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, March 10, 2014

With a name like that I bet you're generous!

So we're still trying to figure out the secrets of persuasion and influence. However if we don't have an expensive celebrity at our disposal, how else can we have influence over individuals through liking? One of the simplest ways to achieve this is through incidental similarity. We like familiarity and it's even more appealing when it seems to be by absolute chance! (Pratkanis, 2007)
Burger at al. (2004) have tested Cialdini's theory of liking through similarity as a technique for persuasion through charity donation.
Their experiment investigated whether believed similarity could increase a person's donation to charity. Compliance was measured by how much money was donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in 3 different conditions. In the first condition, the participant was lead to believe that she had the same name as the experimenter who was asking for a donation, in the second condition, the participant was lead to believe she shared the same name as a girl in a photo suffering from the disease that the experimenter showed the participant when asking for a donation, and the third condition heard the request with no name sharing (control).
Burger et al. had found in a previous experiment that when the participant believed that they had the same birthday as the experimenter, they tended to give a high donation to charity. This was a satisfying result, however they wanted to confirm that the increase in compliance was due to the similarity effect, rather than an alternative interpretation. For example, hearing that someone shared their birthday could have put participants in a positive mood (everyone likes hearing about their favourite day of the year!), and previous research has found that positive affect increases helping behaviour. Therefore the second study was set up to focus on similarity with the experimenter. This is why one of the conditions was similarity with the girl in the photo as the participant would not be forming a relationship with her.




Participants in the requester similarity condition donated significantly more money than those in the control condition, as well as more money than participants in the photograph similarity condition (see table 1). Most importantly, the amount of money donated by participants in the photograph similarity condition did not differ significantly from the control condition, meaning that incidental associations with a requester can lead to (and more than double) significant increases in compliance.

So it really is that simple, incidental similarity will encourage targets to not only comply, but to do so more effectively. Let's hope this information doesn't get out to chuggers otherwise running away from one of them will be even more awkward.



Burger, J. M., Messian, N., Patel, S., del Prado, A., & Anderson, C. (2004). What a coincidence! The effects of incidental similarity on compliance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 35-43

Cialdini, R. (2006). Influence. HarperBusiness: NY

Pratkanis, A. R. (2007). The Science of Social Influence. NY& East Sussex: Psychology Press. 

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