American Horror Story 6 and The Psychology of Scarcity


American Horror Story 6: Roanoke has just revealed its 'big twist' as director Ryan Murphy said and it was worth the wait because it was, indeed, the mother of all twists. Aside from the story, however, it was interesting to note how Murphy was able to use the psychology of scarcity and got us all hook, line, and sinker even before the first episode of the sixth season was even shown.

The smash FX hit has been known to be very innovative, thanks to its director, always changing its concept from season to season. This year, however, it has taken the show on the next level when it decided to shroud it in absolute secrecy. Murphy and the rest of the AHS team agreed not to say anything to anyone, not even to the TV reviewers who usually got their customary screening ahead of everyone. It was a big risk but it worked because it got everybody talking and wanting for more. Welcome to the psychology of scarcity.

Scarcity or the idea that the supply you have in hand (whether it is time, money, or anything) holds a lot of power that can dramatically change a person's behavior. That power has resulted in a lot of research and studies regarding the depth of its effect to the human mind. However, there is one result that stood out: scarcity makes people behave irrationally.

One study conducted by Worchel, Lee, and Adewole in 1975 showed how scarcity affected how people perceive the value of something. The test involved two cookie jars, one was full and the other almost empty, but turned out that people valued the almost empty jar.

The principle is quite simple: people value what is scarce because it targets one of human;s basic emotion: fear. This fear compels people to crave more when there is a limited amount of something. The same fear drives people to buy even the unnecessary when an impending food crisis is announced. Most of all, it feeds on the fear that we may miss out on something. People might try to deny it, but if they look closely at a similar situation in their lives, like grabbing an item tagged as 'limited offer.'

Moreover, scarcity feeds on the fear of losing the freedom of choice: less choices, less freedom (as seen in monopolies). When something becomes scarce, people fight back to have that something back because it symbolizes freedom. People just want to remove that restriction - the restriction of limited choice. Thus, they will do everything in their power to remove that restriction instead of giving it up. This is what psychologists call as 'reactance,' a state which causes a person to become too emotional, single-minded, and irrational.

That is the same reaction people have with regards to the American Horror Story 6. They became too emotionally involved, as they pursue with single-minded obsession as to what will happen episode after episode. It even gave birth to the most preposterous theories they could even think of and when the episode of the big twist came, all ears and eyes were tuned in to the series. It has also been the highest gainer in TV viewership this season. And with the ending of episode 6 hanging and the show not giving away anything except the title card that shows everybody died except one, it will surely gain more interest in the coming days.

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