About common psychological retail practices to persuade consumers buy more.

Source: 2 Psychological Tactics Marketers Use to Target Impulse Purchasing – Espada Blue

Self-Control and Impulse Purchasing

There’s a bunch of really interesting literature on self-control and impulse purchasing. From the view of functional brain neuroanatomy, self-control is defined as an effortful inhibition of impulses and is likely to be lost when certain brain areas like lateral prefrontal cortex is activated. Although, counterintuitively, one would expect self-control failure to occur with regards of insufficient activation, it is hypothesised that higher activation relates to a fatigue of cognitive resources which can no longer work in an inhibiting fashion, therefore individual’s capability to regulate actions of self starts to decrease. Unsurprisingly, it has enormous effect on consumer behaviour, because higher activation of lateral prefrontal cortex impairs one’s decision making process and results in impulsive actions and choices.

What’s interesting about the mechanics of self-control is that it relates to detailed versus abstract thinking at the given point in time. Specifically, detailed thoughts were shown to diminish self-control efforts while abstract thoughts were shown to strengthen them. This is believed to happen because detailed thoughts tend to be more emotionally charged and therefore activate associative emotional experiences, known as “hot states”. These “hot states” are typically more difficult to control, thus require more cognitive resources to inhibit impulsive behaviour such as impulse purchasing. In contrast, abstract thoughts are more neutral, therefore operate on the basis of more rational “cool states” and allow to regulate behaviour in a more reflective manner.

Undoubtedly, these ideas can be practically applied to shape consumer’s mindset by activating detailed or abstract thoughts and subsequently influence purchasing choices. To this end, marketers often apply prevention and promotion frames which were shown to amplify the effect of given mindset.


Prevention Frame

Prevention frame is related to individual’s self-control strategy to avoid losses. As an example, frame of “25% less fat” versus “75% more lean meat” would refer to prevention and promotion focused messages. What’s even more interesting is that, despite different types of framing, messages communicate exactly the same information yet elicit different psychological affect over a consumer.

Prevention frame emphasises the avoidance of losses and is related to strategic vigilance. This type of strategy is more compatible with negative emotions and undesired product attributes, because it evokes more detailed rather than abstract thought processing. Once these two mechanisms are matched, same valence of information increases the speed of information processing and creates the perception of ease. Specifically, such mechanics induces the liking effect which builds extra willingness to have that specific product and is linked to impulse purchasing. In other words, fluent information processing influence the liking of the product and has a persuasive effect towards purchasing behaviour.


Promotion Frame

Promotion frame emphasises the pursuit of gains and is related to strategic eagerness. This type of strategy is more compatible with positive emotions and less concrete product attributes like great, safe, comfortable, etc., because it evokes more abstract rather than detailed thought processing. Abstract thinking strengthens self-control efforts which helps to follow end state goal pursuit. Such mechanics prevents consumer from deviating from his planned actions and increases motivational intensity to achieve defined goal. In other words, promotion frame will be more powerful influencing consumers who know what they came for.

Have you noticed this type of framing in supermarkets?



Fujita, K., Trope, Y., Liberman, N., & Levin-Sagi, M. (2006). Construal levels and self-control. Journal of personality and social psychology90(3), 351.

Lee, A. Y., & Aaker, J. L. (2004). Bringing the frame into focus: the influence of regulatory fit on processing fluency and persuasion. Journal of personality and social psychology86(2), 205.

Trope, Y., & Liberman, N. (2003). Temporal construal. Psychological review110(3), 403.