I’m sure we’ve all had this experience. The evening’s just started, you’re ready to start cooking some dinner, and there’s a knock at the door. You answer, only to find the smiling face of a charity representative. If you’re anything like me, you know you’re in for an intense battle as you try to convince this person that you simply cannot afford to part with any money.
This happened to me a few weeks ago and as I was talking to the friendly representative, I couldn’t help noticing all the persuasive techniques I had just been learning about as he spoke to me. Right from the start, he was trying to influence me with a similarity altercast:
CR: Hello, (pause) are you a student?
CR: So am I! What year are you in?
Me: I’m a finalist.
CR: Same here! I actually wanted to talk to you about a charity that I represent…
Stotland, Zander, and Natsoulas (1961) demonstrated how the similarity altercast can influence people, based on quite trivial attributes. In this study, participants first listened to sets of two short melodies and were asked to pick which of the two they preferred. They shared their choice anonymously over a microphone with who they believed to be the experimenter and two other participants. They heard the responses of two pre-recorded confederates, one of whom had similar musical preferences and the other had dissimilar preferences. In the second phase of the experiment, the participant was asked to rate their preference for sets of two nonsense syllables. They heard the confederates’ responses before they saw these syllables.
Participants were then divided into three groups: introjectors, non-introjectors, and negative introjectors. Introjectors were those who agreed with the musically similar confederate on the majority of nonsense syllable sets. Non-introjectors were those who agreed with both the similar and dissimilar confederate equally. Finally, negative introjectors were those who agreed more with the musically dissimilar confederate.
The above table shows that there were more introjectors than one would expect by chance, suggesting that the similarity of the confederate influenced their choices on the second task. If similarity on something as trivial as melody preference can affect people’s later choices, there’s no telling what sort of effect the similarity of more important attributes – such as being a student – will have.
Stotland, E., Zander, A., & Natsoulas, T. (1961). Generalization of interpersonal similarity. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 62, 250-256.