How Positive Media Can Make Us Better People

Research sometimes suggests that movies and other media are a negative influence to rein in. But new studies highlight their potential to spread goodness on a wide scale.

Source: How Positive Media Can Make Us Better People

Deadpool is the highest-grossing film in the United States so far this year—and one of the most controversial. Though the film has scored points with critics and audiences for its irreverent take on the superhero genre, its extreme gore has raised some familiar questions and objections about the role of violence in films.

But look at the highest-grossing film of 2016 internationally, and you’ll find a different type of movie:Zootopia, a family-friendly animated film that has been praised for its positive messages about the harm of stereotypes and prejudice.

How does consuming these different types of films impact us as individuals and as a society?

For a long time, media researchers focused almost entirely on the harmful effects of media, including the effects of media violence on aggression, the media’s role in increasing racial and gender stereotypes, and its potential to shape people’s perception of the world as a dangerous place. Indeed, since the dawn of talking movies in the 1930s, debates have raged about the potential anti-social effects of media.

However, more recently, scholarship in media psychology is starting to look at the flip side: the positive effects media can have when it’s more uplifting and inspiring. In the last few years, studies have illustrated how, just as some films, TV shows, and other media can foster anti-social behavior, media with positive images and messages can make us want to become better people and help others—to become more “prosocial,” as we researchers put it. I’ve conducted several of these studies myself, and I think the implications of this research are very exciting: Rather than simply seeing media as a negative influence to rein in, we’re beginning to understand its potential to spread goodness on a wide scale.

For example, a 2012 study by one of the seminal scholars in the field, Mary Beth Oliver of Penn State University, identified the power of films that elicit “elevation,” the warm, uplifting feeling we get when we watch someone perform deeply moral acts, such as acts of gratitude, generosity, or loyalty. In this study, Oliver and her colleagues asked 483 students to recall either a particularly meaningful or a particularly pleasurable movie they watched recently and to indicate the degree to which they felt joyful or elevated from watching it. When the researchers analyzed the content of these movies, they found that, sure enough, the meaningful movies depicted altruistic values, such as social justice and care for the weak, significantly more often than the pleasurable movies did.

They also found that the meaningful movies elicited greater feelings of elevation among respondents, which was expressed in a distinct set of emotional and physical sensations: feeling happy and sad at the same time, a lump in one’s throat, tearing up, a rising or opening of the chest, and chills.

What’s more, these feelings of elevation, in turn, were associated with a greater motivation to become a better person and do good things for others; the pleasurable movies, by contrast, motivated people to enjoy themselves and seek popularity.

Research also suggests that movies can influence not only our desire to do good but also the way we perceive the world as a whole. This research builds on earlier findings that the amount of TV people watch correlates with the degree to which they will see the world as a dangerous place, also known as “mean-world syndrome.” Research on inspiring media, by contrast, suggests that exposure to elevating media may have the potential to shift our perception of the world toward a “kind-world syndrome.”

For example, a 2011 study led by Karl Aquino of the University of British Columbia found that people who experienced elevation from reading a story about uncommon goodness became more likely to believe that there is good in the world. The more people experienced elevation, the more they perceived the world to be full of generosity and kindness. And research suggests there might be concrete benefits to this mental shift: Studies indicate that holding a cynical worldview—to only expect the worst of people—is actually bad for your health; however, seeing humanity’s positive potential can make us feel good (we experience positive emotions), which, in turn, can lead to anupward spiral of well-being.

Research that my colleagues and I have conducted points to social benefits of meaningful films as well. We asked 266 students to identify films that are meaningful to them; their responses generated a long list of movies, with the most popular ones being Remember the Titans, Forrest Gump, andEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

We found that these films are more likely than pleasurable films to depict values of love, kindness, and connectedness, and to elicit elevation. In addition, experiencing elevation from such movies made the participants feel more connected to dear friends and family, as well as to the transcendent, spiritual aspects of life—which, in turn, inspired a host of prosocial motivations. Specifically, watching a movie such as A Walk To Remember or The Blindside made them feel a general sense of compassionate love for people, made them want to help people less fortunate than themselves, and generally made them want to be kind and good to fellow human beings, even strangers.

Our findings highlight that elevation not only makes us feel more connected toward people we know but also makes us feel compassionate toward people we don’t—even to the point that we’re motivated to make sacrifices for strangers. The study suggests that the elevation we get from films can help us transcend our egocentric bias and forge more compassionate connections to others.

Of course, making these positive changes stick is not something that happens overnight. Nor is it enough to see portrayals of moral beauty, kindness, and generosity only every once in a while. For positive media to have strong, lasting effects on us individually or collectively, I believe we need to consume it consistently, over time, just as eating right only once a week does not make us healthier.

But it is encouraging to see that these effects are possible, and that our media consumption patterns can be a force for good in the world, not just a way to make media companies rich. The research on positive media is still evolving (and I will be covering more of it in future Greater Good articles). But so far, it suggests that when we select inspiring content on TV, in films, or through social media, we’re not just making ourselves feel good in the moment. We’re nurturing our instincts for compassion and kindness.

About The Author
Sophie H. Janicke, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in media psychology at Chapman University, studying the power of new and traditional media to inspire consumers to become more prosocial and happy. Follow her on Twitter,Facebook, and on her blog.

Cover Story: “Purple Rain,” by Bob Staake – The New Yorker

A tribute to Prince, on the cover of next week’s issue.

Source: Cover Story: “Purple Rain,” by Bob Staake – The New Yorker

The pop singer Prince died on Thursday, at the age of fifty-seven, but his legacy will remain with us for a long, long time. Our cover for next week’s issue, Bob Staake’s “Purple Rain,” is a tribute to the great performer; click here to read remembrances from our writers.

Screentime Is Making Kids Moody, Crazy and Lazy

6 Ways electronic screen time makes kids angry, depressed and unmotivated

Source: Screentime Is Making Kids Moody, Crazy and Lazy


Children or teens who are “revved up” and prone to rages or—alternatively—who are depressed and apathetic have become disturbingly commonplace. Chronically irritable children are often in a state of abnormally high arousal, and may seem “wired and tired.” That is, they’re agitated but exhausted. Because chronically high arousal levels impact memory and the ability to relate, these kids are also likely to struggle academically and socially.

At some point, a child with these symptoms may be given a mental-health diagnosis such as major depression, bipolar disorder, or ADHD, and offered corresponding treatments, including therapy and medication. But often these treatments don’t work very well, and the downward spiral continues.

What’s happening?

Both parents and clinicians may be “barking up the wrong tree.” That is, they’re trying to treat what looks like a textbook case of mental disorder, but failing to rule out and address the most common environmental cause of such symptoms—everyday use of electronics. Time and again, I’ve realized that regardless of whether there exists any “true” underlying diagnoses, successfully treating a child with mood dysregulation today requires methodically eliminating all electronics use for several weeks—an “electronics fast”—to allow the nervous system to “reset.”

If done correctly, this intervention can produce deeper sleep, a brighter and more even mood, better focus and organization, and an increase in physical activity. The ability to tolerate stress improves, so meltdowns diminish in both frequency and severity. The child begins to enjoy the things they used to, is more drawn to nature, and imaginary or creative play returns. In teens and young adults, an increase in self-directed behavior is observed—the exact opposite of apathy and hopelessness.

It’s a beautiful thing.

At the same time, the electronic fast reduces or eliminates the need for medication while rendering other treatments more effective. Improved sleep, more exercise, and more face-to-face contact with others compound the benefits—an upward spiral! After the fast, once the brain is reset, the parent can carefully determine how much if any electronics use the child can tolerate without symptoms returning.

Restricting electronics may not solve everything, but it’s often the missing link in treatment when kids are stuck.  

But why is the electronic fast intervention so effective? Because it reverses much of the physiological dysfunction produced by daily screen time.

Children’s brains are much more sensitive to electronics use than most of us realize. In fact, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t take much electronic stimulation to throw a sensitive and still-developing brain off track. Also, many parents mistakenly believe thatinteractive screen-time—Internet or social media use, texting, emailing, and gaming—isn’t harmful, especially compared to passive screen time like watching TV. In fact, interactive screen time is more likely to cause sleep, mood, and cognitive issues, because it’s more likely to cause hyperarousal and compulsive use.

Here’s a look at six physiological mechanisms that explain electronics’ tendency to produce mood disturbance:

1. Screen time disrupts sleep and desynchronizes the body clock.

Because light from screen devices mimics daytime, it suppresses melatonin, a sleep signal released by darkness. Just minutes of screen stimulation can delay melatonin release by several hours and desynchronize the body clock. Once the body clock is disrupted, all sorts of other unhealthy reactions occur, such as hormone imbalance and brain inflammation. Plus, high arousal doesn’t permit deep sleep, and deep sleep is how we heal.

2. Screen time desensitizes the brain’s reward system.

Many children are “hooked” on electronics, and in fact gaming releases so muchdopamine—the “feel-good” chemical—that on a brain scan it looks the same as cocaineuse. But when reward pathways are overused, they become less sensitive, and more and more stimulation is needed to experience pleasure. Meanwhile, dopamine is also critical for focus and motivation, so needless to say, even small changes in dopamine sensitivity can wreak havoc on how well a child feels and functions.

3. Screen time produces “light-at-night.”

Light-at-night from electronics has been linked to depression and even suicide risk in numerous studies. In fact, animal studies show that exposure to screen-based light before or during sleep causes depression, even when the animal isn’t looking at the screen. Sometimes parents are reluctant to restrict electronics use in a child’s bedroom because they worry the child will enter a state of despair—but in fact removing light-at-night is protective.

4. Screen time induces stress reactions.

Both acute stress (fight-or-flight) and chronic stress produce changes in brain chemistry and hormones that can increase irritability. Indeed, cortisol, the chronic stress hormone, seems to be both a cause and an effect of depression—creating a vicious cycle. Additionally, both hyperarousal and addiction pathways suppress the brain’s frontal lobe, the area where mood regulation actually takes place.

5. Screen time overloads the sensory system, fractures attention, and depletes mental reserves. 

Experts say that what’s often behind explosive and aggressive behavior is poor focus.When attention suffers, so does the ability to process one’s internal and externalenvironment, so little demands become big ones. By depleting mental energy with high visual and cognitive input, screen time contributes to low reserves. One way to temporarily “boost” depleted reserves is to become angry, so meltdowns actually become a coping mechanism.

6. Screen-time reduces physical activity levels and exposure to “green time.”

Research shows that time outdoors, especially interacting with nature, can restore attention, lower stress, and reduce aggression. Thus, time spent with electronics reduces exposure to natural mood enhancers.

In today’s world, it may seem crazy to restrict electronics so drastically. But when kids are struggling, we’re not doing them any favors by leaving electronics in place and hoping they can wind down by using electronics in “moderation.” It just doesn’t work. In contrast, by allowing the nervous system to return to a more natural state with a strict fast, we can take the first step in helping a child become calmer, stronger, and happier.

Victoria L. Dunckley, M.D. is an integrative child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist, the author of Reset Your Child’s Brain, and an expert on the effects of screen-time on the developing nervous system.

What is a Picture Really Worth? – Logos in Advertising


What is a Picture Really Worth? – Logos in Advertising

by Donna L. Roberts, Ph.D. & Sergio Del Bianco

Advertisers frequently rely on the famous cliché “A picture is worth a thousand words,” fashioning images that create a world and tell a story that they hope will lead a consumer to purchase their product.  The oft-quoted phrase is derived from an article by Fred R. Barnard in the advertising trade journal Printers’ Ink (later renamed Marketing/Communications) where he encouraged the use of images in advertisements that appeared on the sides of streetcars.  In a 1927 issue Barnard stated “One Picture Worth Ten Thousand Words”, labeling the advice a Chinese proverb, which he later admitted he did, “so that people would take it seriously.”

Perhaps the most pervasive application of this kernel of wisdom is the brand logo.  Logos (also called signature cuts) represent a specific example of a branding effort whereby a stylized version of the advertiser’s name and/or symbol is repeated in order to represent the organization as a whole.  It has been compared to a trademark because it represents a uniquely recognizable symbol and provides quick recognition of the brand (Arens, Weigold, & Arens, 2011).  The logo may or may not include the firm’s name and is primarily intended to make a quick, identifiable and easily remembered visual connection to the brand.

Advertisers use logos as a cue to instantly identify the brand and evoke an immediate reaction based on associated thoughts, memories and emotions.

How well can you identify common logos?  Take this online test to find out:


Arens, W., Weigold, M., & Arens, C. (2011). Contemporary advertising. (13th ed.). Hightstown, NJ: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Barnard, F. R. (March 10, 1927).   One Picture is Worth Ten Thousand Words, Printers’ Ink, pp. 114-115.


Looking Into the Black Box




Looking Into the Black Box

by Donna L. Roberts. Ph. D.

Researchers studying the psychology of consumer behavior have long struggled to identify the variables that comprise the proverbial black box of consumer decision making and advertising influence (Advertising Research Foundation, 1964; Baumgartner, 2002; Bearden, Netemeyer & Teel, 1989).  Furthermore, personality researchers too, have endeavored to determine the many specific aspects of behavior that are influenced by the differing personality variables (Bosnjak, et al., 2007).

Practically speaking, the fundamental purpose of advertising is to unequivocally generate a response that advances sales and thus ultimately improves profits.  Clearly businesses would not spend billions of limited corporate resources on an endeavor that would not at least attempt to significantly contribute to profitability.

Advertising is everywhere in the modern environment – on radio, television and computers, in magazines and newspapers, on billboards, on buildings, on public transportation, on the clothing, shoes and accessories of sports and entertainment figures and strategically placed in films, television shows and websites.  Far from being a passive mirror of society and reflection of already established consumer needs, advertising exerts influence that is cumulative, often subtle and at least partially unconscious.  If the average American is inundated with over 3000 ads per day (Du Plessis, 2008; Kilbourne, 1999; Vollmer & Precourt, 2008), which are theorized to influence and manipulate his/her behavior, then a thorough understanding of this powerful persuader is undoubtedly in the best interest of behavioral researchers, clinical practitioners and certainly the individuals themselves.

Understanding individual differences in response to external stimuli would contribute to a better understanding of both these differences and how the process of influence and persuasion work in our daily lives.  More fully understanding how particular types of messages carry more or less influence with differing personalities could be useful in shaping more effective assessment measures and subsequent approaches to therapy and counseling that take personality into consideration, similar to the way in which one adjusts teaching styles and modes with regard to individual learning styles.



Advertising Research Foundation. (1964). Are there consumer types? New York, NY:

ARF.Baumgartner, H. (2002).  Toward a personology of the consumer. Journal of Consumer Research, 29(2), 286-293. doi:10.1086/341578

Bearden, W. O., Netemeyer, R. G., & Teel, J. E. (1989). Measurement of consumer susceptibility to interpersonal influence. Journal of Consumer Research, 15(4), 473-481. doi:10.1086/209186

Bosnjak, M., Bratko, D., Galesic, M., & Tuten, T. (2007). Consumer personality and individual differences: Revitalizing a temporarily abandoned field. Journal of Business Research, 60(6), 587-589. doi:10.1016/j.jbusres.2006.12.002

Du Plessis, E. (2008). The advertised mind: Ground-breaking insights into how our brains respond to advertising. Sterling, VA: Millward Brown.

Kilbourne, J. (1999). Deadly persuasion: Why women and girls must fight the addictive power of advertising. Boston, MA: Free Press.

The Continuing Quest to Unlock the Mystery of Consumer Behavior



The Continuing Quest to Unlock the Mystery of Consumer Behavior

Donna L. Roberts, Ph.D.

Consumer behavior is one of the most pervasive of human behaviors.  Virtually every individual is a consumer at some level and aspects of consumer behavior occur daily in the lives of most people.  Since human beings spend much of their lives consuming products and services – from houses, food and clothing to transportation, health and recreational services – it follows that consumer behavior represents an integral part of human behavior and cannot be separated or considered distinct from general human functioning.  In short, many of the same issues that influence individuals’ behavior as human beings influence their behavior as consumers.  Therefore, the assessments used to study various aspects of human behavior – e.g., personality type assessments– are potentially applicable in the study of consumer behavior insofar as they assess, describe or predict those aspects of general human behavior that are relevant to the more specific behavior.

Much of the existing consumer related personality research was conducted from the 1950s through the 1980s and focused on identifying specific characteristics that explained differences in consumers’ purchasing patterns.  This early research (Advertising Research Foundation, 1964; Arndt, 1986; Evans, 1959; Jacoby, 1969; Kassarjian, 1979; Kassarjian & Sheffet, 1991; Koponen, 1960; Myers, 1967; Wells & Beard, 1973; Westfall, 1962), which used general personality measures to explain and predict broad aspects of consumer behavior, proved largely disappointing and inconclusive.  The resulting failure to generate support for the intuitively logical assumption that individual differences influence consumer related behavior highlighted the need for new research to fill the existing gap by isolating more specific aspects of consumer behavior and more precisely defined variables.

While some of the early studies indicated potential for explaining and predicting certain consumer behaviors via personality traits (Bearden, Netemeyer & Teel, 1989; Bearden & Rose, 1990; Cacioppo, Petty & Morris, 1983; Calder & Burnkrant, 1977; Haugtvedt, Petty & Cacioppo, 1992), much of the research, instead, has been criticized for falling short of this goal (Bearden, LaForge, & Ingram, 2007; Blackwell, Miniard & Engel, 2006; Brody & Cunningham, 1968; Cohen, 1967; Horton, 1973a, b; Hoyer, MacInnis & Pieters, 2012; Kassarjian, 1971; Massey, Frank, & Lodahl, 1968), leaving a gap in the field of research between the variable of personality and the relationship to specific consumer behaviors.  Collectively, these studies concluded that because personality represents the conglomeration of characteristics that determine general patterns of behavior, significant relationships are not likely to be found that reflect specificity to the extent of individual brand choice.  Instead, it is more likely that significant relationships exist between personality and behaviors consumers adopt for approaching, modifying and reacting to the market environment (i.e., between the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the consumer behavior and not the specific ‘what’) (Arnould, Price & Zinkhan, 2004; Nunes & Merrighue, 2007; Solomon, 2010).  As a result of these identified problems, further research was proposed to determine the role of aspects of personality in consumer behavior. 

With respect to the fields of consumer behavior and advertising, the study of personality has spanned the temporal and theoretical landscape from Sigmund Freud to modern theorists of personality, motivation and social psychology (Dichter, 1960; Endler & Rosenstein, 1997; Loef, Antonides & Raaij, 2003; Martineau, 1957) and yet, a significant gap in the knowledge still exists (Baumgartner, 2002; Bosnjak, Bratko, Galesic & Tuten, 2007; Nunes & Merrighue, 2007).  One of the major criticisms of the early research relating personality to consumer behavior was the lack of theoretical foundation (Baumgartner, 2002).  Specifically, critics point to the creation of so-called personality measures devoid of established theoretical rationale (Kassarjian & Sheffet, 1991).

Early on, advertisers sought research that would yield a direct linear link between a specific consumer type and advertising that would have immediate effect in the marketplace (Evans, 1959; Kassarjian, 1971).  More current evaluative research of advertising effects acknowledges a much more complex and multifaceted set of factors involved in consumer decision-making and persuasion and thus employs a variety of techniques and measurements – including engagement tests, memory tests, persuasion tests, direct response counts, frame-by-frame tests and brand tracking to assess various aspects of consumer response (Moriarity, Mitchell & Wells, 2009).  This perspective addresses the aforementioned criticisms that early research was too broad in scope and thus overlooked the various component factors that contributed to a resultant behavior.

The more recent consumer research seeks to both address the knowledge gap and circumvent the early shortcomings by applying established theoretical approaches in explaining individual differences in consumption behavior – i.e., approaches based in established personality theories (Harris & Lee, 2004; Harris & Mowen, 2001; McDaniel, Lim & Mahan, 2007; Mowen, 2010; Mowen, Harris & Bone, 2004; Mowen & Spears, 1999).



Advertising Research Foundation. (1964). Are there consumer types? New York, NY: ARF.

Arndt, J. (1986). Paradigms in consumer research: A review of perspectives and approaches. European Journal of Marketing, 20(8), 23-40. doi:10.1108/EUM0000000004660

Arnould, E. J., Price, L., & Zinkhan, G. M. (2004). Consumers, (2nd ed.).  New York, NY: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Baumgartner, H. (2002).  Toward a personology of the consumer. Journal of Consumer Research, 29(2), 286-293. doi:10.1086/341578

Bearden, W. O., Laforge, R. W., & Ingram, T. N. (2007). Marketing: Principles and perspectives (4th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Bearden, W. O., Netemeyer, R. G., & Teel, J. E. (1989). Measurement of consumer susceptibility to interpersonal influence. Journal of Consumer Research, 15(4), 473-481. doi:10.1086/209186

Bearden, W. O., & Rose, R. L. (1990). Attention to social comparison information: An individual difference factor affecting conformity. Journal of Consumer Research, 16(4), 461-472. doi:10.1086/209231

Blackwell, R. D., Miniard, P. W., & Engel, J. F. (2006). Consumer behavior, (11th ed.). Florence, KY: South-Western College Publications.

Bosnjak, M., Bratko, D., Galesic, M., & Tuten, T. (2007). Consumer personality and individual differences: Revitalizing a temporarily abandoned field. Journal of Business Research, 60(6), 587-589. doi:10.1016/j.jbusres.2006.12.002

Brody, R. P., & Cunningham, S. C. (1968). Personality variables and the consumer decision process. Journal of Marketing Research, 5(1), 50-57. doi:10.2307/3149793

Cacioppo, J. T., Petty, R. E., & Morris, K. (1983). Effects of need for cognition on message evaluation, recall and persuasion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45(4), 805-810. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.45.4.805

Calder, B. J., & Burnkrant, R. E. (1977). Interpersonal influence on consumer behavior: An attribution theory approach. Journal of Consumer Research, 4(1), 29-39. doi:10.1086/208676

Cohen, J. B. (1967). An interpersonal orientation to the study of consumer behavior. Journal of Marketing Research, 4(8), 270-278.

Dichter, E. (1960). The strategy of desire. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Endler, N. S., & Rosenstein, A. J. (1997). Evolution of the personality construct in marketing and its applicability to contemporary personality research. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 6, 65.

Evans, F. B. (1959). Psychological and objective factors in the prediction of brand choice. Journal of Business, 3, 340-369. doi:10.1086/294388

Harris, E. G., & Lee, J. M. (2004). Illustrating a hierarchical approach for selecting personality traits in personnel decisions: An application of the 3M model. Journal of Business & Psychology, 19, 53-68.

Harris, E. G., & Mowen, J. C. (2001). The influence of cardinal-, central-, and surface-level personality traits on consumers’ bargaining and complaint intentions. Psychology & Marketing, 18, 1155-1185.

Haugtvedt, C. R., Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1992). Need for cognition and advertising: Understanding the role of personality variables in consumer behavior. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 1(3), 239-260. doi:10.1016/S1057-7408(08)80038-1

Horton, R. L. (1973a). On the appropriateness of brand loyalty and brand choice as dependent variables in consumer behavior studies. Proceedings of the Southern Marketing Association (Fall).

Horton, R. L. (1973b). Personality as a moderator variable in the purchase. Unpublished dissertation. Indiana University.

Hoyer, W. D., MacInnis, D. J., & Pieters, R. (2012). Consumer behavior, (6th ed.). Mason, OH: Southwestern College Publishers.

Jacoby, J. (1969). Personality and consumer behavior: How not to find relationships. Purdue Papers in Consumer Psychology, 102. Lafayette, IN: Purdue University.

Kassarjian, H. H. (1971). Personality and consumer behavior: A review. Journal of Marketing Research, 8(4), 409-419. doi:10.2307/3150229

Kassarjian, H. H. (1979). Personality: The longest fad. In W. L. Wilkie (ed.). Advances in Consumer Research, 6, 122-124. Ann Arbor, MI: Association for Consumer Research.

Kassarjian, H. H., & Sheffet, M. J. (1991). Personality and consumer behavior: An update. In H. H, Kassarjian & T. S. Robertson (Eds.). Perspectives in Consumer Behavior (4th ed.). Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman.

Koponen, A. (1960). Personality characteristics of purchasers. Journal of Advertising Research, 1, 6-12.

Loef, J., Antonides, G., & Raaij, W. F. (2003). The effectiveness of advertising matching purchase motivation. SSRN Working Paper Series.

Martineau, P. (1957). Motivation in advertising.  New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Massey, W. F., Frank, R. E., & Lodahl, T. M. (1968). Purchasing behavior and personal attributes. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

McDaniel, S. R., Lim, C., & Mahan III, J. E. (2007). The role of gender and personality traits in response to ads using violent images to promote consumption of sports entertainment. Journal of Business Research, 60, 606-612.

Moriarty, S., Mitchell, N., & Wells. W. (2009). Advertising: Principles and practice, (8th ed). Upper Saddles River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Mowen, J. C. (2010). The 3M model of motivation and personality: Theory and empirical applications to consumer behavior. Boston, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Mowen, J. C., Harris, E. G., & Bone, S. A. (2004). Personality traits and fear response to print advertisements: Theory and an empirical study. Psychology & Marketing, 21, 927-943.

Mowen, J. C., & Spears, N. (1999). Understanding compulsive buying among college students: A hierarchical approach. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 8, 407-430.

Myers, J. G. (1967). Determinants of store brand attitude. Journal of Marketing Research, 4, 73-81.

Nunes, P. F., & Merrighue, J. (2007). The continuing power of mass advertising. MIT Sloan Management Review, 48(2), 63-73.

Solomon, M. R. (2010). Consumer behavior: Buying, having and being. (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Wells, W. D., & Beard, A. D. (1973). Personality and consumer behavior, in S. Ward & T. S. Robertson (eds). Consumer behavior: Theoretical Sources. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 141-199.

Westfall, R. (1962). Psychological factors in predicting product choice. Journal of Marketing, 26(2), 34-40. doi:10.2307/1248434


The Lures of Advertising – How Susceptible are You?


The Lures of Advertising – How Susceptible are You?

Donna L. Roberts, Ph.D.

In the competitive and cluttered environment of today’s commercial marketplace, the average American is inundated with between 3000 and 5000 advertising messages per day in various forms, and yet, considers their effect inconsequential (Du Plessis, 2008; Kilbourne, 1999; Vollmer & Precourt, 2008).  Advertisers, however, understand the persuasive power their communications can have upon consumer behavior and thus attempt to make such a lasting impression that their distinct message will positively influence the purchase decision.   In the most direct and simplistic model, consumers see a commercial or print ad that creates or modifies their perceptions of the brand and, as a result, they are more likely to purchase the brand.  However, a more likely, albeit less direct, conceptualization of the process posits that consumers absorb some impression or interpretation from the ad, perhaps without conscious attention, which is then referenced, again perhaps even unconsciously, at the time of purchase decision (Du Plessis, 2008).  Thus, the advertisers must attempt to firmly differentiate their brand in the minds and hearts of consumers – consumers that possess distinct individual differences.

Advertisers spend millions of dollars every day in order to persuade their targets to want, and then to buy, their products and services by crafting persuasive messages that appeal to one’s basic needs.  While it is generally accepted that these advertising efforts influence consumer behavior, the specific mechanisms whereby this is achieved are still not fully understood.  Furthermore, previous research has proven ambiguous and laden with methodological errors (Bearden, LaForge, & Ingram, 2007; Blackwell, Miniard & Engel, 2006; Hoyer, MacInnis & Pieters, 2012; Kassarjian, 1979; Kassarjian & Sheffet, 1991).

In an age fraught with economic uncertainty, skyrocketing consumer debt, materialism, unemployment and foreclosures, a better understanding of the individual characteristics that influence consumer behavior can be considered an important factor in enhancing overall psychological health and well-being.  Moreover, understanding psychological triggers has long been an aspect of various behavior modification and counseling interventions.  Reviewing experimental inquiries over the last thirty years, Xie and  Boush (2011) concluded that “Extant research has documented that consumers can be highly susceptible to deceptive advertising claims that lead them to acquire false information, form misperceptions, and become involved in consumptive behaviours [sic] to their detriment” (p. 293).

In the context of advertising, consumer susceptibility refers to “the extent to which individuals attend to and value commercial messages as sources of information for guiding their consumptive behaviors” (Barr & Kellaris, 2000, p. 230) and is related to the concepts of consumer vulnerability (Moore & Moschis, 1978) and influenceability (McGuire, 1968).  Consumer susceptibility to advertising has been a prominent area of study since the 1980s (Armstrong, Gurol, & Russ, 1979; Burke, DeSarbo, Oliver, & Robertson, 1988; Cohen, 1972; Darke, Ashworth, & Ritchie, 2008; Darke & Ritchie, 2007; Haefner & Permut, 1974; Liefeld & Heslop, 1985; Russo et al., 1981; Shimp & Preston, 1981; Urbany, Bearden, & Weilbaker, 1988).  Specifically, psychologists have argued that advertisements “advocate violence and are responsible for a breakdown in early learning skills and the destruction of parental authority” (Marcello-Serafin, 2008, p. 2).  In other studies, advertising has been correlated with increased obesity (Dietz & Gortmaker, 1993; Kunkel, 2004), promiscuous sexual behavior (Collins et al., 2004; Escobar-Chavez et al., 2005; Kilbourne, 1999), negative body image (Field et al., 1999; Kilbourne, 1999), and glamorization of drug, alcohol and tobacco use (American Academy of Pediatrics, 1999; 2006; Marcello-Serafin, 2008; Kilbourne, 1999).

Together, this research suggests that high susceptibility results from interactions among the content of advertising claims, situational contexts, and consumer characteristics – i.e., the individual differences in response to advertising.  It was the essence of these individual differences that encompassed the focus of various studies.  Furthermore, recognition is the most widely used test method in advertising and is based on the premise that ad effectiveness – i.e., consumer susceptibility – can be measured by memory of the consumer (Lee & Johnson, 2005; McDaniel & Gates, 1999).  As consumers, the best defense against the adverse effects of the incessant onslaught of advertising messages is to be cognizant of the messages and the ways in which one is vulnerable to them.



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Impression Management – Who Does Your Sweatshirt Say You Are?

Easy Street Magazine – Psych Pstuff

by Dr. Donna Roberts

The Story

I have a friend who wears a Harvard Law sweatshirt. She didn’t study there. She wanted to, but didn’t. But she doesn’t mind if you think so when you see her wearing the sweatshirt. In fact, that’s pretty much why she wears it.

The sweatshirt is actually how I met her. Waiting in line at Starbucks I noticed the just-dying-to-be-noticed sweatshirt. Being a lawyer is my alter ego—the proverbial if-I-hadn’t-done-what-I-did-in-life-I might-have-done-this. And Harvard Law is … well, Harvard Law, the quintessential Holy Grail of legal education. Duly impressed I started up a conversation by asking the obvious question “Oh, did you study law at Harvard?” Mind you, she doesn’t lie when directly asked if she attended the esteemed academy. Faking academic credentials is unethical, illegal and vastly uncool. “Unfortunately not,” she confessed, “I’m a wannabe.” “Me too!” I cooed. And a friendship began.

So, about the sweatshirt. It’s not a “just grabbed this old thing out of the pile” decision. Wearing it is as calculated as a celebrity’s overworked “just rolled out of bed” hairstyle. She wants people to see it and assume she is a Harvard Law grad and everything that goes along with that. It’s the impression that she wants people to have of her. And with just a piece of otherwise ordinary clothing she is, for the most part, successful.

Now before you start getting judgmental about this little quirk, think for a moment of all the ways in which we do, and have done, the very same thing, just with different props—the designer labels on our clothes, jewelry, cars, sports equipment, etc. We even slap labels on our eyeglasses, makeup, wine and underwear. We walk in designer shoes, write with designer pens, smoke designer cigars.

And, to a very great extent, we do it to evoke a certain response from other people. Some will protest that they do it only for themselves. But do you really put on your designer clothes and makeup when you are home alone? Seriously, you know what you look like without makeup and if you really want to know what time it is, a Timex will deliver that information more accurately than its conceited cousin, Rolex. Are you really a different person in your Armani suit than in your sweat pants?

Advertisers count on this. They help us formulate the picture we are painting. If it didn’t work they would be out of a job.

Psych Pstuff’s Summary

The heart of psychology is a need to understand why we do what we do—why, for instance, people wear a sweatshirt from an institution with which they have no affiliation.

In social psychology the term “impression management” represents one’s attempt, consciously or unconsciously, to influence the way in which others see us and the conclusions about us they draw in response to these perceptions. Through various means individuals attempt to portray themselves to others either as they see themselves or as they wish to be seen.

It’s a concept so pervasive, so ingrained into the way we behave on a daily basis, that we often do not even recognize we are doing it or that there is an acceptable alternative. And yet, its enough of a big deal, so to speak, that entire industries are built around maintaining a barely unreachable goal state.

If the aim of an advertisement is to sell a product, then a sub-goal on the way to that end is making you believe that product is needed in order to be who you want to be. Particularly in Western individualistic cultures, we are conditioned to believe everything we wear, do, or use is a unique expression of who we are. Industries are so good at perpetuating this concept of ultimate self-presentation that even one’s staunch rejection of the idealized standard becomes in itself a statement of who we are—rebel, non-conformist, free thinker—unbounded by the mandates of others. So strong is this way of thinking that even the converse serves to reinforce the mentality in an exception-proves-the-rule sort of way: If you rebel against the tyranny of designer labels, your protest serves to further ingrain their popularity.

Integral to the process of impression management is the psychological concept of the self. Every major philosopher and psychologist has theorized, albeit differently, on how the self imagines itself in relation to others. For Westerners, individual achievement is paramount. For Easterners, contribution as a group member is more important. Others view the self as nothing more than an illusion (see The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity, by Bruce Hood).

Every major philosopher and psychologist has theorized, albeit differently, on how the self imagines itself in relation to others. For Westerners, individual achievement is paramount. For Easterners, contribution as a group member is more important.

Freud theorized about the competing aspects of the self—the id, ego and superego—while for Jung the self represented one of his most powerful archetypes that symbolized the psyche as a whole. Adler based much of his studies on the universal self-perceived inferiority to others manifesting as a constant struggle for superiority, thus setting up the necessary conditions for what we now label impression management.

Any way you slice it, the self is an important psychological concept, and like any important concept psychologists attempt to measure it—all the while still not agreeing on what “it” is exactly. Psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingram set out to embrace the complexities of the idea of self in their Johari Window model (Johari = Joe + Harry. Such cards we psychologist are!).

The Johari Window is basically a matrix comprised of the differing views of the self, based on aspects of the individual that are either known or hidden. Each quadrant represents a different combination of the perception of an individual—the Public Self, the Blind Self, the Private Self and the Unknown Self. Joe and Harry went on to theorize different Personas based upon which “self” is the most prominent for the individual.

Note: this can also be applied to character development in writing:

chartHere’s a link to an online test where you can try out a version of the Johari Window:

Yet another way to measure an aspect of impression management is to assess the level to which one engages in self-monitoring behaviors. In 1974, psychologist Mark Snyder developed the Self-Monitoring Scale which differentiates high and low self-monitoring characteristics. In short, high self-monitors will readily and consistently modify their behavior in response to the external situation and/or feedback from others, while low self-monitors will not.

You can try a version of this test at

Conflicting theories and online psych tests aside, humans will forever ponder questions about the self and the selves of others. Who am I? Who are you? Who do you think I am? Who does my sweatshirt say I am?


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