Attitude change and the study of persuasion are getting quite a lot of attention. Some estimate that there is an  excess of 1000 publications in this area each year. The landmark work has been done by McGuire in 1985 in “Attitudes and Attitude change”.

  • Direct path (numbers, facts, stats)
  • Peripheral path (emotions, feelings, e.g. fear, sense of beauty)

Main heuristics for decision making, universal principles for influence:

  • consistency: the idea that people do not want to change their behaviours or attitudes. Trick: ask for small initial commitment, that can be made. It should be voluntary, active, and possibly public. This will result in people be willing more strongly to agree to a larger commitment.
  • authority: people follow the guide of credible and knowledgeable experts. Physiotherapists are more persuasive if they display their diplomas on the wall of their office. Secretaries and first-contact personnel should praise the colleagues and openly highlight their credentials. It does not matter if people making the introductions are directly related or will financially prosper from the introductions they make.
  • consensus: people look for the actions and decisions of others to determine their own. Hotel re-use towel example: a note with environmental benefits of towel re-use results in 35% compliance; a note with stats about hotel towel re-use “75% of people in this hotel re-use towels” results in 26% compliance, and a note with “75% people in this room re-use their towels” results in 33% compliance. Use stats or information that relates to a person or a given situation and present it to a person to influence their decision.
  • liking: people prefer to say yes to those that they like. People like: others who are similar, others who make compliments, and people who cooperate/collaborate with them. Look for areas of similarity and genuine compliments you can give, before negotiating or doing business.
  • reciprocity: the sense of obligation to give back when you receive something. Example: giving a mint together with a bill in the restuarants results in increase of tipping by 3%. Two mints, make it 14%, and making it a special case for giving two mints results in 23% increase. Rule: be the first to give, and make it personalized, and unexpected.
  • scarcity: people want more things that they have less of. State what is unique about your proposition and what they stand to lose if they do not chose it.


Additional notes

Consensus doesn’t always have effect on causal attribution,  but it has a strong persuasive and social influence. Be careful what message is passed (e.g. advertising stats on wrongdoing sends a normative message that wrongdoing is a common activity, see petrified forest national park note about removing wood from national park).

Asking people to imagine doing something is an effective method to influence future behaviour.

Mentioning your name has a positive correlation with people accepting a request. Similarly, engaging people in a dialog has a positive effect.

Adding a statement “Even a penny will help” improves compliance in fundraising by 29-50%.

Foot-in-a-Door technique. People are more likely to comply with a large request after a small one. Freedman & Fraser, 1966. Compliance increases after the small request regardless of the type of the small request or the topic. Results consistent with self-perception theory. People watch themselves behaving in certain way, and they conclude that they hold values and attitudes that match their behaviour. For the technique to be effective, make sure the person is labeled as helpful, and supportive of a good cause. Present the larger request as a continuation of the small one. “You did X last month, can you do a little bit more.”

Door-in-the-Face technique. Make a large request first, and after it is rejected, make a small one. The small one is likely to be agreed to. Compliance with a small request is much higher if you can first get someone to slam a door in your face with a large request. This technique is effective if the same person makes both requests, if the requests are done face-to-face, with no delay, and if in both cases the same social effect, social good is achieved.

Low-ball technique. Delay the negative information until after a person agrees to help out. It seems once a person commits to a request, the request can be increased without the person withdrawing from the commitment.



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