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Establish a Favorable Comparison Point or Set



People evaluate options and choices by comparing them to salient alternatives. By making certain comparisons more salient than others, an agent can gain an influence advantage. For example, Thaler (1992) marshals evidence for an endowment effect – the use of the status quo as a reference point serves to make salient the disadvantages of any new option, resulting in a bias favoring the status quo. Other common points of comparison include: expectations (see above), goals, social comparisons (upward or downward comparisons to others), group standards (e.g., Blake, Rosenbaum, & Duryea, 1955), salient exemplars, counterfactuals (i.e. comparisons to what might have been), foregone options (lost opportunities), temporal reframing (e.g., the pennies-a-day effect; Gourville, 1998), temporal construal (Trope & Liberman, 2003), anchors, asking price, BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement), reservation price, aspiration level, and a distribution of possible comparison objects (Mellers & Birnbaum, 1983; see Kahneman, 1992 for a discussion of reference points in general).

 

Control the Flow of Information

The selective presentation of information (facts or falsehoods) can bias decision-making. For example, in 1934, Annis and Meier found that planting biased information in college newspapers changed opinions about a political event (see also Becker’s 1949 discussion of black propaganda). There are a number of ways to control the flow of information including censorship, self-censorship (e.g., avoiding thought about controversial issues, limited motivation to obtain information, and biased information search), disinformation campaigns, jamming enemy communications in war, selected leaks and plants of information, biased sequencing and timing of the presentation of information (for additional examples see Crosby, Iyer, Clayton, & Downing, 2003, pp. 104–105; Pratkanis & Aronson, 2001, pp. 98–99), and control of the communication network, especially gatekeepers (Friedkin, 1998; Goldberg, 1955). One caveat: When people realize that information is being kept secret and that this censorship is not justified, there may be an increased desire for information (via reactance) and a two-sided message may be more impactful (see discussion of reactance and two-sided messages below).

 

Metaphor

The use of metaphor can constrain and focus thought about an issue, thereby impacting how that issue will be decided. For example, Gilovich (1981) found that comparing a military crisis to Nazi Germany invites thoughts about intervention whereas a comparison to Vietnam elicits thoughts about avoiding involvement. Metaphors are effective influence devices because metaphors guide information processing (selective attention to details) and suggest solutions for resolving the issue (Mio, 1996; Sopory & Dillard, 2002).

 

Storytelling

A story is a narrative that provides a causal structure to facts and evidence. Plausible stories serve to guide thought, determine the credibility of information, and ultimately direct evaluation and choice about story-related decisions (Hastie & Pennington, 2000). For example, Pennington and Hastie (1992) presented mock jurors with either a murder or a hit-and-run case in which the preponderance of evidence argued for either the guilt or innocence of the defendant. When information was organized in a story format (a sequence of events), the mock jurors were more likely to render verdicts consistent with the preponderance of evidence compared to a mere listing of that evidence. Similarly, Slusher and Anderson (1996) were much more effective in arguing that the AIDS virus is not spread by casual contact when they used facts embedded in a causal structure on how the disease is transmitted compared to when they used statistical facts. Such causal stories or social theories tend to persist even in the face of strong, discrediting information (Anderson, Lepper, & Ross, 1980).

 

(Mis)Leading Questions

Question asking is a way to structure information and to imply certain answers or solutions. How a question is asked can determine the range of thought about an issue. For example, Loftus and Palmer (1974) found higher estimates of vehicle speed when people were asked, “How fast were the cars going when they smashed?” as opposed to hit. Ginzel (1994) found that interviewers who asked biased questions (designed to promote a positive or negative view of a speech) tended to bias their impressions consistent with the questions (see also Snyder & Swann, 1978). Questioning is a powerful influence device because it is capable of directing attention and inferences about the situation.

 

Innuendo

 An innuendo is an insinuation (often subtle or hidden) of a fact, especially concerning reputation and character. As such, innuendoes set up expectations, which serve to fi lter future information. For example, in courtroom settings, inadmissible evidence, pretrial publicity, and accusatory questioning can all impact jury verdicts (e.g., Kassin, Williams, & Saunders, 1990; Sue, Smith, & Caldwell, 1973). In the political domain, Wegner, Wenzlaff, Kerker, and Beattie (1981) found that merely asking about the possible wrongdoing of a political candidate can result in negative perceptions of that politician. Of course, intensive lies and character attacks can be quite coercive for the victim.

 

Projection Tactic

A more specific form of innuendo is based on projection – accusing another person of the negative traits and behaviors that one possesses and exhibits with the goal of deflecting attention from one’s own misdeeds and towards the accused. In four experiments, Rucker and Pratkanis (2001) found that projection was effective in increasing the blame placed on the target of projection and decreasing the culpability of the accuser. In addition, the effects of projection persisted despite attempts to raise suspicions about the motives of the accuser and providing evidence that the accuser was indeed guilty of the deeds.

 







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