advertisements.  Subjects were then provided with two rules for discerning legitimate from illegitimate scarcity tactics, and asked to record their responses to the advertisements.
  • Subjects who had experienced the feeling of being misled were substantially more resistant to subsequent illegitimate scarcity tactics.
  • Reducing this “illusion of invulnerability” has potential benefits in the realms of health and safety, as individuals typically perceive themselves as less vulnerable to illness, disease, infection, and other negative consequences than the population in general.

Author Abstract: This study examined the effectiveness of instilling resistance to scarcity advertisements among college students. Participants, who were undergraduate students enrolled in introductory psychology classes in their first year of college, were taught the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate uses of scarcity in advertisements through constructivist learning theory-based training. Following Constructivist Learning Theory which suggests that direct experience is a powerful learning tool, some participants had their vulnerability to deception demonstrated to them by unambiguously showing them that they had been misled by illegitimate scarcity advertisements. Other participants only read about how to distinguish illegitimate from legitimate uses of scarcity in advertisements. Results showed that participants with direct experience of demonstrated vulnerability found the advertisements to have manipulative intent and to be unpersuasive. Results suggest that Constructivist Learning Theory-based programs can effectively train students on identifying illegitimate scarcity advertisements; such training in schools and colleges may help students become critical thinkers.

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Dispelling the Illusion of Invulnerability: The Motivations and Mechanisms of Resistance to Persuasion

Authors: Brad J. Sagarin, Northern Illinois University; Robert B. Cialdini and William E. Rice, Arizona State University; Sherman B. Serna, Northern Illinois University

Publication: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

Year: 2002

Focus Area: Prevention, Education, Profile

Relevance: Reducing the incidence of fraud depends in part upon reducing the public’s susceptibility to the tactics of fraudsters.  People are more vulnerable when they deny their own vulnerability.

Summary: This article describes three experiments that explore how to increase people’s resistance to illegitimate forms of persuasion.  The authors note that a great deal of attention has been spent understanding persuasion methods, but little on how to protect against persuasion that seeks to deceive.  Effective persuasion resistance training was found to consist of two parts:

  1. Demonstrating personal vulnerability to persuasion – not just the vulnerability of people in general (an outline of how to achieve this is provided as a three-step process)
  2. Educating individuals on how to distinguish legitimate from illegitimate forms of persuasion

The focus of the experiments was not to increase resistance to all forms of persuasion, only to reinforce resistance against those that use illegitimate methods to manipulate consumers.  By combining the two principles above, participants consistently demonstrated:

  • Increased preference for ads that used legitimate (or “fair”) persuasion methods
  • Increased resistance to ads that used illegitimate (or “unfair”) methods
  • Sustained improvement over time

The authors note that these results were obtained using brief, written formats, and that significantly greater results might be achieved through interactive and longer-lasting interventions.  Further work on this topic has been published by Professors Coutinho and Sagarin of Northern Illinois University (2007).

Author Abstract: Three studies examined the impact of a treatment designed to instill resistance to deceptive persuasive messages. Study 1 demonstrated that after the resistance treatment, ads using illegitimate authority-based appeals became less persuasive, and ads using legitimate appeals became more persuasive. In Study 2, this resistance generalized to novel exemplars, persevered over time, and appeared outside of the laboratory context. In Study 3, a procedure that dispelled participants’ illusions of invulnerability to deceptive persuasion maximized resistance to such persuasion. Overall, the present studies demonstrate that attempts to confer resistance to appeals will likely be successful to the extent that they install 2 conceptual features: perceived undue manipulative intent of the source of the appeal and perceived personal vulnerability to such manipulation.

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Feeling and Thinking: Preferences Need No Inferences

Authors: R.B. Zajonc, University of Michigan

Publication: American Psychologist

Year: 1980

Focus Area: Decision making, Persuasion, Prevention

Relevance: Emotions are difficult to untangle from decision making processes, so it is essential to understand their influences, both conscious and subconscious. For example, people make rapid decisions about whether they like or trust a new acquaintance using emotional cues rather than cognitive facts. This can help explain why people trust a charming and well-spoken fraudster, even if their cognitive judgment would tell them to be suspicious.

Summary: Emotional responses to stimuli occur quickly – often before sufficient time has passed to think about the stimuli – but can evolve as more information is learned. Rarely are initial impressions changed altogether. In conversation with other people, emotional cues like tone of voice may carry more valuable information than the actual words being spoken.

  • Immediate emotional responses, or affect, is a basic reaction and is unavoidable – everyone has emotional reactions to events and stimuli (although the emotions may not be particularly strong). These emotions are based in the individual’s self definition and are difficult to explain to others.
  • There are decisions that people make that benefit from more cognitive and less emotional influence – but it can be difficult to extract emotional feelings from decision-making precisely because these feelings are unavoidable and difficult to articulate.

Author Abstract: Affect is considered by most contemporary theories to be postcognitive, that is, to occur only after considerable cognitive operations have been accomplished. Yet a number of experimental results on preferences, attitudes, impression formation, and decision making, as well as some clinical phenomena, suggest that affective judgments may be fairly independent of, and precede in time, the sorts of perceptual and cognitive operations commonly assumed to be the basis of these affective judgments. Affective reactions to stimuli are often the very first reactions of the organism, and for lower organisms they are the dominant reactions. Affective reactions can occur without extensive perceptual and cognitive encoding, are made with greater confidence than cognitive judgments, and can be made sooner. Experimental evidence is presented demonstrating that reliable affective discriminations (like-dislike ratings) can be made in the total absence of recognition memory (old-new judgments). Various differences between judgments based on affect and those based on perceptual and cognitive processes are examined. It is concluded that affect and cognition are under the control of separate and partially independent systems that can influence each other in a variety of ways, and that both constitute independent sources of effects in information processing.

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Spent Resources: Self-Regulatory Resource Availability Affects Impulse Buying

Authors: Kathleen D. Vohs, University of Minnesota; Ronald J. Faber, University of Minnesota

Publication: Journal of Consumer Research

Year: 2007

Focus Area: Persuasion, Prevention, Decision Making

Relevance: If victimization by fraud is seen as a type of impulse purchase, people who tend to make impulse purchases may be uniquely vulnerable to scams. The concept of self-control as a limited resource can also inform profiling and prevention efforts.

Summary: This paper presents a theory of impulse buying in which people have a renewable, but limited, resource of self control. If they use up some of that self control in one situation, they have less self control available in the next situation. It takes time to replenish one’s reserves of self-control.

  • People who were asked to control their attention – a test of self-control – in the first part of an experiment were willing to pay more for a product in the second part of the experiment.
  • People who already have a tendency to make impulse purchases were especially vulnerable to reductions in their self-control.
  • The researchers tested whether people were more likely to buy products that appealed to their emotions, like junk food, or to their rational minds, like healthy foods. Participants didn’t prefer one type of product over the other, which was unexpected.

Author Abstract: This research investigated impulse buying as resulting from the depletion of a common—but limited—resource that governs self-control. In three investigations, participants’ self-regulatory resources were depleted or not; later, impulsive spending responses were measured. Participants whose resources were depleted, relative to participants whose resources were not depleted, felt stronger urges to buy, were willing to spend more, and actually did spend more money in unanticipated buying situations. Participants having depleted resources reported being influenced equally by affective and cognitive factors and purchased products that were high on each factor at equal rates. Hence, self-regulatory resource availability predicts whether people can resist impulse buying temptations.

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Can Insight Breed Callousness? The Impact of Learning about the Identifiable Victim Effect on Sympathy

Authors: Deborah A. Small, University of Pennsylvania; George Loewenstein, Carnegie Mellon University; Paul Slovic, Decision Research

Year: 2005

Focus Area: Persuasion, Prevention, Emotion, Decision Making

Relevance: Frauds may take advantage of sympathy to extract money from their targets – yet another example of the emotional component of decision making. Fraud prevention programs may also use stories of specific victims to elicit sympathy and understanding from people at risk for fraud.

Summary: Large donations of money could be more efficiently used if they were distributed to a number of victims, rather than to a single person. But these “identifiable victims” inspire more generosity in donors than descriptions of statistical victims. This paper asks if individuals can be taught to value life – whether identifiable or statistical – equally.

  • People tend to value proportions more than total numbers, so a tragedy that affects 20 people in a town of 300 is seen as much more serious than a similar event that affects 20 people in a city of two million. The same goes for positive events.
  • People give more generously when they are giving to a victim who has been selected (even if they aren’t told anything more about the victim) rather than a victim who will be chosen in the future.
  • When subjects in this experiment were educated about the influence of identifiability, they gave similar amounts to both statistical and identifiable victims. However, they gave less to identifiable victims, rather than giving more to statistical victims. As a result, total generosity decreased.

Author Abstract: When donating to charitable causes, people do not value lives consistently. Money is often concentrated on a single victim even though more people would be helped if resources were dispersed or spent protecting future victims. We examine the impact of insight about the “identifiable victim effect” on generosity. In a series of field experiments, we show that teaching or priming people to recognize the discrepancy in giving toward identifiable and statistical victims had perverse effects: individuals gave less to identifiable victims but did not increase giving to statistical victims, resulting in an overall reduction in caring and giving. Thus, it appears that, when thinking analytically, people discount sympathy towards identifiable victims but fail to generate sympathy toward statistical victims.

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Heart and Mind in Conflict: The Interplay of Affect and Cognition in Consumer Decision Making

Authors: Baba Shiv, University of Iowa; Alexander Fedorikhan, Washington State University

Publication: Journal of Consumer Research

Year: 1999

Focus Area: Persuasion, Decision Making, Emotion

Relevance: The products offered to people in scams, as well as the presentation of these products, may appeal to victims’ emotions. If victims are preoccupied with other mental tasks – if they have few processing resources available – they may be more likely to make decisions based on emotions rather than reason, especially if they are impulsive personalities to begin with.

Summary: This experiment tested how people make decisions when they are preoccupied with another mental task. The authors suggest that processing resources are a limited resource; that if a person is using some of their processing resources to perform a task, like remembering numbers, they will make decisions based on their emotions rather than on critical thinking.

  • When people were asked to choose between chocolate cake and fruit salad while remembering a seven-digit number, 63% chose the cake, which is more rewarding on an emotional basis. Of people who made this decision while remembering a two-digit number (a less challenging mental task), only 41% chose cake.
  • When the same experiment was performed using photographs of cake and fruit salad, rather than the real objects, there was no difference between the seven-digit and two-digit memory groups. The photographs, which only symbolized the object, did not elicit the same emotional response (and corresponding decisions) that the real objects did.
  • The subjects were also scored on a test of impulsiveness versus prudence. High scorers, the “impulsives,” were much more likely than people with low scores to choose the cake when they were simultaneously performing a difficult mental task. Both groups had similar results when they were not preoccupied with a difficult mental task.

Author Abstract: This article examines how consumer decision making is influenced by automatically evoked task-induced affect and by cognitions that are generated in a more controlled manner on exposure to alternatives in a choice task. Across two experiments respondents chose between two alternatives: one (chocolate cake) associated with more intense positive affect but less favorable cognitions, compared to a second (fruit salad) associated with less favorable affect but more favorable cognitions. Findings from the two experiments suggest that if processing resources are limited, spontaneously evoked affective reactions rather than cognitions tend to have a greater impact on choice. As a result, the consumer is more likely to choose the alternative that is superior on the affective dimension but inferior on the cognitive dimension (e.g., chocolate cake). In contrast, when the availability of processing resources is high, cognitions related to the consequences of choosing the alternatives tend to have a bigger impact on choice compared to when the availability of these resources is low. As a result, the consumer is more likely to choose the alternative that is inferior on the affective dimension but superior on the cognitive dimension (e.g., fruit salad). The moderating roles of the mode of presentation of the alternatives and of a personality variable related to impulsivity are also reported.

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Choosing an Inferior Alternative

Authors: J. Edward Russo, Cornell University; Kurt A. Carlson, Duke University; Margaret G. Meloy, The Pennsylvania State University

Publication: Psychological Science

Year: 2006

Focus Area: Persuasion, Emotion, Decision Making

Relevance: People may become involved in scams that they would not rationally choose to participate in. The ways in which fraudsters present information to their victims may be important in explaining why people agree to scams that, when examined rationally, are not good choices.

Summary: This experiment shows that people can be manipulated to make irrational decisions simply by the order in which information about their options is presented. In this case, people were manipulated to choose a restaurant that they had previously rated as undesirable.

  • The first part of the experiment was a control test, in which participants chose between two restaurants that were presented evenly. Less than half (41%) of the subjects chose the inferior restaurant, as expected.
  • A second part of the experiment, conducted two weeks later with the same subjects, attempted to increase the number of people choosing the inferior restaurant by manipulating the order in which subjects learned information about the restaurant.
  • The share of the group that chose the inferior restaurant increased from 41% to 62% between the two sessions. Furthermore, the participants were equally confident of their decision in the second session as the first and were unaware that they had been manipulated at all.

Author Abstract: We show how decision makers can be induced to choose a personally inferior alternative, a strong violation of rational decision making. First, the inferior alternative is installed as the leading option by starting with information that supports this alternative. Then, the decision maker uses the natural process of distorting new information to support whichever alternative is leading. This leader-supporting distortion overcomes the inherent advantages of the superior alternative. The end result is a tendency to choose the self-identified inferior alternative. We trace the choice process to reveal the amount of distortion and its influence on preference. Self-reported awareness of distortion to support the inferior alternative is not related to the amount of distortion. The absence of valid awareness suggests that the manipulation that produces this preference violation is unlikely to be detected and that the distortion is unlikely to be corrected by the decision maker. As expected, given the lack of awareness, final confidence is just as high when the inferior alternative is chosen as when the superior one is. The discussion considers how to prevent an adversary from manipulating one’s decisions using this technique.

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A Hot/Cool-System Analysis of Delay of Gratification: Dynamics of Willpower

Authors: Janet Metcalfe, Columbia University; Walter Mischel, Columbia University

Publication: Psychological Review

Year: 1999

Focus Area: Persuasion, Decision Making, Prevention, Emotion

Relevance: Willpower can be manipulated – both positively and negatively – when people make decisions. The hot-cold framework provides suggestions on the subtleties of willpower manipulation and suggests potential techniques and explanations to increase willpower.

Summary: How are people able to control their actions and feelings if their initial drive is “ruled by a pleasure principle, and largely indifferent to reason”? This paper describes a theoretical framework of hot and cool systems to explain the delay of gratification paradigm (and is limited in scope to this paradigm alone).

  • The ability of a child to sacrifice an immediate reward for a larger,  but delayed reward, has been shown to predict social and cognitive outcomes later in life, including SAT scores.
  • The authors propose that the “cool cognitive” system and the “hot emotional” system interact when willpower is used to overcome an immediate desire.
  • Control strategies include hiding the stimulus (desired object) or ignoring it, both of which decrease the intensity of the hot system. Alternatively, efforts to activate the cool system include distracting oneself, either with another object or internally.
  • Photographs of desired objects were far easier to resist than the object itself. Even telling oneself that a desired object (i.e. a piece of candy) is a photograph can increase the length of time one is able to resist.

Author Abstract: A 2-system framework is proposed for understanding the processes that enable – and undermine – self-control or “willpower” as exemplified in the delay of gratification paradigm. A cool, cognitive “know” system and a hot, emotional “go” system are postulated. The cool system is cognitive, emotionally neutral, contemplative, flexible, integrated, coherent, spatiotemporal, slow, episodic, and strategic. It is the seat of self-regulation and self-control. The hot system is the basis of emotionality, fears as well as passions – impulsive and reflexive – initially controlled by innate releasing stimuli (and, thus, literally under “stimulus control”); it is fundamental for emotional (classical) conditioning and undermines efforts at self-control. The balance between the hot and cool systems is determined by stress, developmental level, and the individual’s self-regulatory dynamics. The interactions between these systems allow explanation of findings on willpower from 3 decades of research.

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The Influence of Culture on Consumer Impulsive Buying Behavior

Authors: Jacqueline J. Kacen, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Julie Anne Lee, University of Hawaii-Manoa

Publication: Journal of Consumer Psychology

Year: 2002

Focus Area: Profile, Persuasion, Decision Making

Relevance: Some fraud victims, like impulse buyers, make quick decisions about a purchase. Mood, emotion, and culture can all play a part in these decisions, and profiles of fraud victims may include some of the same characteristics as impulse consumers.

Summary: In addition to mood and emotion, culture contributes to impulse buying behavior.

  • Most of the research on impulse buying behavior has been carried out in Western cultures – primarily the United States. Results of these studies should not be extended to non-Western cultures without careful consideration.
  • In general, Asian consumers made fewer impulse purchases than Caucasian consumers, even though shopping is culturally important in East Asia. This difference is attributed to the strength of collectivist cultural norms in Asian countries. Although the impulse to make a purchase is the same between people from both cultures, Asian consumers suppress this desire and act according to their cultural norms.
  • Caucasians were more likely to make impulsive purchases if they saw themselves as highly independent people; Asian consumers did not display this trend.

Abstract (from the authors): Impulse buying generates over $4 billion in annual sales volume in the United States. With the growth of e-commerce and television shopping channels, consumers have easy access to impulse purchasing opportunities, but little is known about this sudden, compelling, hedonically complex purchasing behavior in non-Western cultures. Yet cultural factors moderate many aspects of consumer’s impulsive buying behavior, including self-identity, normative influences, the suppression of emotion, and the postponement of instant gratification. From a multi-country survey of consumers in Australia, United States, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia, our analyses show that both regional level factors (individualism–collectivism) and individual cultural difference factors (independent –interdependent self-concept) systematically influence impulsive purchasing behavior.

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Time-Inconsistent Preferences and Consumer Self-Control

Authors: Stephen J. Hoch, University of Chicago; George F. Loewenstein, University of Chicago

Publication: Journal of Consumer Research

Year: 1991

Focus Area: Persuasion, Decision Making, Prevention

Relevance: Fraudsters are essentially selling a product and often rely upon impulsive behavior to engage their target in the purchase (or a step toward purchasing, like agreeing to receive mailed information). This paper provides analysis of the interaction between desire and willpower, with explanations of some strategies that people use to avoid making impulsive decisions.

Summary: Certain situations can elicit “extreme impatience” in consumers who would otherwise make evenhanded judgments of the benefits and costs of a given purchase.

  • Time-inconsistent choices are those that would have been made differently if “contemplated from a removed, dispassionate perspective.” Self-control is a struggle between desire and willpower, and successful self control can be achieved by reducing desire or overcoming desire through strong willpower.
  • Proximity of a desired object – either physically or in time – increases desire and impatience for that object.
  • Consumers can reduce desire by distancing themselves from the object of their desire. Other strategies include avoiding situations in which they make impulsive decisions, delaying a decision, distracting themselves, or substituting another, smaller reward.
  • Consumers can increase willpower by committing themselves to a behavior other than the one they desire; for example, leaving credit cards at home to prevent impulse purchases. People also think about the benefits of delaying an impulse, add up the accumulated costs of a series of decisions, appeal to a higher power, and reflect on regret and guilt as tools – both conscious and subconscious – to increase willpower.

Author Abstract: Why do consumers sometimes act against their own better judgment, engaging in behavior that is often regretted after the fact and that would have been rejected with adequate forethought? More generally, how do consumers attempt to maintain self-control in the face of time-inconsistent preferences? This article addresses consumer impatience by developing a decision-theoretic model based on reference points. The model explains how and why consumers experience sudden increases in desire for a produce, increases that can result in the temporary overriding of long-term preferences. Tactics that consumers can use to control their own behavior are also discussed. Consumer self-control is framed as a struggle between two psychological forces, desire and willpower. Finally, two general classes of self-control strategies are described: those that directly reduce desire, and those that overcome desire through willpower.

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