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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