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Counterattitudinal advocacy with insufficient justification

In this dissonance-based tactic (Aronson, this volume; Festinger, 1957), a person is induced to try to convince others of the rightness of a position that differs from her or his own privately held belief. When given minimum justification for doing so, the person must find additional justification for the advocacy and in the process is more likely to accept the original counterattitudinal position. Some examples of the implementation of this tactic include (a) Festinger and Carlsmith’s (1959) experiment in which subjects falsely told others about the value of a boring experimental task, (b) Cohen’s (1962) counterattitudinal role play in which students wrote essays discrepant from their beliefs for minimum reward and (c) Aronson and Carlsmith’s (1963) forbidden toy research in which children failed to play with a desirable toy with minimum punishment.


Overjustification of an intrinsic activity

Providing too much justification (e.g., extrinsic rewards) for an activity can serve to reduce the intrinsic value of that task. For example, Deci (1971) found that providing monetary incentives to perform a task reduced intrinsic motivation. Similarly, Lepper, Greene, and Nisbett (1973) found that children who expected to receive a reward for performing an enjoyable task subsequently showed less interest in the task than those children who did not receive a reward or received an unexpected reward (see Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999 for a review). Benware and Deci (1975) also found that paying someone to make a proattitudinal communication reduces support for that position.


Effort justification

In general, requiring a person to expend large amounts of efforts to obtain an object leads to a justification of this expenditure by increased liking of the object. For example, Aronson and Mills (1959) required students to engage in a severe initiation (reciting obscene words to an opposite sex

experimenter) in order to join what turned out to be a very boring discussion of sex. Compared to those students who engaged in a mild or no initiation, those who expended effort in the form of a severe initiation liked the boring discussion and found it interesting and worthwhile (see Axsom & Cooper, 1985 for an application of this technique to weight loss). In addition, the mere expectation of expending effort can lead to attitude change (Wicklund, Cooper, & Linder, 1967). Recent research also shows that humans possess an effort heuristic – the more effort it takes to produce an object, the higher that object is rated in terms of quality and liking (Kruder, Wirtz, Van Boven, & Altermatt, 2004).


Hypocrisy reduction

 Hypocrisy is aroused by having a person make a public commitment (say, tell teenagers to practice safe sex) and then make that person mindful of past failures to meet the commitment (say, complete a questionnaire on past sexual practices). To reduce the negative feelings of hypocrisy, the person is more likely to adopt the advocated behavior (in this case, practice safe sex; see Stone, Aronson, Crain, Winslow, & Fried, 1994 who conducted this experiment). In addition to increasing the use of condoms, the induction of hypocrisy has been shown to encourage water conservation (Dickerson, Thibodeau, Aronson, & Miller, 1992) and increase recycling (Fried & Aronson, 1995). 


Question-behavior effect

The tactic of question-behavior entails asking a person to make a self-prediction about their intention to perform a certain behavior; the result is an increase in the likelihood of performing that action. For example, Greenwald, Carnot, Beach, and Young (1987) asked potential voters before an election, “What do you expect to do between now and the time the polls close tomorrow? 

Do you expect that you will vote or not?” Those voters who answered this question (relative to a no-question control) voted at a 20% higher rate. The technique has been applied to a wide variety of issues including recycling, fund-raising, and nutrition (Spangenberg & Greenwald, 2001). The self-prophecy appears to work through one of two mechanisms: (a) cognitive dissonance arousal – the respondent seeks to reduce the discrepancy between what was predicted and his or her behavior (Spangenberg, Sprott, Grohmann, & Smith, 2003) and (b) evoking a cognitive script for the behavior that then increases performance through imaging processes (Williams, Block, & Fitzgerald, in press).


Self- affirmation

 When a person receives a threatening message, say one that presents a disturbing conclusion or contains counterattitudinal information, a common response is to act defensively – to ignore,

reject, or otherwise resist the message. One technique for overcoming this defensiveness is to have the

target affirm the value of her or his self by engaging in such tasks as endorsing important values or writing an essay about one’s values. For example, Sherman, Nelson, and Steele (2000) found that self-affirmations increased the likelihood that a person would accept threatening health information about the causes of breast cancer and about the practice of safe sex. Similarly, Cohen, Aronson, and Steele (2000) found that self-affirmations increased acceptance of counterattitudinal information concerning capital punishment and abortion. Blanton, Cooper, Skurnik, and Aronson (1997) have identified an important limiting condition of this technique: The self-affirmation should be unrelated to the content of the message since topic-relevant self-affirmations may increase defensiveness.



Another approach for changing high-risk, defensive, and anxiety-producing behavior is to increase the target’s perceived self-efficacy or the beliefs about one’s capability to organize and execute the courses of action required to reach given goals (Bandura, 1997). Perceived self-efficacy can be increased by such procedures as teaching skills, guided mastery, vicarious learning, and verbal persuasion (Maddux & Gosselin, 2003). The development of self-efficacy has been instrumental in inducing at-risk

targets to accept a persuasive communication and change behavior in such areas as exercise, diet, smoking cessation, HIV prevention, and alcohol abuse (see Bandura, 1997; Maddux & Gosselin, 2003 for reviews).



As long ago as Aristotle, people have realized that making an alternative appear scarce or rare increases its perceived value. Scarcity invokes a number of psychological processes. Consider an experiment conducted by Worchel, Lee, and Adewole (1975). In their experiment, subjects were asked to rate the attractiveness of cookies. They found that the cookies were deemed more attractive when there

were only two cookies in a jar as opposed to ten cookies. This finding illustrates one of the reasons that

scarcity is an effective influence device: we humans possess a rule in our head, "if it is rare, it must be

valuable.” Worchel et al. included another treatment in their experiment in which the subject began with a jar of ten cookies but an experimenter replaced that jar with one containing only two cookies under the pretense that he needed the cookies because subjects in his experiment had eaten more cookies than expected. In this case, subjects rated the cookies as even more attractive than the constant two cookies in a jar, illustrating the ability of scarcity to create a sense of urgency and panic that increases its effectiveness as an influence device. Scarcity also has the power to implicate the self for better or worse. The failure to possess or obtain a scarce object can create frustration and imply that the self is lacking in some regards (see summary by Pratkanis & Farquhar, 1992 of early work on barriers conducted in the Lewin tradition) as well as inducing reactance (see next tactic). In contrast, possessing a rare item may result in increased feelings of uniqueness and self-worth (Fromkin, 1970) that can serve as the basis for conspicuous consumption (Braun & Wicklund, 1989).


Psychological reactance

Reactance occurs when an individual perceives that his or her freedom of behavior is restricted; it is an aversive tension state that motivates behavior to restore the threatened freedom (Brehm, 1966; Brehm & Brehm, 1981). Reactance can be aroused by a number of threats to freedom including the elimination of an alternative, social pressure to take a course of action, physical barriers, censorship, requiring everyone in a group to agree with another’s decision, and authorities overstepping their mandates. The exact response to reactance may vary with the situation; however two common responses designed to restore threatened freedoms include increased attractiveness and desire for an eliminated or threatened alternative and an oppositional response (boomerang) of attempting to do the reverse of the reactance-arousing social pressure. Once reactance is created, it can be used as an influence device by directing responses to restore freedom in a manner consistent with the goals of the influence agent. Brehm’s (1966) theory of psychological reactance is important for understanding social influence in that it places a limiting condition (the production of reactance) on the effectiveness of many tactics listed in this chapter.


Evocation of freedom (But you are free to… technique)

In contrast to reactance, reminding the target of her or his freedom to choose with a simple statement such as “But you are free to accept or refuse” can increase compliance. For example, Gueguen and Pascual (2000) solicited money for a bus in a shopping mall. When they included the statement “But you are free to accept or to refuse” at the end of the request, compliance increased almost 5-fold (see also Gueguen & Pascual, 2002; Horwitz, 1968).


Anticipatory regret

 Regret is a negative feeling or emotion that a decision or choice may not work out as you want it to, and you will not be able to reverse it later. Anticipating such regret can lead to attempts to minimize the chances of self-blame (e.g., “I blew that decision”) and experiencing regret (Bell, 1982; Festinger, 1964). For example, Hetts, Boninger, Armor, Gleicher, and Nathanson (2000) staked subjects with $10 and then had them play a game with a 50% chance of losing this stake. Before playing the game, subjects could purchase insurance against loss. The critical manipulation consisted of emphasizing the regret that might be experienced if a disaster occurred and there was no insurance versus regret over purchasing insurance but yet no disaster occurs. Subjects purchased insurance consistent with their anticipated regrets (see also Crawford, McConnell, Lewis, & Sherman, 2002; Wicklund, 1970).   


In-5 prize tactic

The 1-in-5 prize tactic is commonly used in telemarketing scams and other swindles. The con criminal will tell a mark that he or she has won one of five prizes (such as an automobile, a vacation, a Van Gogh lithograph, a beachfront home, or $50,000 in cash). In order to claim the prize, all the target needs to do is to send in a fee — ostensibly to pay for shipping, taxes, or for some other seemingly plausible reason. The prize is a phantom and is rarely won; on those occasions when an award is given it is

usually a gimme prize (such as the Van Gogh lithograph which sounds good in the context of the other

prizes but is in reality a cheap reproduction). Surveys reveal that over 90% of Americans have been targeted by this pitch with over 30% responding to the appeal. Horovitz and Pratkanis (2002) conducted an experimental analog of the 1-in-5 prize tactic by telling subjects at the end of another experiment that they had won one of these five prizes: a TV, CD player, university mug (the gimme prize), a VCR, or a $50 mall gift certificate. In order to claim the prize, the subject had to agree to write essays for about 2 hours. In a control condition in which subjects were merely asked to write essays, 20% of the subjects complied with the request. In the 1-in-5 prize treatment, 100% of the subjects across two experiments agreed to write essays. Horovitz and Pratkanis suggest that phantom fixation (Pratkanis & Farquhar, 1992) along with other psychological processes is the reason that the 1-in-5 prize tactic is so effective.



Students of the history of propaganda repeatedly observe that when many members of a society feel their selves to be threatened (e.g., experience relative deprivation, fear devaluation of self) fertile ground is established for the seeds of propaganda to grow and flourish (Pratkanis & Aronson, 2001). A

similar relationship has been found in numerous experiments. For example, van Duüren and di Giacomo

(1996) showed that failure on a test increased the chances of complying with a request to commit a theft. Kaplan and Krueger (1999) observed that giving subjects a negative personality profile generally increased compliance with participation in a charity food drive. Zeff and Iverson (1966) demonstrated that subjects faced with downward mobility were more likely to privately conform to a group. A self-threat appears to induce a state of social dependency and a desire to re-establish the positive aspects of the self, thus making the individual vulnerable to influence which appeals to these goals.


Emotional see-saw

What happens when a person experiences an emotion that is then rapidly withdrawn? Dolinski and his colleagues (this volume; Dolinski & Nawrat, 1998; Dolinski, Ciszek, Godlewski, & Zawadzki, 2002) have conducted a program of research to show that when people experience an emotion that is then removed, they are more likely to comply with a request. For example, in one set of experiments, subjects experienced a fear that was then immediately removed – the subjects thought they had

received a parking ticket or were caught jaywalking but it turned out to be a false alarm. In such cases,

subjects were more likely to comply with a request to fill out a burdensome questionnaire or help out an

orphanage. Similarly, in another set of experiments, subjects experienced happiness and delight that was quickly eliminated – the subjects thought they had found some money or received a high grade on a test only to find that the money was really an advertisement and the grade was only average. In such cases, subjects were more likely to comply with a request to watch a bag or help their school. Dolinski explains his findings by noting that emotions invoke specific plans of action and that when the emotion is removed the plan is no longer operative but the person has not yet invoked a new plan. In this state of confusion and disorientation, the person is more likely to comply with a request.

Sensory deprivation

In sensory deprivation experiments, mostly conducted in the 1950s and 1960s, an individual is placed between 24 and 96 hours in a room designed to eliminate as much as possible such sensations as light, sound, and touch. The research showed that individuals in such environments experienced decrements in cognitive performance, hallucinations (after an extended period), and a desire for stimulation (Zubek, 1969). In addition, individuals experiencing sensory deprivation also showed an increase in susceptibility to influence as evidenced by increased (a) suggestibility as measured by the Hull body-sway test and responses to the autokinetic effect, (b) desire to listen to counterattitudinal propaganda,

(c) attitude change in response to propaganda, and (d) conformity (although the latter two effects may be lessened for those high in cognitive complexity and intelligence; see Suedfeld, 1969 for a review). Sensory deprivation results in a “cocktail” of cognitive (e.g., performance decrements), and emotional (e.g., boredom, tedium, anxiety, arousal) effects, making it difficult to identify the causal nexus of influence. Nevertheless, the research is significant in that it was originally motivated by reports of brainwashing of American soldiers by Red Chinese during the Korean conflict and confession extraction during the Stalinist purges in the Soviet Union. (Interestingly, preliminary research is emerging to show that increased cognitive stimulation or interest may also result in higher influence rates; Rind, 1997).


Positive happy mood

 Isen and her colleagues have found that people placed in a positive mood (e.g., by the discovery of a dime in a coin return or a gift of cookies) are more likely to comply with a request to render help and assistance (e.g., volunteering to meet a request, picking up papers, mailing a letter; see Isen & Levin, 1972; Levin & Isen, 1976). In a review of positive mood and helping research, Carlson, Charlin, and Miller (1988) found consistent results that happy mood leads to helpfulness and identified a variety of mechanism for why this is so. Positive mood also impacts the processing of a persuasive message. For example, Petty, Schumann, Richman, and Strathman (1993) found that positive mood results in persuasion through one of two routes: (a) when a target is not motivated to think about an issue, a positive mood directly impacts the positivity of the attitude and (b) when a target is motivated to think about an issue, a positive mood results in more positive thoughts about the issue, resulting in positive attitude. In addition, Wegener, Petty, and Smith (1995) found that happiness can produce more message scrutiny when message processing is useful for maintaining a positive mood and less scrutiny when processing might mean the reduction of a positive mood with persuasion dependent on how well the message stands up to this scrutiny. Thus, we end our tour of influence tactics on a happy note.


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