Get to Know the Psychology of Persuasion

August 7, 2019
In this article, we'll bring you the most relevant persuasion strategies in social psychology which can be used to bring about a change of attitude.

For many years, social psychology has been studying persuasion techniques that can be used to change people’s attitudes and encourage people to behave in a certain way. This research not only aims to help create attractive advertising campaigns but also to promote changes towards healthy and appropriate attitudes. Welcome to the psychology of persuasion.

Defining attitude

Eagle and Chaikin define attitude as “a psychological tendency that creates favorability or unfavorability towards an object“. The concept of attitude is generally represented by aspects of valency (positive or negative character of an object) and intensity (the grading of the valency).

Generally, attitude is usually either positive or negative. However, it can also be neutral or indifferent. For Rosenberg and Hovland, attitude has three components:

  • Affective (feelings of pleasure and dislike)
  • Cognitive (beliefs, opinions, and ideas)
  • Cognitive-behavioral (behavioral intentions or actions)

In the area of social psychology, experts have shown that there are different techniques or strategies that attempt to change attitudes. Here are some of them:

  • Strategies that involve a direct experience with the attitude.
  • Incentive-induced strategies, such as the theory of cognitive dissonance with its paradigm of induced complacency. Another example would be the change in attitude towards relative behavior when we introduce external rewards. This results in a reduction of internal motivation.
  • Socially mediated strategies, which we’ll talk about next.

It’s important to know how these persuasion techniques seek to change attitudes. Why? Because then we’ll become aware of how the media try to convince us to carry out actions that we weren’t even thinking about doing.

Two men speaking.

The psychology of persuasion

Certain variables are key to the psychology of persuasion in order to bring about changes in people’s attitudes. Such variables are:

  • The attractiveness and credibility of the source.
  • The message either being more rational or emotional.
  • The information being presented with examples.
  • The self-belief of the receiver.

There are also techniques specially designed to influence people’s behavior. The most important are the following:

Techniques based on friendship or pleasure

Being liked

This technique is based on being “likable” to others so that they’re more willing to comply with our requests. For example, selecting a physically attractive man or woman in a customer service post. Or, alternatively, being very nice and courteous if we own a restaurant and want to attract customers.

When people see attractiveness in others, by the mere halo effect, they think that what they offer will be equally attractive.

Self-promotion

This is carried out by improving our personal appearance, giving off positive verbal cues (smiles, looking straight into your eyes, etc.) and associating ourselves with facts or people that our target audience likes. An example could be to invite a fashion writer to give a talk in your bookstore so that people come and listen to them and, hopefully, buy books while they’re there.

Flattery

This method focuses on other people. It consists of flattering and agreeing with the target audience, as well as giving away free gifts, etc.

Techniques based on commitment or coherence:

Foot in the door

This method involves inducing the acceptance of a small initial proposal in order to increase the chances that there’ll be a more lucrative purchase or deal afterward. For example, offering small perfume samples so that the public feels indebted to the company and then agrees to buy a full bottle of the perfume.

Low-balling

The customer is treated very well, but, after accepting the deal, an “unforeseen” event occurs that forces the conditions to be modified. In the end, the seller is far better off than the client. Despite all this, the buyer ends up accepting the deal, despite the change in the initial conditions.

For example, a salesman offers us a computer that includes a computer manual, a wireless mouse, and text editing software. Suddenly, they tell us that the software is no longer included but the rest of the things are. As we had already committed to the deal, we’ll probably end up making the purchase.

Bait and switch

In this case, the seller or advertisement announces a product at a very good price. However, when we go to buy it, it has either run out or it isn’t as good as we were led to believe. The predisposition we had to buy the item increases the chances of a sale. This often occurs even if it means us paying more than we originally thought or accepting a low-quality product or service.

An example here could be that of a store catalog which has the latest toy that our child really wants. We rush out to buy it, but when we arrive we find it has sold out or that there’s another product there that resembles it, but which isn’t exactly what we wanted.

Techniques based on reciprocity

Slam in the face

This consists of starting out with an extreme request. The obvious response from the other party is to reject it. However, once they reject it, you then change your request or offer to a smaller one which is really what you wanted in the first place.

An example here would be to offer someone classes for 40 dollars an hour, and when they say no, reduce the amount to 20 dollars which is what you really wanted in the first place. The other person, by means of reciprocity, is more likely to end up accepting.

“And that’s not all…”

An initial proposal is made, but before the person says yes or no, it’s accompanied by an extra incentive that makes it even more attractive. An example here would be a telephone company offering us a phone and a contract, and then “suddenly” deciding they’ll give us a landline as well.

Slap on the shoulder

The whole theory here is based on establishing a relationship with the target person. The idea is that this person will then feel obliged to accept our requests.

Two friends speaking.

Techniques based on scarcity

Playing hard to get

This is where you suggest that something is hard to find or difficult to obtain in order for it to seem more attractive and increase its likelihood of acceptance. It’s very common in romantic relationships. The harder it becomes to be with someone, the more attractive it seems to us.

Deadline

A period is established after which the product will no longer be available. A classic example would be Black Friday.

Other tactics to gain acceptance:

  • Piquing their curiosity. Attracting the attention of the target audience so as not to receive an automatic rejection.
  • Putting others in a good mood. Entertaining the person who’s going to receive the message with the intention of making them feel good. This will reduce the likelihood that they’ll reject the message.
  • Complaining. It’s also possible to persuade others to change their attitudes towards other people by expressing discontent, dissatisfaction, or resentment. It’s been shown that women complain less and they do it more specifically. They’re also more sensitive to their relatives’ complaints.

Conclusion

We’re continually bombarded by persuasive techniques everywhere we go. In our society, changing people’s attitudes is an objective that the media, companies, and politicians use to try to sell us products and ideas that we probably don’t need in our lives. Products that we didn’t plan to buy or buy in to.

By becoming familiar with the psychology of persuasion and the techniques that are used to try to change our attitudes, we’ll become more aware of all their tricks so we don’t fall into their traps. Quite often they don’t just try to manipulate us into making a purchase, but they also try to obtain our data for free.

It’s important to know that many of the things we’ve purchased in the past we didn’t really need. We’ve acquired them due to social influence rather than by our own will.

We have to learn to discern when we’re about to bite the bait of persuasion, or when we’re making a free choice. This way, we’ll feel more responsible for our own decisions and not so influenced by others.

  • Morales, F.(1994). Psicología Social. Madrid: McGraw-Hill.