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.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

You can't clone perfection!

The above cartoon strip demonstrates a good example of the probably well recognised persuasion technique of flattery. It has been suggested many a time that we like those that flatter us and as a consequence we are more likely to comply with a direct request. The cat, Sasha, is making a request that Checkers the dog doesn’t make any more clones of himself and in attempt at persuasion flatters him unashamedly.

Hendrick et al. (1972) conducted a study measuring the effectiveness of ingratiation techniques (flattery in attempt to become likeable to the target) on compliance with a request. The experiment tested the effects of respondent ingratiation – descriptive adjectives and phrases that flatter the respondent – and solicitor ingratiation – terms referring to the solicitor e.g. expressing their sincerity. The effects were examined on both large and small requests. The experimenters mailed a letter to 400 people requesting recipients to complete an enclosed questionnaire, the eight conditions involved either a long (7 page) or short (1 page) questionnaire combined with the letter including solicitor or respondent flattery, neither or both.

As can be seen from the above table, the effects of the different flattery conditions did not yield significant results in the minimal effort (1 page questionnaire) condition; in fact there were a higher proportion of questionnaires returned when no flattery at all was used. In this case it seems flattery does not have a particularly persuasive effect when the task required is of minimal effort. However, in the case of the 7 page questionnaire either respondent or solicitor ingratiation resulted in heightened compliance with the request compared to no flattery at all (.24 and .29 compared to .10). Interestingly, using both types of flattery in the request letter produced similar compliance to no flattery at all suggesting that an excess of flattery is abnormal and loses its persuasive impact.

In relation to the initial example, it seems that it ought to therefore be the case that the request necessitated moderate effort in order for the flattery to have an effect in persuasion. I’m sure it would probably take a significant amount of determination for poor Checkers the dog to resist the temptation to create another clone of himself (considering in the preceding comic strip he had lost the previous clone). In which case, according to the research, compliance with the moderate effort request would be facilitated by either respondent or solicitor flattery but not both. Sasha the cat clearly very tactfully opts for respondent flattery using complimentary adjectives and phrases, making herself more likeable and lo and behold Checkers is persuaded not to clone himself again. Though I’m sure if Checkers heard Sasha’s afterthought he’d be a little less obliging.

 Hendrick, C., Borden, R., Giesen, M., Murray, E. J., & Seyfried, B. A. (1972). Effectiveness of ingratiation tactics in a cover letter on mail questionnaire response. Psychonomic Science, 26(6), 349-351.



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