As most university students have found, getting people to do their dissertation experiment can be quite challenging! Considering we spend so much time on the internet these days, how can we make this a weapon of social influence?
Guadagno, Muscanell, Rice and Roberts (2013) investigated compliance (i.e. behaviour change devoid of pressure; Cialidini & Goldstein, 2004) online, using social validation (aka social proof) and likability. Social proof (Cialdini, 2009) is based on the idea that people look to others for guidance on how to behave, especially in ambiguous situations. Cialdini (2009) also described liking as a weapon of influence, where people are more likely to comply when the other person is likable. Likability can be caused by physical attractiveness or similarity (Cialdini, 2009). These principles are heuristics (aka rules of thumb) for decision making.
In Guadagno et al.,’s (2013) experiment they got people to read blogs by fake students, which they were asking for volunteers to help out with fundraising. Likability was manipulated by the fake student being pro- or anti-football (similar to the rest of the university who were football crazy!). Social proof was manipulated by having other fake students leaving comments at the bottom of the blog supporting the fundraiser. After reading the blog, the subjects had to rate the likability of the blog writer and rated how much they would be willing to volunteer for the campus fundraiser.
The study found (Guadagno et al., 2013) that subject’s in the high social proof condition (i.e. lots of comments supporting the blog) were more willing to volunteer and for more hours, compared with those in the low social proof condition. There were similar levels of willingness regardless of the fake student’s level of likability (i.e. pro- or anti-football). See table 3 for significant results (note: social validation refers to social proof).
Guadagno et al., (2013) concluded that social proof is influential online, but likability is not. They suggested it is possibly due to the fake student being less salient when communicating an opinion online, compared to face to face interactions.
So what is the lesson to be learnt? If you want people to do your experiment, create a load of fake profiles on facebook and then comment on your status that is asking for participants! Only if you don’t mind being a tad creepy…
Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Inﬂuence: Science and practice. New York: William Morrow.
Cialdini, R. B., & Goldstein, N. J. (2004). Social inﬂuence: Compliance and conformity. Annual Review of Psychology, 55, 591– 621.
Guadagno, R. E., Muscanell, N. L., Rice, L. M., & Roberts, N. (2013). Social influence online: The impact of social validation and likability on compliance. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 2(1), 51-60.