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.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

World Domination: How to Use the Power of Persuasion Across the Globe

While everyone understands that the world is a diverse place filled with many different cultures, we often underestimate the small differences between each country. We understand that our culture is different from the culture found in a country such as Kenya but it we often don’t think that there is that big of a difference between countries that we deem to be similar to our own. As a Canadian living in the UK, I personally didn’t think that there was going to be a noticeable difference. However I have come to realize that there are many small differences that make each country unique. My British friends are constantly teasing me for my “Canadian” tendencies (I do apologize a lot, I’m sorry). From the vocabulary, to the beliefs and social norms, there are many things that make each country unique. This leads to the question, do different methods of persuasion impact various countries in different ways?

Cialdini et al (1999) tackled this question by proposing a study that looked at the impact the compliance techniques of social proof and commitment had on individuals that hailed from Poland versus the United States. Social proof is a compliance tactic that is based on the idea that individuals look to others when deciding on their behaviour. Others influence individuals in various situations, especially those in which they are uncertain of the correct behaviour (Miller, 1984). Meanwhile commitment is a tactic used to persuade people based on the assumption that individuals are more likely to follow through if they have made a prior commitment (Aronson, 1992). The researchers hypothesized that the responses to each tactic would be different based on the collectivist societal view found in Poland compared to the individualistic view of the United States. Individualistic societies are focused more on the self and therefore were predicted to hold commitment to a higher regard, whereas collectivist societies believe the group is more important than the individual and therefore should be influenced by social proof to a greater extent.

The experiment involved 505 students from the United States and Poland who were divided into two groups. Both groups were asked to participate in a 40-minute marketing survey with no reimbursement, with the first group being asked to consider their peers’ willingness to comply with the survey while the second was told to remember their own willingness to comply in the past. The idea of examining the responses of peers was used to simulate the idea of social proof. Having students reflect on their own willingness to comply was used as a sense of commitment; if they had complied in the past, they felt obligated to comply again.

The results indicated that Cialdini and his colleagues were correct in their assumptions. While both countries were influenced by each method of persuasion, they were influenced to a differing degree. As seen in Figure 1a, Polish students had a much higher likelihood of complying when they are asked to consider their peers’ opinions and actions.
Meanwhile, in Figure 1b, it is shown that the students from the United States were more likely to comply when asked to consider their past commitments.  Overall, it was found that collectivists complied more often than individualists, regardless of the compliance tactic used. This research proves that persuasion, while it is a universal tactic, varies in its degrees of success based on the country, and different methods must be applied. 

An important lesson can be learned from this research. As long as you have a basic understanding of a country, you can manipulate your tactics and persuade the entire world!

Emily Winters


Cialdini, R. B., Wosinska, W., Barrett, D. W., Butner, J., & Gornik-Durose, M. (1999). Compliance 
with a request in two cultures: The differential influence of social proof and commitment/consistency on collectivists and individualists.Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin25(10), 1242-1253.

Miller, J. (1984). Culture and the development of everyday social explanation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46, 961-978. 
Aronson, E. (1992). The return of the repressed: Dissonance theory makes a comeback. Psychological Inquiry, 3, 303-311.

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