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Scarcity, Coquetry, and the Science of the Magic Cookie
By Heath Shive
One of the great seducer types (as stated by Robert Green) is the Coquette – she entices you forward, then….slips from your grasp. She does this again and again. She drives you mad with desire.
Of course, both men and women can use coquetry.
It’s all part of the art of seduction, maybe the art of love.
But it’s all based on the science of psychology!
To the science (and the magic cookie)!
Psychologists Stephen Worchel, Jerry Lee, and Akanbi Adewole performed experiments in the 1970s regarding scarcity and its effect on human evaluation.
A college student and an experimenter sat at a table on which there was – among other things – a cookie jar. As the 1st experimenter questioned the subject about the value of the cookies, a 2nd experimenter would come in with another cookie jar.
In the first round of tests (the “scarce-change” tests) the cookie jar originally would have 10 cookies. A 2nd experimenter would come in unannounced and replace the jar with a 2nd jar that contained only 2 cookies. Sometimes the 2nd experimenter would say that they needed more cookies because of the demand of other students; other times the 2nd experimenter would explain the switch as a simple mix-up.
In the second round of tests (the “abundant-change” tests), the cookie jar would start with 2 cookies. Then the 2nd experimenter would replace the old jar with a new jar with 10 cookies. Sometimes the experimenter would say that other students weren’t eating the cookies; other times the 2nd experimenter would explain the switch as a simple mix-up.
After the switch, the 1st experimenter asked the students to rate the likability, attraction, and cost of the cookie.
The Magic Cookie
The students who saw a cookie jar go from 10 cookies to 2 cookies rated the cookies very highly.
Yet the students who saw a cookie jar go from 2 cookies to 10 cookies rated the cookies very poorly.
The students who thought the cookies were in demand estimated the cookie’s price to be 71 cents.
The students who thought that the cookies were not in demand estimated the cookie’s price to be about 37 cents.
The cookie was magically changing in value, even though physically it was the same.
Remember, the cookies are all the same!
But the cookies’ value was different – depending on how scarce the cookies were thought to be.
The psychologists believed that the most effective way to increase something’s value is “to reduce the supply of it and indicate that this reduced supply is due to popular demand.”
Demand invites pursuit. Entice your target. Withdraw.
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
“You have to play hard to get.”
The power of scarcity is as proverbial as it is scientific.
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Worchel, S., Lee, J., & Adewole, A. (1975). Effects of supply and demand on ratings of object value. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32(5), 906-914.
Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.