Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (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 13, 2013

Liar Liar: Insincere flattery






In the film Liar liar, for Fletcher Reede (Jim Carrey) compulsive lying has built him a reputation as one of the best defence lawyers in the state of California. In this clip, we see numerous of examples of insincere flattery between Jim Carrey and his colleagues, for example “It completely accents your facial features", “Hey Pete did you lose a little weight?”. Research shows there is increased liking for people who flatter them (Colman & Olver, 1978). 

Jim Carrey asks “How much ass do I have to kiss to make a partner in this damn place?!” showing his belief that eventually colleagues will be persuaded to do what he wants through insincere flattery. According to Moreo (2000) this is part of the Bait and switch tactic to persuasion; a method by which the gullible are led to believe something. Despite that insincere flattery is highly exaggerated or even obviously untrue; it works because it acts to boost an individual’s sense of identity, suggesting they feel good about themselves in reaction to the admiration of the flatterer. This is supported by a study by Johnson, Gardner, and Wiles (2004), in one condition ‘Willingness to Act’, participants were most prepared to undertake the task when in the flattery (insincere praise) feedback, in contrast to the praise (sincere praise) or control (generic feedback) feedback, showing insincere flattery is effective in persuading people to do something they otherwise might not have done. 

This is seen in everyday life; for example in a shop to encourage customers to purchase a product, which we have all fallen victim to. Research has shown that when flattery occurs, the initial favourable reaction (the implicit attitude) has more influential consequences than the explicit attitude (the discounted evaluation) emphasising the possible subtle influence of flattery even when a person has consciously corrected for it (Chan & Sengupta, 2010).


Chan, E., & Sengupta, J. (2010). Insincere Flattery Actually Works: A Dual Attitudes Perspective. Journal of Marketing Research, 47, 122-133.

Colman, A. M., & Olver, K. R. (1978). Reactions to flattery as a function of self-esteem: Self-enhancement and cognitive consistency theories. British Journal of Social Clinical Psychology, 17, 25-29. 

Johnson, D., Gardner, J., & Wiles,  J. (2004). Experience as a Moderator of the Media Equation: The Impact of Flattery and Praise. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 6, 237-258.

Moreo, D. W. Games of Persuasion. Exercises in media literacy. Lincoln, NE: Writers Club Press.

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