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.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Physical Attractiveness and Survey Response

Human beings are a superficial bunch when it comes to physical attractiveness. Whilst this seems like a harsh statement, time and time again research has demonstrated that we are more likely to 1) like a requester, and 2) comply with their request, if they are a bit of alright (Efran & Patterson, 1976; Chaiken 1979).

But just how strong is the effect of liking and physical attraction on compliance? Dommeyer & Ruggerio (1996) attempted to answer this question. They did so by investigating whether or not something as small and seemingly insignificant as having a photograph of an attractive individual in the cover letter of a survey was enough to significantly increase survey response.

How did they go about doing this?

To begin, the researchers sent out an identical survey with an attached cover letter via mail to 150 U.S. males. Subjects who had been randomly assigned to the treatment condition received a cover letter with a small black and white photograph of the female researcher, an attractive twenty year old, on the lower left side of the page. In comparison, controls received the exact same cover letter without the photograph. The researchers then compared the two groups in relation to response rate, mean response speed and item omission.  

What did they find?

Results indicated that something as small as a having a photograph of a physically attractive female on a cover letter can dramatically increase a mail survey’s response rate. Table 1 shows this more clearly.

Table 1: Response rate, response speed, and mean number of omissions for subjects in both the treatment and control group.

We can see that the response rate for subjects in the treatment group was 40% - double that of the control group, which generated a mere 19% response rate! Additionally, response speed was significantly slower in the treatment group in comparison to the control group, with the treatment group taking 8.5 days on average to respond, and the control group taking just 5.9 days. Researchers suggest, somewhat presumptuously, that the slower response speed in the treatment condition may well be down to subjects producing more effortful, well thought responses upon viewing the photograph of the attractive researcher they believed they were completing the survey for. No significant differences were found between conditions with regards to the mean number of item omissions; however, researchers suggest this is because the items were not difficult, and so the majority of participants completed the survey in full.

It seems then, that the effect of liking and physical attraction on compliance is strong, and can work to increase survey response rates even when the object of physical attraction is a small black and white photograph. Results of this study find concurrence with other research in this area, suggesting that liking and physical attraction are powerful tools for compliance.


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

Dommeyer, C. J. &  Ruggiero, L. A. (1996). The Effects of a Photograph on Mail Survey Response. Marketing Bulletin, 7, 51-57.

Efran, M. G., & Patterson, E. W. J. (1976).  The politics of appearance.  Unpublished manuscript, University of Toronto.

Jordan Green

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