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I. Landscaping (Pre-persuasion) Tactics



 

Suppose I wished to move a marble across a table. In general, there are two ways to do this. I could apply force to the marble (say, striking it with my finger) or I could gently lift one end of the table so that the marble rolled to the other end. The first can be thought of as persuasion or influence proper; the second can be termed landscaping (or pre-persuasion) – structuring the situation in such a way that the target is likely to be receptive to a given course of action and respond in a desired manner. In rhetoric, the concept of landscaping can be traced back to Aristotle, who referred to it as atechnoi (without technique) or facts and events immediately outside the control of the speaker. Aristotle provides some advice for dealing with such “facts” (e.g., discredit a law or witness), but considered it outside the normal course of rhetoric. However, Cicero, the great Roman lawyer, brought such matters into the fold of rhetoric with his theory of the statis (status of the issue) – the orator should define the issue in a way that is to best advantage. He even gave advice on just how to do this when defending murderers in a court of law (e.g., deny the facts, change the quality of the deed, suggest extenuating circumstances). More recently, the concept of landscaping has re-emerged in a number of dispersed lines of scholarship. Asch (1952) argued that a person’s response to an object is often a function of how the object is defined and construed as opposed to any long-held attitudes or beliefs. Researchers in the field of decision analysis have found that how a decision is structured (e.g., how the problem is represented, which alternatives are included, what is the decision criterion) can ultimately impact the outcome of decision-making (Farquhar and Pratkanis, 1993; Keeney, 1982; von Winterfeldt & Edwards, 1986). In his analysis of propaganda, Jacques1982; von Winterfeldt & Edwards, 1986). In his analysis of propaganda, Jacques Ellul (1973) developed the concept of pre-propaganda – the preconditioning of the masses to accept propaganda through the creation of images, myths, and stereotypes. In the area of political science, William Riker (1986) coined the term heresthetics to describe political tactics and strategy designed to “set up the situation in such a way that other people will want to join [a cause] . . . even without any persuasion at all” (p. ix). Riker provides as examples of heresthetics the use of coalitions and alliances, wedge issues to divide majorities, vote ordering, and committee stacking, among other devices. Pratkanis and Aronson (2001) used the term “pre-persuasion” to refer to the process of taking control of a situation to establish a favorable climate for influence. (The terms “pre-persuasion” and “land- scaping” can be used interchangeably, although landscaping has the advantage in connoting a process that can be continuous as opposed to just before influence.) In common parlance, landscaping tactics are referred to as spin (Maltese, 1992), brand positioning (Ries & Trout, 1981), and turf battles (Cuming, 1985). To clarify the concept of landscaping, consider Figure 2.1, where two options,

A and B, are being considered (ignore the other options for the moment). Option A is superior on A-ness whereas B is best on B-ness (and the more of A-ness and B-ness, the better). Suppose you are leaning to Option B, but I want you to take A. How can I get you to select A without arguing for the advantages of A over B, putting on social pressure to select A (e.g., “9 out of 10 influence professionals choose A”), or playing on your emotions (e.g., “B causes cancer, you know”)? Answer: I could landscape the situation so that you naturally selected A without much further ado. I could do such things as change the names of the options to make A look better, add options to the set to change perceptions so that A is favored, make it essential for you to decide on A-ness, or present biasing information. Given that much decision-making is social (involves other people), I could declare a favorable voting rule (e.g., need a supermajority to obtain B), assign the decision to someone who is favorable to my cause, or form a coalition with your significant other to outnumber you in your desire for B. In other words, with landscaping tactics, I control the cognitive (e.g., perceptions of issues, options, etc.) and social (e.g., the process of decision making) structures used to reach your opinion or decision. The following are some tactics that have been identified for accomplishing this goal.

 

De fi ne and Label an Issue in a Favorable Manner

How an issue is labeled and represented (e.g., pro-choice vs. pro-abortion) structures and directs thought that then impacts persuasion. For example, the use of the generic “he” in job announcements lowered the number of women applying for a job (Bem &Bem, 1973; see Henley, 1989). Similarly, support for political issues such as affirmative action varies as a function of how it is labeled in opinion polls (Kravitz & Platania, 1993). Thaler (1992) provides evidence that how people treat money (spend or save) depends on how the money is labeled and categorized; for example, people are much less likely to spend a cash windfall if it comes from an investment account than, say, from winning the office football pool. In a clever demonstration of the power of descriptive language, Eiser and Pancer (1979) required schoolchildren to write an essay on adult authority using words that were either pro- or anti-adult authority. After writing the essays, the children’s attitudes towards adult authority changed consistent with the bias of the words they used in the essay. Recently, Lord, Paulson, Sia, Lepper, and Thomas (2004) showed that when people do not possess stable exemplars representing a category, attitudes related to that category are highly susceptible to change. Although there is agreement that how an object is labeled can influence judgment and evaluations, there continues to be debate on how extensive is the impact of language on thought (e.g., Young, 1991).

 

Association

Another way to change the meaning of a concept is through association – the linking of an issue, idea, or cause to another positive or negative concept in order to transfer the meaning from the second to the first. For example, Staats and Staats (1958) paired national names and masculine names with either positive or negative words and found that the positive or negative meaning tended to transfer to the original names. In a similar vein, Lott and Lott (1960) found that receiving a reward in the presence of a previously neutral person was sufficient to increase the probability of liking that person – the positive aspects of the reward became associated with the person. One particularly effective means of association is to make the object similar to another object on irrelevant attributes (Warlop & Alba, 2004; see Farquhar & Herr, 1993 for a discussion of associations and brand equity).

 







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