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.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Science Compliance

So you’re in the doctors, medical buzzwords are being thrown at you and you have no idea what is going on... Despite having less understanding of your condition than you do quantum physics, you still walk around telling people you have Osgood-Schlatter Disease. You have no idea what that means and could make life easier for everyone by saying “I have a bump on my knee”. Although trusting authority figures (eg doctors) is generally sensible as the majority of the time experts know more than most people, when does this common sense become blind following?
Pratkanis (2007) outlines how expert individuals with specialised knowledge in a given domain are effective in improving successful persuasion, this is often because the recipient’s knowledge is insufficient to evaluate the topic thoroughly. So by linking a message with an expert source, persuasion increases (Maddux & Rogers, 1980).

 This effect of authority is also seen for research, Weisberg, Kiel, Goodstein, Rawson and Gray (2009) found that explanations of psychological phenomena attract more attention and are judged as more satisfying when they contain neuroscience information, even when it is irrelevant (and so we should probably believe them… right?). This may be because the neuroscience information interferes with the laypersons capacity to analyse the logic behind the explanation. Advertisers take advantage of this using science as the authority to get a message across, throwing pseudo scientific terms at us, as in the L’oreal ad “Its not magic, its science, with it’s unique pro keratin formula…” These messages are unlikely to be questioned by the viewer as people will chose the easy option and heuristically process the information, meaning it will be taken at face value and excepted because “scientific research said so”.
Weisberg et al. (2009) gave 81 participants explanations of 18 psychological phenomena all obtainable to people who haven’t studied psychology. The explanations were either categorised as good (clear) or bad (muddled) explanations. With the explanation, participants were given either irrelevant neuroscience information or no neuroscience information. They measured satisfaction for the explanations; this is what they found.

The key finding here is that overall, explanations with irrelevant neuroscience were judged as more satisfying than those without. Furthermore, when explanations were poor, those with neuroscience were judged as better than those without. It seems that neuroscience somehow impairs people’s basic ability to make judgments about explanations, even when it makes little to no sense.  
So beware when assessing information presented to you in a scientific form, it may be irrelevant and it may make you lazy. Don’t be seduced by the allure of science.

Maddux, J. E., & Rogers, R. W. (1980). Effects of source expertness, physical attractiveness, and supporting arguments on persuasion: A case of brains over beauty. Journal of personality and social psychology, 39(2), 235.

Pratkanis, A. R. (Ed.). (2007). The science of social influence: Advances and future progress. Psychology Press.

Weisberg, D. S., Keil, F. C., Goodstein, J., Rawson, E., & Gray, J. R. (2008). The seductive allure of neuroscience explanations. Journal of cognitive neuroscience, 20(3), 470-477.

Natalie Nash - Blog 3


1 comment:

  1. Great! I'll use this when arguing over neuroscience!


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