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.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Liking vs. Social Proofing online

We live in a world where pretty much everything is online: job applications, contacting friends, shopping – all possible from the comfort of your armchair. But is it as easy to achieve compliance from someone in cyberspace as it is in person? Guadagno et al. (2013) investigated whether likeability and social validation affected an individual’s willingness to comply with online requests, as they do in real life interactions.

‘Liking’ is one of the weapons of influence outlined by Cialdini (2001); it can include physical attraction, similarity, contact and cooperation, complimenting and conditioning and association, (Cialdini, 2007). Liking someone (for whatever reason) usually means a higher chance requests will be completed. For example, Chaiken (1979) found that attractive people were not only more likely to be able to change someone’s opinion, but that they were also generally better at being persuasive. Similarly with social proofing, we can be influenced to say “yes” via observations of others and identifying the ‘correct behaviours’ for the present situation, (Latané & Darley, 1968).

Guadagno et al. (2013) randomly assigned 249 football-fanatical undergraduates to different blog entries by ‘other students’ that requested volunteers for a fundraiser. In the ‘liking’ condition, the university’s logo and pro-football statements were included. In the ‘non-liking’ condition, football was not referenced; instead, general information on university events was included. Social validation came in the form of comments from other fictitious students either offering or refusing to volunteer; no comments were seen in the control condition.

Results show that while participants in the social validation condition were willing to volunteer for more hours than those in the low social validation condition, (Table 1), liking the blogger had no effect on whether the students volunteered or not, (Table 2).

Table 1                                                             

Table 2

Whilst manipulation checks indicated that likeability of the blogger in the likeable condition existed, it did not impact willingness to volunteer on its own, supporting previous research by Guadagno & Cialdini, (2007). Contrastingly, it appears that the behaviours of others are just as influential online as it is ‘in person’.

Nevertheless, more research is needed into the social implications of this research: is there an additive effect of the two? What does it mean to ‘like’ something on Facebook? How far can social validation online work in comparison with requests made in person? Are results similar for other weapons of social influence? It is also possible that there is a difference in compliance rates for what we consider to be positive and negatives requests. Twyman et al. (2010) found that the anonymity of the internet can act as an ‘incentive’ to engage in the behaviour, particularly when others are doing it.

As online usage and the internet develop, it is important to identify how we can be manipulated and which persuasive tactics are successful online so that profiteers know how to catch you out, and the public know how to avoid being scammed!

Katherine Baylis


Chaiken, S. (1979). Communicator physical attractiveness and persuasion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 8, 1387-1397.

Cialdini, R. B. (2001). Influence: Science and Practice. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. New York: HarperCollins.

Guadagno, R. E., Muscanell, N. L., Rice, L. M. & Roberts, N. (2013). Social influence online: The impact of social validation and likeability on compliance. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 2, 51-60.

Latané, B. & Darley, J. M. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8, 377-383.

Twyman, K., Saylor, C., Taylor, L. & Comeaux, C. (2010). Comparing children and adolescents engaged in cyberbullying to matched peers. Cyberpsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, 13, 2, 195-199.

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