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.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Social Influence Online: The Impact of Social Validation and Likeability on Compliance

In this day and age, online communication has never been so significant. I don’t know many people my age who don’t log on to Facebook at least once a day. I’m part of the Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr/Instagram generation; we seem to live our lives online and what we say and do on the Internet is becoming more and more important. The fact that I’m writing this blog, as part of my coursework to try and get a decent degree, is testament to this.

So, it’s no wonder that psychologists are researching how blogging, and other computer-mediated communication (CMC), can influence attitude and behaviour change. Guadagno, Muscanell, Rice and Roberts (2013), examined whether the two influence principles of likeability and social validation (also called social proof) were effective online. They also wanted to see if these two principles would have an additive effect on compliance.

249 psychology undergraduates, from a large football University, were randomly assigned to read one of nine blog entries where the author (a fictitious student), asked for volunteers for a university fundraiser. In the likable condition, the blog contained pro-football statements and the University’s sports logo, while in the unlikable condition these were not included and instead the author indicated that the blog was a place to share information about campus events unrelated to football. There was also a control condition where football was not mentioned at all. Social validation was manipulated by the presence of multiple comments from other fictitious students, either offering to volunteer or refusing to help. In the control condition, no comments were seen.

This study found that participants in the high social validation condition were willing to volunteer more of their time than those in the low social validation condition (See Table 1). Individuals were likely to go along with the comments they read and then offer volunteering time accordingly, showing support for social validation impacting on compliance.

       Table 1

However, likeability and the interaction between likeability and social validation did not seem to have an effect. Although likeability of the author was perceived in line with experimental condition, it did not impact on compliance rates (see Table 2). This supports previous research that likeability online does not have the same impact as face-to-face interactions, as the communicator is less salient (Guadagno & Cialdini, 2002, 2005, 2007).

           Table 2

So, although there is a great deal of research suggesting that likeability is an important factor in compliance, it hasn’t been shown to work online. This could be the case for many other compliance tactics and so this needs to be investigated in the future.

As the authors of this study pointed out, the use of social validation is a very important issue to investigate, as Facebook advertisements often use names of friends or the amount of people who have “liked” the certain product. Different types of social influence on other social networking sites and CMC needs to be explored, especially since the use of the Internet doesn’t show any signs of stopping anytime soon.


Guadagno, R. E., & Cialdini, R. B. (2002). Online persuasion: An examination of gender differences in computer-mediated interpersonal influence. Group Dynamics: Theory Research and Practice Special Issue on Internet Research, 6, 38–51.

Guadagno, R. E., & Cialdini, R. B. (2005). Online persuasion and compliance: Social influence on the Internet and beyond. In Y. Amichai-Hamburger (Ed.), The Social Net: The social psychology of the Internet (pp. 91–113). New York: Oxford University Press.

Guadagno, R. E., & Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Persuade him by email, but see her in person: Online persuasion revisited. Computers in Human Behavior, 23, 999–1015.

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, 51-60.

Zara Heal (Blog 3)

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