Friday, January 20, 2006

Weapons of Influence: Friendship and Liking


"The motorcycle slipped; no, I didn't have a license."
Like him or loathe him?

(Part 6 of a series of posts exploring Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini. Part 1; Part 2;Part 3; Part 4;Part 5.Part 6.)

Professor Cialdini calls this compliance trigger "the friendly thief." It will surprise no one that this discussion will quickly get to fundraising techniques and political candidates.

We all know we are more likely to do things for friends, even things we don't want to do. And so, we have the political "house party." It goes like this: you send out 100 invitations to friends and acquaintances, make follow up calls to reinforce the invitation, get 12 people to come to the "party," speechify and feed, and they give 10 checks to your candidate or cause. Some more checks come in the mail. You will have raised approximately $1000, plus or minus. This works pretty much mechanically. (If interested in a book of fundraising recipes for this and much more, see here.)

The house party is the compliance trigger known as "friendship" in practice.

Another common variant is the political email that asks you to send on their spiel to people you know. I got two of these today about the Alito confirmation fight. Then there are the outfits that want to use your friendships to build their network. This one came today from a fledgling nonprofit (one I like by the way):

We're getting ready to send out our annual report. This year we're stepping it up a notch and putting it out as a newsletter. We're writing to you to ask a favor. We want to build up our base of donors even bigger this year and we want to get this newsletter out to people who would be excited about the work we do.

Are there people you know who we should send the newsletter to this year? People who you think would want to know about our work and people who might donate money to help us expand our work. People in your family, at your job, in your spiritual community or political network?

Smart question, and no, I didn't respond, but I'm a pretty hard nut. Some good people did, undoubtedly, and any leads will help the new nonprofit.

Cialdini wants us to know that the reliability of our response to these compliance triggers goes way beyond merely accommodating friends. We consistently will go out of our way to respond favorably to those we like -- but what determines "liking"?

The professor names physical attractiveness as a prime cause of "liking." He is disconcerted by its power:

Certain of the consequences of this unconscious assumption that "good looking equals good" scare me. For example, a study [in 1976] of the Canadian federal elections found that attractive candidates received more than two and a half times as many votes as unattractive candidates. ...[V]oters do not realize their bias. In fact 73 percent of Canadian voters surveyed denied in the strongest possible terms that their votes had been influenced by physical appearance.

This finding raises the further question of who finds who attractive. There may have been enough homogeneity in the Canadian population in the 1970s to skip over this issue, but that certainly isn't the case in contemporary U.S. electorates. For example, I find Arnold Schwarzenegger repulsive. And I was first convinced that Judge Roberts would be bad news when I saw a picture of his smug, upper class white guy mug. Others' criteria for attractiveness undoubtedly differ.

Apparently something else that reliably triggers "liking" is the provision of food. Seriously. Cialdini reports an experiment:

Using what he termed the "luncheon technique," [Gregory Razran] found that his subjects became fonder of the people and things they experienced while they were eating. ...Razran's subjects were presented with some political statements they had rated once before. And the end of the experiment, after all the political statements had been presented, Razran found that only certain of them had gained in approval -- those that had been shown while food was being eaten. ...[T]he subjects could not remember which of the statements they had seen during the food service.

Yikes, maybe candidates should be buying dinner hour TV instead of prime time? Actually, what is important in this is that the compliance trigger, associating pleasant sensations with unrelated arguments, works without our conscious knowledge or assent.

The professor takes his explication of the "liking" principle further. Because we know intuitively that being liked carries influence, we attach ourselves to those we consider likeable. The obvious example is the rabid attachment sports fans can feel toward "their" winning teams.

An interesting example of this crops up in political polling. In order to understand how people are likely to vote, pollsters often ask whether and how they voted in the past. The replies often yield claims that would point to higher participation and more votes for the winners than actually occurred. We know the real numbers; the election in question is over. Mystery Pollster explains:

The reason why some respondents falsely report past voting is something social scientists call "social discomfort." Some people are so embarrassed by not voting that they cannot admit it to a stranger on the telephone. For the same reasons, some respondents will avoid admitting they voted for the losing candidate. Combine overreporting and a reluctance to admit a Gore vote, and four years later, Gore's tiny popular vote victory turns into a retrospective Bush landslide.


. . .

The compliance weapons described in Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion are deeply embedded in our psyches. As I've tried to show throughout these posts, in addition to being means by which we are manipulated, they are behaviors that mostly serve us well. What I find upsetting about thinking about them is not that I am subject to such triggers. It does worry me that the necessary defenses against automatic compliance that I throw up will reduce the trust with which I interact and drive me away from community with others. Bowling alone comes to feel a rational way to try to preserve autonomy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love the information-overload hypothesis for social captial decline, but can we convince ourselves some more? If it is true, what kind of data should we be able to find?

Erm [brain whirrs]. Here's one - the social isolated could be more likely to agree with statements like "I feel constantly harrassed" more than others (who probably are more constantly harrassed).

Or those with lowered capacity to deal with information-overload [Could use IQ, its crude, but hey...] should be more likely to socially isolate themselves

Or more electoral candidates should make people less likely to vote [i think this is probably already been tested and is probably true see http://www.mindhacks.com/blog/2006/02/when_choice_is_demot.html]

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