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.

Friday, December 9, 2016

A nonideal ideal

We can find thousands of videos showing people’s clumsy incidents online. Most of videos are an opportunity for viewers to laugh at a main character. Surprisingly, it also happens that many people leave comments such as “adorably”, “lovely” or “funny”. Moreover, this kinds of main characters can even increase their popularity because of such incidents. Do you remember the famous stumble of Jennifer Lawrence when she was going to collect her Academy Award? This is one of those examples.

How is this possible? The pratfall effect may answer this question.

Aronson, Willemar and Floyd(1966) did an experiment to check whether the clumsiness of outstanding individual, elevated by people to superhuman status, increases their attractiveness by making them more similar to common people. Authors based their theory on studies(Hollander & Webb, 1955; Bales & Slater, 1955) that showed that high achievers of a group, for instance these who often have the best ideas, who are most sparkling, they are not necessarily most liked. People who are better than average often are also snooty or inaccessible and this impression can cause them to be disliked by others(Aronson, Willemar & Floyd, 1966). They checked attractiveness assessment of an outstanding person and an average person in the case of a no-pratfall effect and the pratfall effect, which was caused by dousing yourself with coffee.

As Aronson’s et al.(1966) study showed, pratfall had a significant increase on the level of attractiveness of an outstanding person. However, it is also worth mentioning that the same incident caused a decrease of an average person’s attractiveness.

In further research, Matee and Wilkins(1972) clarified previous results. Firstly, “(...)subjects of superior intellectual ability disliked a superior-ability person significantly more if he committed a pratfall, whereas an average-ability person was reacted to indifferently regardless of whether or not he committed a pratfall.” And secondly, “subjects of average intellectual ability tended to derogate a person of average ability if he committed a pratfall and was berated by a third person, while the same conditions brought about a slight increase in a superior-ability person's attractiveness.” To sum up, the pratfall effect works when peers assesses themselves as non-similar to the assessed person. Then someone’s pratfall doesn’t have any impact on the self-esteem of a rater.

Despite restrictions in its effectiveness, the pratfall effect proves that sometimes blemishing oneself can have a positive result. And, in turn, it can also be the basis of a marketing tool(Ein-Gar, Shiv & Tormala, 2012). It happens when negative information about a product increases its positive perception. However, this is a topic for another paper. 

Aronson, E., Willerman, B., & Floyd, J. (1966). The effect of a pratfall on increasing interpersonal attractiveness. Psychonomic Science, 4, 227-228.
Mettee, D. R., & Wilkins, P. C. (1972). When similarity "hurts": Effects of perceived ability and a humorous blunder on interpersonal attractiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 22(2), 246-258.

Ein-Gar, D., Shiv, B., & Tormala, Z. L. (2012). When blemishing leads to blossoming: The positive effect of negative information. Journal of Consumer Research, 38(5), 846-859.

Bales, R.F.,& Slater, P.E. (1955). Role differentiation in small decision-making groups. In T. Parson, R. F. Bales, et al (Eds.), The family, socialization, and interaction process (pp.259-306). New York, USA: Free Press.

Hollander, E.P., & Webb, W.B. (1955). Leadership, followership, and friendship: An analysis of peer nominations. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 50(2), 163-167.

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