Behaviour Change

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

Friday, March 15, 2013

#5: Say it as it is (as long as you look nice!)

<For those short of time or patience, the important bits are in italics and bold: Excessive narration included.>

As a young'un, I thought I was truly safeguarded against those horrible, horrible charity people that jump at you along the high street to donate to this or that charity. By sticking in my headphones, it was easy to pretend you just hadn't seen them. After all,it's easy to miss those high vis jackets right in front of you when there's an interesting penny on the ground, and the Wob Wob Wob of dubstep drowning out their less than subtle motions for me to remove my headphones, accompanied by HI HAVE YOU GOT A MINUTE? Not only that, but I prided myself on being immune to the charisma of he pretty ladies of my generation. This is, unfortunately, a true story that happened during my single days about 2 years ago. (Some dramatization may occur, and narrative may not be fully accurate)

Strolling down along the local highstreet during the sumer after my first year of university, my iphone warning me of the dangers of my loud music, I see a flash of blonde hair in my peripheral Vision. With sparkling blue eyes, she looked at me, and smiled. It was here I made my first mistake: I stopped walking, and took off my headphones.

"Hey there! How are you?"

"Oh my god, she's talking to me". I thought. "Ok, Ok, don't panic. What would Thomas Hills do?"
At this point we had a little conversation about University, our days and what we did for a living. However, this rapport building did not last long. It was at this point she produced The Clipboard.

"Im here working with concern worldwide, a charity that does lots of work in third world countries, and I'm here to ask for a donation from you"

I didn't even get a chance to believe I had succeeded in being an alpha male. She went right in there and said what she was there for. Well, long story short, I got her name and a number, she took down mine and an agreement was made. Unfortunately the number as for the concern helpline, the number she wrote down was my bank details and the agreement was to hand over £4 per month to concern. Furthermore, I only got her first name, which as any proficient Facebook stalker will know, is useless.

It's ok, She was collecting for charity. She has nothing to gain from this? At least, that's what I tell myself. Walking down the same high street the next day, however, I thought to myself "Just how did she catch me out?". That's when I saw it: several more concern collectors along the high street: all very attractive.

Here, I'm not just trying to display that pretty ladies can get their way; simply saying exactly what she was there for was the persuasive technique. However, only because I found her attractive!

In a study by Messner, Reinhard & Sporer (2008) 144 Students participated in a 2 (attractive/unattractive) by 2 (obvious intent to persuade/ hidden intent) between participant study under the rouse of a mathematics problem solving task. After the "mathematics quiz", participants were given a choice of two prizes: two euros in cash, or a ball point pen worth just over one euro. At this point, the experimenter (either attractive or unattractive) would use a standardized script to try and persuade participants to take the pen, but depending on the condition, would eithrer make the intent clear (By saying things like "I want you to take the pen" or "I am trying to sway you to take the pen"). Not only were attractive persuaders more likely to be successful than their unattractive counterparts, but there was a significant interaction between attractiveness and persuasive intent, whereby attractive experimenters who stated their intent not only succeeded even more, but had the persuasion attributed to the experimenter's selfish interests much less!

So there you have it. The evidence says that if you're pretty, you can pretty much just ask for what you want!


Messner, M., Reinhard, M. & Sporer S.L. (2008) Compliance through direct persuasive appeals: The moderating role of communicator's attractiveness in interpersonal persuasion. Social Influence. 3(2), 67-83

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