Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Timothy B. Heath, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Anand Kumar, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mark Bender, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Yanping Tu, Ph.D.


persuasion, shoe sounds, evolutionary psychology, visual demarcation


Effective persuasion is indispensable for success in business and in life. People may have the best idea, the best product, and the best policy, but without persuading their target audiences to take actions, none of those would matter. However, getting people to say “Yes” is becoming harder and harder. We are living in a complicated world that is busy and crowded with too much information. People are getting more used to processing information in an automatic way and not bothering to scrutinize every bit of information. As a result, companies and individuals have fewer chances to influence their audiences through the message itself. The current dissertation therefore suggests two subtle cues that do not rely upon the message but may dramatically influence individual’ perceptions and behaviors.

The first essay proposes one subtle auditory cue that can influence individuals’ persuasion effectiveness. We examine how shoe sounds can affect a walker’s impressions and persuasion effectiveness in front of either male or female target audiences. Five studies suggest that individuals’ shoe sounds can produce perceived competence, status, and persuasion effects consistent with mate-attraction and rival-competition dynamics, which consumers recognize and leverage. Specifically, shoe sounds’ beneficial effects arise in the mixed-gender (e.g., women audience, man walker) but not same-gender conditions, subject to moderation: In mixed-gender cases, where we would expect mate-attraction dynamics to prevail, shoe sounds produce largely positive effects moderated by the observer’s background level of sexual desire, whereas in same-gender cases, where we would expect rival-competition dynamics to prevail, shoe sounds produce largely null-to-negative effects moderated by the observer’s background level of competitiveness. The first essay adds to the research on evolutionary psychology, auditory cues, status signaling, and persuasion by systematically examining one ubiquitous auditory cue and its effectiveness in different target-agent gender-combinations.

The second essay proposes one subtle visual cue that can help marketers present messages more efficiently and increase audiences’ willingness to take actions. Adding to the product presentation literature, we examine online product displays and propose the visual demarcation effect to distinguish the display elements (e.g., background, foreground-object 1, foreground-object 2), a method that can reduce visual crowding without taking up additional room in the product displays. Four studies suggest that visually distinguishing foreground display objects can reduce perceived crowdedness of the display and increase display aesthetics, which, in turn, increases shopping intentions. These effects are moderated by individuals’ importance of aesthetics, but not by their aesthetics acumen. The second essay adds to the product spatial-arrangement literature by suggesting a crowding reduction solution. It also adds to the aesthetics literature through showing the beneficial effects of visually distinguishing display elements.

Included in

Marketing Commons