When Less Is Not More: The Effect of Empty Space on Persuasion


Source: When Less Is Not More: The Effect of Empty Space on Persuasion

Sep 04, 2017  By Fang Ying, Senior Writer, China Business Knowledge @ CUHK 

Contributors: Prof. Dai Xianchi and Prof. Robert Wyer, Department of Marketing, CUHK Business School

Empty space or white space has been widely used in advertising and interior design to give the feeling of a clean and elegant look. “Less is more” is the message in the modern world. However, will “more” space become “less” effective in communication?

Only a few empirical studies have investigated the effect of empty space on consumer behavior, and the findings are not clear and sometimes contradictive. For instance, a previous study found that surrounding the picture of a product by empty space increases perceptions of the product’s prestige value, thereby increasing evaluations of the product. However, other research suggest that the empty space surrounding a verbal message could draw people’s attention away from the message and decrease the resources they devote to processing it, and thereby decreasing the message’s impact.

In a recent study[1], Prof. Dai Xianchi, Associate Professor of the Department of Marketing at CUHK Business School, further looked into the effect of empty space on persuasion. The study was carried out alongside his collaborators, Prof. Robert Wyer, Visiting professor of the same department and university, and PhD student Canice Kwan, now Assistant Professor at Sun Yat-sen University.

“People’s construal of the implications of a message goes beyond its literal meaning and the white space that surrounds a text message can affect the message’s persuasiveness,” says Prof. Dai.

The researchers proposed that when a verbal statement is surrounded by empty space, it activates more general concepts that there is room for doubt to the validity or importance of the message content.

“In other words, the statement is less persuasive when it is surrounded by empty space than when it is not,” Prof. Dai points out. 

The Studies and Results

Seven studies in both laboratory and real-life settings were conducted.

In one study, the team collected 115 images of statements posted on a Facebook page over a one-month period from November to December in 2013, and downloaded a screenshot of each message image to record the amount of space (its image size and text space), audience responses (the total number of likes, shares, and comments), and the presence of non-text elements (a picture of a cartoon character and celebrities, nature scene background, etc.). At the same time, they used the numbers of likes, shares and comments as the indicators of effectiveness.

The results showed that individuals’ likings for the statements decreased as the amount of empty space increased. In other words, the impact of a statement decreases when it is surrounded by empty space.

In another study, 126 Hong Kong undergraduate students performed several marketing studies that were unrelated to the experiment. After that, the researchers announced that they could take away copies of the research paper related to the studies on a table next to the exit.

The copies were placed next to two pasteboards, each with a note that says “PICK ME!”.

The text, font size and type of the note were exactly the same, but the pasteboards were in two different sizes and conditions: A4 size with empty space surrounding the text, and A5 size with limited space surrounding the text.

The results revealed that more students (59.6%) picked up the papers in limited space condition than those printed in the empty space condition (37.7%).

“It indicates that participants complied less with the message’s implication when the message was surrounded by substantial empty space,” Prof. Dai says.

To examine whether the amount of space surrounding a persuasive message would influence recipients’ opinions when the message was generated randomly by a computer or intentionally by the communicator, another study was performed.

This time, 266 US participants were asked to evaluate two popular quotes from the Internet that emphasized the importance of personal warmth: “Hold on to whatever keeps you warm inside” and “A kind word can warm three winter months”. Each quote was presented in either a box with little empty space or a box with substantial empty space.

Unlike in other studies, a headline was also added at the top of each quote. In the condition where the message was randomly generated, the headline stated: “The message and the configuration of the image (e.g., font, color, or other visuals) do not reflect the personal attitude or intention of the author”. On the other hand, in the condition where the quote reflected the personal attitude or intention of the author, the headline read: “The message and the configuration of the image are the result of the author’s free choice”.

In each case, participants were asked to rate the persuasiveness of each statement along three questions: “To what extent do you like the quote?”; “To what extent do you think the quote is important?”; and “To what extent do you agree with the quote?”, from a scale of 1 (not at all) to 7 (very much). They also had to report their perceptions on how strongly the quote conveyed its opinion and the time they took to make their evaluation was recorded.

As predicted, the results showed that when the message was generated intentionally by the communicator, participants perceived it to convey a non-significantly weaker opinion when there was substantial empty space than when there was little empty space.

“That is to say, empty space should not influence the persuasiveness of the message if readers believed that the configuration of space and message was generated randomly by a computer,” said Prof. Dai.

“Our experiment suggested that people infer the strength of statement from the design – whether the statement is surrounded by empty space or full space,” he continued.

The Implications

“This study demonstrates how visual clues, in particular empty space, affect the impact of verbal messages. All our results have shown people find a message less persuasive when it is surrounded by empty space than when it is not,” says Prof. Dai.

“This offers practical insights on advertising and even in political campaigns. For example, a candidate may want to present his messages in limited space rather than empty space to convey his messages more effectively,” says Prof. Dai.


[1] Kwan, Canice, Xianchi Dai, and Robert Wyer, “Contextual Influences on Message Persuasion: The Effect of Empty Space,” Journal of Consumer Research,2017


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Consumers are fooled by a product’s color

An optical illusion leads us to think that products that are more brightly coloured are bigger, or have more space than the same products with more muted colours. Researchers tested this idea with coloured coffee cups, suitcases and furniture in shades of red, orange and purple.

In an experiment, participants who were supposed to fill up a dark brown paper cup took one-quarter more jelly beans than those who were told to fill a lighter-coloured brown cup. An optical illusion makes us think that more deeply coloured products are bigger or have more space than products with the same but lighter colour. (Photo: JCR / Hagtvedt / Brasel)
September 8, 2017

Source: http://sciencenordic.com/consumers-are-fooled-product’s-colour

Retailers are always looking for ways to convince consumers to buy more. A new study shows just how easy it can be to use colour to affect our purchasing choices.

A little extra colouring, for example, makes us think that an orange suitcase with a stronger colour is more spacious than one that is light orange, even though the suitcases are the same size.

The study has been published in the Journal of Consumers Research.

“The strength of a colour is an effective marketing tool,” says one of the researchers behind the study. He also points out that consumers who want products that take up less space prefer lighter colours because they think the products are smaller.

A painter turned researcher

The study was conducted by Henrik Hagtvedt and his colleague Adam Brasel at Boston College in the United States.

Hagtvedt is Norwegian and studied art history at the University of Oslo. Now he studies the use of colours in marketing.

“Saturated colours raise awareness,” he said.

Hagtvedt and his colleague have been able to document that deeper, more saturated colours arouse our interest. They used eye-tracking measurements, where they recorded how fast and how long people’s eyes focus on objects of different colours.

“Colours affect us more than most people realize,” he said.

Coffee cups, suitcases and computers

Using six experiments, Hagtvedt and his colleague tested how subjects perceived coffee cups, suitcases and PCs that were the same size but different hues.

Participants were asked to evaluate two objects of the same colour, but one of the objects had more colour saturation, meaning more pigment.

The first experiment confirmed Hagtvedt’s hypothesis: The participants thought that a dark green box was larger than a lighter green box, even though they were actually the same size.

In another test, participants were asked to consider two PCs with different hues of red. The participants thought that the bright red PC was larger than the one with a lighter red colour. The brighter red colour also attracted more attention and engagement from participants.

A darker suitcase seemed bigger

In another experiment, Hagtvedt asked students at Boston College which of two carry-on suitcases they preferred. One was a deep orange, the other a lighter orange.

Participants were divided into two groups and were told to make their choice according to different criteria. One group was told to select the suitcase they thought was roomiest, while the other was told to choose the suitcase they thought would take up the least amount of space.

“The first group was supposed to get the most into the suitcase. Most of them chose the suitcase with the strongest colour,” Hagtvedt said.

The other group was told to consider that the suitcase had to be put in the overhead compartment on an airplane.

“Then most of them chose the suitcase that had the weakest colour,” he said.

The participants thought that the room in the top image was smaller than the room in the picture below. The only difference in the pictures is the purple colour of the ottoman. The powerful purple colour made the room appear smaller in the top image. (The participants saw the ceiling in both pictures). (Photo: JCR / Hagtvedt/Brasel)

These results show that consumers think products have different volumes based on their colour saturation.

Put more candy in brown coffee cup than in beige

The next test involved asking participants to fill a paper coffee cup with as many jelly beans as they wanted.

“But they were only allowed to take one scoop,” Hagtvedt said.

Some participants got a light brown paper cup to fill, while others got a more deeply coloured paper cup of the same hue. Participants who had the most strongly coloured cup took 27 per cent more jelly beans on average.

“This result was very funny. It shows that people who had the most strongly coloured cup actually believed it had more space,” he said.

Furniture colour affects the feeling of space

Hagtvedt also wanted to see if the colour of furniture affects how big we think a room is. This could be particularly useful information when booking a hotel room.

He showed different pictures of the same room to the study participants. One picture shows the room furnished with a deep purple ottoman. In the second picture, the room was furnished in exactly the same way and with the same ottoman, but the ottoman was a lighter colour purple. The ottomans were exactly the same size.

Participants assumed that the height to the ceiling was lower when the ottoman was a deeper purple than when it was lighter, said Hagtvedt.

It is likely that furniture with more deeply saturated colours looks bigger, and thus the surroundings are perceived as relatively smaller, he explains.

Consumers should become more aware

Klemens Knöferle is an associate professor at the Department of Marketing  at BI Norwegian Business School. He believes the study is a reminder to all of us to become more aware.

“We consumers are open to both visual and other sensory effects. I would definitely encourage consumers to understand how visuals can affect consumption and what they buy. This goes beyond the effect of colour saturation,” he points out.

Product packaging, the design of a store and adverts all affect consumer behaviour.

“We should be aware that we drink more from taller cartons and eat more from larger plates,” says Knöferle.

It is also important for manufacturers to be aware of how colour affects consumers’ perception of the size of their products, Hagtvedt says.

“They should also keep in mind that consumers are different. A wide range of colours can meet different needs,” he says.

Consumers, on their part, might be more aware of how our eyes can deceive us.


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5 Stats on Generation Z Buying Habits Marketers Need

Source:  https://www.spredfast.com/social-marketing-blog/5-stats-generation-z-buying-habits-marketers-need

By Jaime Netzer

Though the oldest members of the Generation Z cohort are just beginning to come of age, their spending power is already undeniable, and marketers who want to remain relevant need to understand their unique needs. Gen Z, defined as those born after 1998, commands $44 billion in buying power—nothing to scoff at, surely—but by 2020, some reports project they’ll command nearly 40 percent of all consumer shopping. What’s more, 93 percent of parents say their Gen Z offspring influence household spending.

By 2020, Gen Z will command nearly 40 percent of all consumer shopping.

And Gen Z is online—really, really online: a recent study found that 74 percent of Gen Z members spend five hours or more every day online. Marketers who want to capture the attention of this generation therefore need to look for them online and find ways to connect with them there, which means catering to their unique preferences. Though they’re not so distant age-wise from the generation currently cornering the market—millennials—Gen Z has buying habits all their own.

We’ve collected a few of the most important stats about Gen Z’s buying habits for marketers to note:

1. Forty-six percent of U.S. Gen Z consumers research items on mobile devices before making purchases in-store.

(Source: Precision Dialogue)

Gen Z uses their smartphones and tablets as pre-shopping research tools before they even set foot in a brick-and-mortar store, so retailers need to offer mobile shoppers detailed information about products and services that will help move them down the path to purchase, even if that purchase isn’t online. Gen Z researches online before making an in-store purchase 12 to 27 percent more than any other generation. Data from recent years shows the tendency of Gen Z shoppers to research online before in-store shopping will only increase: in one year, researching online before buying in-store increased among the Gen Z generation by 5%, writes Precision Dialogue.

Gen Z researches online before making an in-store purchase 12 to 27 percent more than any other generation.

2. Sixty percent of Gen Z folks are more likely than average consumers to hang up if their call isn’t answered in under 45 seconds.

(Source: Precision Dialogue)

Customer care in general is incredibly important, especially on social. Increasingly, social is used by consumers to address customer service issues, and the importance of individualized, timely care will only become more important as Gen Z grows into their buying power.

3. Forty-two percent of Gen Z respondents in a recent study said they would participate in an online game for a campaign and forty-three percent would write a product review.

(Source: Forbes)

These two numbers tell marketers something important about Gen Z: they’re looking to get involved with brands and even invest their own time and energy into building the reputation of a brand. Creative and engaging social campaigns that invite involvement are likely to play well with Gen Z.

4. Sixty percent of Gen Z shoppers won’t use apps or websites that load slowly or are difficult to navigate.

(Source: Forbes)

Efficiency is definitely the name of the game for Gen Z: a recent survey found that nearly half of those belonging to Gen Z say that the ability to find things quickly is the most important aspect of shopping for them, writes Forbes. Retailers must ensure their online assets run smoothly and are intuitive.

5. Sixty-three percent of Gen Z members prefer real people to celebrities when it comes to advertisements.

(Source: BazaarVoice)

Gen Z’s preference for real people demonstrates the importance of both transparency and trust to this generation of shoppers. Influencers can still be effective spokespeople for brands targeting Gen Z, but they must be speaking from an authentic place that aligns with the brand’s own values.

Gen Z members are digital natives, meaning they cannot remember a world in which the internet wasn’t constantly available to them, writes Forbes. This is new: many millennials, the generation immediately preceding Gen Z, didn’t have regular (read: quick) internet access until they were well into their teens, and most didn’t have smartphones until after college. Though millennials have wasted no time becoming digitally proficient, the experience of Gen Z is completely different.

By now you’ve heard the stat claiming that our average attention span is now just eight seconds long. But—wait for it—there’s evidence Gen Z cuts that number in half. Really! But we’re not talking about a generation of attention-deficient people, writes Precision Dialogue, but rather a generation with a “four-second filter.” Brands therefore do not have any time to waste with Gen Z, and once they’ve captured their attention, they’ll have to keep it by being responsive and engaging.


Jaime Netzer is Content Marketing Strategist, leading content operations in marketing at Spredfast. A Lawrence, Kansas native, she traded seasons for breakfast tacos seven years ago and hasn’t looked back since. Also a fiction writer and journalist, Jaime tweets semi-regularly.
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Dr. Donna Roberts – Psych Pstuff

The Psychology of The Walking Dead—The Appeal of Post-Apocalyptic Stories by Dr. Donna Roberts The Story I’m not a Walking Dead fan, which is surprising because I love binging on TV series and I loved horror movies as a teenager. Or maybe, more accurately I loved watching a horror movie with my girlfriends. I […]

via — Media Psychology

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These Are the Impulse Buys You Need to Watch When Stressed

We joke about retail therapy all the time, but as it turns out, there is merit to the idea that people spend more when they’re stressed—just, maybe not in the way you’d expect.

Source: These Are the Impulse Buys You Need to Watch When Stressed

by Brittney Morgan  Sep 17, 2017

According to recent research from the Journal of Consumer Research, when people feel like they’ve lost control of their environment, it can affect their purchases—even at the grocery store. In fact, it’s there that they’re more likely to spend money on cleaning products—along with tools, painkillers, stationery and skim milk.

In one experiment, researchers asked participants to write a short essay about either a time they felt high levels of control over a situation (like acing an exam) or a time they felt like they lacked control over their surroundings (when an important flight got canceled or a time they lost their job, for example) and then sent them into a grocery store to go shopping as usual. Researchers then checked the participants’ receipts upon leaving the store to analyze the differences, if any.

In the end, those in the latter group (who wrote the essay on lacking control) purchased more than double the amount of utilitarian products than those shoppers who wrote the essay on having high control.

According to the report, high control shoppers spent an average of $3 on utilitarian items, while low control shoppers spent an average of $5.91 on similar products.

The study’s authors explained the results, writing, “Consumers who experience a loss of control are more likely to buy products that are more functional in nature, such as screwdrivers and dish detergent, because these are typically associated with problem solving, which may enhance people’s sense of control.”

These utilitarian products may not solve the problem at hand—cleaning solutions obviously aren’t directly related to facing a problem like a canceled flight or unemployment—but they seem to help people who feel stressed out regain control, even if it’s in a small way.

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Here’s what men buy when they want to look more powerful

When dudes plunk down the cash for some wrist bling, they have one thing in mind, according to a new study.

Source: Here’s what men buy when they want to look more powerful


THERE ARE PLENTY of ways to look more powerful—and most of them begin in the gym or the kitchen. You can develop stronger, more powerful muscles by following certain nutrition rules, and you can incorporate our ultimate total-body workout to build maximum muscleinto your regular routine to get started.

But those things take time to see results. And while we don’t believe in quick fixes, there is one easy (though not necessarily cheap) way to instantly look more powerful—at least in the minds of a lot of guys: Shopping for stuff with a broad or wide design—like a watch with a large face, or a car with a wider hood, according to a new University of Kansas study published in the Journal of Conusmer Research.

In the study, researches conducted five different experiments in which subjects were asked to look at pictures of human faces with varying width-to-height ratios (ranging from narrow faces to wider faces), as well as pictures of different products that might have similar designs to a human face—like a watch or car.

Then, they were asked to look at the different pictures while thinking about different scenarios, like “preparing to encounter either an old high school bully or a former sweetheart at a 10-year high school reunion or a business trip that might require a difficult negotiation,” according to the study’s press release. In psychological studies, these thought experiments are designed to cue up the need to feel dominant.

The general consensus? When people were in scenarios where they wanted to display power over others—like with the bully or during a business negotation—they favored products with wider product designs.

“It’s probably because people view the product as part of themselves,” says Ahreum Maeng, a lead author on the study. “They would think, ‘It’s my possession. I have control over it when I need it, and I can demonstrate my dominance through the product.'”

 So the next time you’re negotiating a raise or promotion, you might want to consider adding something like this wide-faced Samsung special edition smartwatch to your perfect interview look—it may not be the reason you lock down the deal, but it certainly can’t hurt. That, or roll into the meeting on a bulldozer.
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Why Consumers Prefer Products Made by Mistake

Companies generally assume that if they make a mistake while designing or manufacturing a product, they should keep that information to themselves. But new research by Professor Taly Reich and her collaborators suggests that revealing mistakes can enhance consumer preference.

Source: Why Consumers Prefer Products Made by Mistake

TALY REICH              

Companies are often reluctant to advertise their mistakes. However, new research by Taly Reich at Yale SOM with collaborators Daniella Kupor at Boston University and Rosanna Smith at the University of Georgia suggests that there is a potential upside to companies letting consumers know about them. Across a variety of products, results published in the Journal of Consumer Research find that consumers actually prefer products that were “made by mistake” over identical products that did not involve a mistake in their creation.

Reich and her co-authors first tested this preference by giving consumers a choice between a new type of chocolate and extra money. One group of participants read that the chef that made the chocolate had roasted the beans longer than usual on purpose, while another group read that the additional roasting time was accidental. People who read the “mistake” description were more likely to opt for the chocolate compared to those who read the “intentional” description.

But is this just a case of a “happy accident”? Would consumers still prefer products made by mistake if the mistake made the product worse? To test this, consumers were presented with a drawing with a mark that took away from its appeal, but were either told that the marked artwork was made by mistake (the artist accidently marked the drawing) or intentionally (the artist decided to add the mark). Consumers were more likely to purchase and willing to pay a higher price for the detracted artwork made by mistake compared to the artwork made intentionally. “These findings suggest that consumer interest in products made by mistake is not restricted to cases in which a mistake enhances the product,” Reich says.

The researchers then explored the reasons behind these preferences. They proposed that consumers perceive mistakes to be more improbable than intention because of a well-established psychological phenomenon called the intentionality bias. “People assume that others do what they intend to do,” says Reich. Thus, a product that was made by mistake is deemed as more unlikely than a product that was created without a mistake. This sense of improbability leads consumers to see the product as more unique, which then enhances their preference for it.

To test this explanation, the researchers varied how unique a product was. Consumers learned about a hip-hop song that included the sound of the producer’s breath. When participants thought the breath recording was accidental, they perceived the creation of the song to be more improbable and expressed more interest in buying it. Importantly, the study also included a third condition in which people learned that the song was made accidentally, but that the outcome of the mistake was not unique (i.e., many producers record their breath into their mixes). This time, the song that was made by mistake—and which had a non-unique outcome—did not elicit a greater purchase intent. This finding supports the notion that consumers prefer products made by mistake because they perceive them to be more unique.

Finally, the researchers analyzed sales of vintage photographs on eBay. Controlling for factors such as picture size and date of sale, the researchers found that buyers paid an average of 58% more for photos with blurriness, a double exposure, a finger in the frame, or other mistakes. In other words, photographs with objectively negative properties received a premium relative to those with no such negative property.

While mistakes are typically not perceived positively, these results suggest that companies that hide mistakes might miss an opportunity to attract customers. Learning that product was “made by mistake” increases consumer preference because it enhances perceptions of product uniqueness.“In this way, consumers are consuming not just the product, but also its creation story,” Reich says.

Assistant Professor of Marketing
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