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.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

There's no need to be mean!

The advert above is an example of what I think is a failed attempt at persuasion. This is due to one simple reason, I believe the message is insulting. With the statement “Hey, what do you know, she thinks you’re funny again”, the advert is implicitly saying that women are materialistic. It is also claiming that women will only like the man buying the jewelry because of his money and the gifts he can buy.

Therefore, instead of insulting the audience, a more effective strategy would be to use flattery. Flattery has been consistently found to increase compliance. This was shown in a study by Hendrik, Borden, Giesen, Murray and Seyfried (1972). In this study, these 400 participants were either asked to complete a small request, to complete a one-page questionnaire, or a large request, to complete a seven page questionnaire. To ask the participants to complete the questionnaires, researchers gave participants a cover letter. This letter either included adjectives that flattered the participant or did not include such adjectives. In addition to this it either did or did not include adjectives that flattered the solicitor of the questionnaire. This led to 4 letter conditions:

1. Double Flattery – Both the solicitor and respondent were flattered in the letter. .
2. Flattering the solicitor – Only the solicitor was flattered in the letter.
3. Flattering the respondent – Only the respondent was flattered in the letter.
4. Standard Polite - Neither the solicitor or respondent were flattered in the letter.

These conditions, in addition to the 2 effort conditions makes in total 8 conditions. In each of these conditions, the number of returned questionnaires were recorded. Those who returned the completed questionnaires were noted as complying with the request.

The results of this study showed that whilst this flattery had no significant effect on compliance to return the questionnaire when it was a minimal effort (only one page), the flattery had a powerful significant effect when the effort to comply was much larger (seven pages). Those in the flattering the solicitor and flattering the respondent conditions were significantly more likely to comply to requests than those in the standard polite (no flattery) or double flattery condition (both flattered). You can see the difference in return rates within these four conditions, in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. A bar graph showing the percentage of respondents who returned completed questionnaires within each letter condition in the high effort questionnaire group.

As you can see, flattery has a significant positive effect on inducing compliance in high effort situations.

This can be applied the advert mentioned earlier. In the case of the current advertisement, the effort required is large (as diamonds are expensive) so it would be reasonable to expect that flattery would be successful in increasing compliance. This is just one way in which the advert can be improved.

Hendrik, C., Borden, R., Giesen, M., Murray, E., & Seyfried, B. (1972). Effectiveness of ingratiation tactics in a cover letter on mail questionnaire response. Psychonomic Science, 26, 349-351.

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