Persuasion and Influence

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Persuasion and Influence (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Social Proof in SU Elections

It was hard to miss the elections last week on Warwick campus, the university was littered with painted cardboard advertising candidates. Social media outlets were also full of candidate videos, such as the one above. Many of them took a similar route and got as many people as they could possibly find to feature in their video claiming they were going to be voting for said candidate. The above video is from the now elected president of the students union, so this method is clearly effective. This is a prime example of utilising social proof in persuasion; showing the audience that everyone else is voting for Isaac, so you should too.

Bryan and Test (1967) illustrated the effects of social proof in their study. They had an undergraduate female student stood by a car which had a flat tyre. For half of the participants, this car was positioned after a control car which was consisted of a male changing the flat tire for a female. They wanted to see if seeing someone else helping someone change a tire would incentivise participants to help the woman later down the road with a flat tyre. They found that significantly more participants stopped to help if they had previously seen a woman being helped in a similar scenario, this is illustrated in Figure 1. This effect also transferred to collection for a charity, participants who saw someone donate money were more likely to then carry on and donate money themselves.

In the video presented, the other people saying they are going to vote Isaac are the social models, they are creating the social proof for you. You see that other people are voting for Isaac and thus, or so the theory goes, you will then be more likely to vote Isaac yourself.

Bryan, J. H., & Test, M. A. (1967). Models and helping: Naturalistic studies in aiding behaviour. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 6, 400-407.

Danielle Huskinson

Are you attending? Everyone else is

Logging onto my Facebook account the other day, I saw the above question posted in one of my university society groups. The person who asked the question (probably unknowingly) employed an effective persuasive technique in order to get people to click ‘Yes, I will be attending’.

The technique is called social consensus and the basic principle is that the more it looks like other people are doing something, the more likely another person will be to join in. It promotes conformity through informational (‘If other people are going, that must be the right thing to do’) and normative (social pressure to join the majority) social influence.

Reingen (1982) demonstrated the effectiveness of social consensus in a paper involving a number of experiments, three of which are relevant to the influence example mentioned above.

In the first experiment in the paper, undergraduate students were asked to donate money to the Heart Association in one of two ways. The first way was to simply ask them to donate (request only control condition). The second way involved showing them a list of 8 other students (from the same university) who had donated, and then asking them to donate afterwards (list condition). It was found that when just asked to donate, 25% of participants did so however, when shown the list first, 43% of participants donated to the Heart Association. This result shows that we are more likely to comply with a request when we can see that others have also complied with that request.

The second experiment involved adult residents of randomly selected homes in South Carolina. Participants were asked the same request regarding donating to the Hear Association. Similarly to experiment 1, it was found that those who were only asked to donate complied 47% of the time, whereas those who were shown a list of others (also residents in the area) who had donated gave money 73% of the time (significantly more often).

Experiment 3 involved asking undergraduate students whether they would be willing to donate blood. Again, half of participants were just asked and the other half were also shown a list of 8 students form the same university who had already given blood. The results were similar to those outlined for the previous two experiments: only 3% of those who were simply asked agreed to donate blood; 33% of those shown the list agreed to donate. One weakness of this experiment (when compared to the others) is that the dependent variable was only behavioural intention (signing up to say they would donate blood); in the other two experiments a donation was actually made (a behaviour). This difference may explain the lower compliance rates for this experiment.

Table 1: The table above shows a summary of results from the paper. It can be seen that compliance was significantly higher in the list than the control condition across all 3 experiments.

So Reingen’s (1982) research shows that people are more likely to comply with a request if they can see that other people have already complied; they are conforming to other people’s actions (the actions of the majority). Similarly, in the Facebook question shown at the start of the blog post, people are more likely to respond ‘Yes’ because they can see that everyone else has previously responded ‘Yes’.

Social consensus has obviously worked well in the case I showed you above – everyone has clicked ‘Yes’, adding to the size of the majority and thus perpetuating the effect. The more the technique works and the more people who click ‘Yes’, the less likely future respondents will be to click ‘No’. I wonder how many people will turn up on Monday…

Reingen, P. H. (1982). Test of a list procedure for inducing compliance with a request to donate money. Journal of Applied Psychology, 67(1), 110.

Inoculating Prospective Students

For the past month I have worked once a week as a ‘Student Ambassador’ for the Psychology Department. This involved meeting prospective students who were offer holders at the University, answering any questions they had and touring them around the Psychology Department. The whole Open Day is a form of persuasion which the University relies upon in order to ensure that offer holders accept their offers. Arguably I use a range of persuasion techniques (unconsciously) when talking to offer holders.

When people ask me why I picked Warwick I might say something along the lines of; “well I was considering the University of Surrey as it provides a placement year which Warwick does not. But then in general I decided that Warwick was a better University as Surrey seemed to be selling itself purely on its placement year and Warwick provides opportunities to get work experience without having to do a year abroad”.

This could be seen as an example of an inoculation technique. Szybillo and Heslin (1973) demonstrated the persuasive effects of inoculation techniques. They presented participants with the belief that ‘all new cars should be installed with air bags’. They were then either in a refutation condition, in which they asked to read a statement including counter arguments to having air bags but these counter arguments were refuted. Or they were in the defense condition in which they were given further information on why air bags should be used with no mention of any opposing argument. The subject’s belief in the statement before and after their exposure to the conditions was used to analysis belief score and whether it had changed. It was found that there was a significant difference in the mean belief scores between those in the refutation condition and those in the defense condition. This can be shown in Table 1. Those in the refutation condition had a greater belief in the importance of air bags being fitted in new cars. This demonstrates that being exposed to arguments against a statement which are then refuted made the statement for persuasive to participants.

Post attack belief score

Table 1: the post belief score means for participants in refutation and defense conditions.

The argument I have used above could be seen as an inoculation technique because I have provided a potential argument against going to Warwick (no placement year) but then refuted this argument (placement year isn’t the only reason to go to University, Warwick is better). This could then be called upon by the offer holder themselves when they weighed up which University they should choose and provide them with the ability to refute any arguments they themselves might have against Warwick.

Szybillo, G. J., & Heslin, R. (1973). Resistance to persuasion: Inoculation theory in a marketing context. Journal of Marketing Research, 10(4), 396-403


Friday, February 27, 2015

Drinking just tea!?

Many of you may have already heard of a craze not so long ago for 'Teatox' - a special blend of herbs that, when brewed, could magically make you skinnier. No exercise, no dieting, no change to your daily activities... but to drink tea three times a day. Losing weight this way seems not just impossible, but ridiculous, yet I know girls who are slowly sipping their way to poverty. So how have these companies duped so many of us into forking out 50 times what we would normally spend on tea? They employ the 'Just Plain Folks' technique (Pratkanis, 2007). Like the photo above, companies get normal, average looking women to take photos of themselves before and after they've 'lost weight' drinking only their miracle-tea. Using relatable women in their campaigns demonstrates source-recipient similarity which in turn increases compliance. Festinger (1954) says this is due to the social comparison process: people have a tendency to turn to similar others as referents for their opinions on specific issues. Hence, if potential customers see the campaign girls as being 'one of us', they will be more inclined to think of the tea in a positive light, and more likely to part with their cash.
The evidence for this technique comes from a field experiment conducted by Brock (1965). In his experiment he asked salesmen to try to encourage shoppers to buy paint that was different in price (higher or lower) to their original choice. Salesmen did this by either portraying similarity or dissimilarity with the customer, specifically with respect to the salesman's prior magnitude of paint consumption. Thus the independent variables were the salesman's similarity to the customer and the direction of change in price level. The dependent variable was the level of compliance of the customers.
As the above table shows, they were very successful. When there was a perceived similarity between the salesman and the customer there was 11% more compliance than in the dissimilar condition. Essentially, people can be induced to buy not just cheaper paint, but more expensive paint due to a similarity in something as trivial as prior paint consumption. If so, it is more than possible that girls will use the average Jane up on the wall as a referent and think "If it works on her; it works on me", however daft the concept!

Brock, T. C. (1965). Communicator-recipient similarity and decision change. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1, 650-654.
Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7, 117-140.
Pratkanis, A. R. (2007). Social influence analysis: An index of tactics. The science of social influence: Advances and future progress, 17-82.

Whatever Happens, You'll Get Your Money

If extraterrestrial beings were attacking the planet, destroying cities and causing terror, those who were clients of the Peruvian bank Banco Financiero would still receive returns from the 8.5% interest rate. This advertisement is an example of an "extreme situation" template based on the research of Goldenberg, Mazursky, and Solomon (1999) on creativity templates. Creativity templates represent "patterns of creativity" that can often be found in successful advertisements. An extreme situation template presents the product within the context of an unrealistic situation, thereby emphasizing the quality of the product. Here the bank is attempting to emphasize a guaranteed 8.5% interest rate:  The conditions may be incredibly dire, but customers will still receive the same interest rate as before.

In a study within Goldenberg, Mazursky, and Solomon's paper, advertisements using the extreme situation template, among other creativity templates, proved to be of higher quality than advertisements without these techniques, according to judgment outcomes. Three groups of 20 participants each produced ideas for three product designs. One group received no training on creativity templates, a second group received an alternate type of creativity training (the "free association method"), and a third group were trained in a creativity template, one of which was the extreme situation template. Their initial product designs were rated by a creative director blind to the study purpose. The top 15 designs were then presented to a second group of 36 participants, who rated the ideas on five different scales which measured perceived creativity level, brand attractiveness, and levels of humour, emotion, and annoyance that would be induced in the viewer.

The group who received training in templates generated ideas that were rated significantly higher than the other two groups in creativity and brand attractiveness, as well as the humour level (refer to Table 1). Because creativity and brand attractiveness are both measures of advertisement quality, the extreme situation template applied here by Banco Financiero is a valuable advertising strategy. In line with the study findings on humour in extreme situation templates, the advertisement also looks comical due to the absurdity of the situation, which would attract viewer attention.

Table 1. Mean Judgements of Ideas by Training Type

Goldenberg, J., Mazursky, D., Solomon, S. (1999). The fundamental templates of quality ads. Marketing Science, 18, 333-351.

Yida Liao