Prepared by Philip Zimbardo and Cindy X. Wang
The Science of Social Influence – Anthony Pratkanis
nother social psychologist who has meticulously studied social influence tactics is Anthony Pratkanis. In particular, Pratkanis has analyzed and classified the numerous methods that humans utilize to manipulate and change the attitudes and beliefs of others. While his case study of social influence methods includes too many distinct examples to discuss fully in this guide, we will list a few common examples and the types of categories that these influence tactics commonly fall under. He has also developed a guide for identifying fraudulent practices that many elderly people fall victim to.
Landscaping (Pre-persuasion tactics)
Many influence experts excel at creating a situation in which their opinion or goal seems fair or even favorable. Specifically, how objects are defined and construed, how the problem is presented, and how a request is structured are critically important in our decision process. The following methods are just some of the ways influence agents can have contexts working for them even before you know you’re being influenced.
- Define and label an issue in a favorable manner
- Set expectations
- Limit and control the number of choices and options
- Agenda setting
- Establish a favorable comparison point or set
- Control the flow of information
Tactics that rely on social relationship (Social credibility and social rules)
One of the most important elements of convincing arguments is a reputable source. We are constantly bombarded by commercials that report experts such as dentists support a brand of toothpaste or professional athletes eat certain breakfast cereals. Although, no one doubts the agenda of advertisers to influence our opinion with these techniques, they are surprisingly effective at tapping essential principles of human behavior. By utilizing the following traits and characteristics, people can play on social relationships in order to persuade.
- High Status
- Similarity – “just plain folks like you”
- Draw on close relationships – friends, family and their well-being
- Arguing against one’s own self-interest (no agenda)
- Social modeling
- Social reinforcement
- Multiple sources
Effective message tactics
Aside from the framing and social implications of situations, effective communication depends on the strength and cogency of the message. Arguments that are not very convincing may be presented or disseminated in ways that increase acceptance and compliance. Here, we cite a few of Pratkanis’ examples of how messages can induce the target to generate arguments and reasons for adopting a given course of recommended action.
- Self-generated persuasion – give the target a chance to generate arguments in support of the position; persuade themselves
- Vivid appeals – emotionally interesting or compelling
- Let the message recipient draw his or her conclusion
- Rhetorical questions
- Pique interest in message
- Message fit with pre-existing beliefs, experiences, knowledge
- Placebic reasons – arguments that appear to make sense but are actually vacuous and lacking information
- Defusing objections – acknowledging objections and refuting them before a target can raise them
- Asking for small contributions initially
- Message length = message strength
- Repetition of message
- Primacy effect – order of presentation
Emotions are often thought to infringe on our rationality and better judgment. While listening to our instincts and responding to our passions can work in favor of our interests, they are also easily exploited by for influence professionals because emotions affect us so deeply, instantaneously, and indelibly. Pratkanis presents this set of emotional tactics that take advantage of our subjective feelings, arousal, and tensions as the basis for securing influence.
- Threat of insult
- Door-in-face – ask for a large favor, retreat and ask for a much smaller favor
- That’s not all – sweetening the deal
- Commitment trap
- Foot-in-the-door – ask a small request than ask for a larger request
- Anticipatory regret
Offensive and Defensive Tactics for Resisting Influence
Defensive – learn how to detect propaganda
- Play devil’s advocate
- Generate questions to ask about a communication
- Be prepared to debunk bogus appeals
- Practice how to respond to propaganda attacks
Offensive – steps that will identify common propaganda forms and stop them at their source
- Know the ways of persuasion and know that you personally may be the victim of propaganda
- Distinguish source credibility
- Weaken illusion of your personal invulnerability
- Monitor your emotions
- If you’re having an emotional response to a communication, ask yourself why
- Look for things that induce false emotions
- Redefine situation
- Explore the motivation and credibility of the source
- What does the source have to gain?
- Is it an overly manufactured image?
- Think rationally about any proposal or issue
- What is the issue? Labels and terms?
- Arguments in support and opposing? Cogent? Fair?
- Attempt to understand the full range of options before making a decision
- What are the choices?
- What if I chose something other than the recommended option? What are the real consequences?
- Actions not Words
- If you hear something repeatedly, ask why it is being repeated
- If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is
- Time sensitive
- Free gifts
- Teach your children about propaganda
- Help them develop counterarguments
- Compare real performance with advertising
- Support efforts to prevent vulnerable groups against exploitative persuasion
- Avoid being dependent on a single source of information
- Separate news from entertainment
- Use communication style as one criteria in making decisions and judgments
- Increase your personal involvement, knowledge, and awareness in important issues
- Do not be tuned out
- If it is important, take some time to find out more about it on your own