Social Influence and Persuasion
This article deals with the topic titled ‘Moral Influence and Persuasion’ This is part of our series on ‘Ethics’. For more articles, you can click here.
Attitude Change Theory
Attitudinal change means changing someone else’s perception of what is right or wrong according to our will.
Attitudes change can manifest itself as:
- A person receiving new information from others or media – Cognitive change
- Through direct experience with the attitude object – Affective change
- Force a person to behave in a way different than normal – Behavioural change
Attitude change can happen through the following mechanisms.
1 . Creating Dissonance
- This method can be used to alter cognitive based attitude.
- For example, a person might not have thought that not paying tax is also a form of corruption. Hence, we can change this attitude by planting an idea in a person mind that challenges his beliefs by arguing that tax evasion is the same as corruption
- Application for Civil Servants: In advertisements or via mass campaigns we give information to challenge the beliefs of the public.
2. Operant Conditioning
- This method can be used to alter behaviour-based attitude.
- Punish when somebody does the wrong thing. He will stop doing that thing.
3. Classical Conditioning
- It can be used to change attitude, especially of children. For example: Create phobia in children of things you don’t want them to do.
4. Social Influence
- Explained below.
5. By Persuasion
- Explained below.
- Persuasion refers to the process of changing the attitudes and behaviours of the TARGET GROUP towards some event, idea, object, or another person (s) in the intended direction, by using written or spoken words to convey information, feelings, or reasoning, or a combination thereof.
- It should be noted that Persuasion is a RECEIVER CENTRIC EXERCISE. It is not what the source says it is what the receiver understands.
Persuasion involves 4 elements
- Source / Persuader: Which is the originator of the information or message
- Receiver / Target Group: It receives the information presented by the source
- Persuasive Message: Appeal issued by the source
- Channel / Medium through which message/information is delivered to the Receiver
It can be summed up as – Who says, what, to Whom through what means.
Why Public Officials are not able to Persuade the Target group?
- The reason for this is the presence of certain barriers: Semantics, Psychological and Physical Barriers. If the Public Official can overcome those barriers, only then Persuasion will be successful.
- To overcome these barriers, District Magistrate can use various influence tactics such as involving Sarpanch to overcome these barriers. Along with that, he/she must take feedback from the Target Audience to rectify any shortcomings.
Source, Receiver and Message Characteristics
1 . Source
The source will communicate the message.
It should have the following three characteristics:-
- To access credibility, we have to look into two things i.e.
- Expertness (judged by the knowledge base of source).
- Trustworthiness (judged by finding out whether the source has a vested interest).
- A high credibility source is more successful in bringing about the desired attitude change as the credibility of the source will make the Target Group listen to the message delivered by the source.
- An attractive Source is more likely to succeed in persuasion.
- The primary factors that decide the attractiveness of the source include
- Physical Features
- Communicative Versatility
- Attitudinal Similarity
- Power is the potential to change the behaviour of the target group in the intended direction despite their resistance.
Power, Attractiveness and Credibility will cause behaviour change in different ways
Hence, Credibility is the best way to change behaviour because it will lead internalization of values and attitudes. If all three things are present, nothing better than that.
Note: The biggest barrier to behavioural changes in India is that the common citizen does not have an emotional connection with the chief change agent—the government. Governments are considered corrupt and inefficient.
2.1 Message Discrepancy
- It means the degree of inconsistency in the message the source should present to the target group.
- The message should be such that it should be within the zone of acceptance of the target group.
- Some people have a wider zone of acceptance and they are facilitators.
- Some people have a very narrow zone of acceptance and they are resistors.
2.2 Emotional Factor
- The message should have emotional content in that.
- For example, to motivate someone to stay fit or to quit smoking, one should not only cite scientific evidence to prove the point but can also convince using the fear of deadly diseases or the joy of a healthy life.
2.3 Fear Appeal
- Mild and moderate appeals to fear generally work better than strong fear appeals.
- Strong fear appeals produce defensive avoidance wherein the target group insulate itself from the message.
2.4 Targeting values
- People can manage their self-images by yielding to requests for action that fits or enhances their identities.
- Influence professionals can increase compliance by linking their requests to the values to which people feel committed, especially when these values are prominent in consciousness.
2.5 Other factors
- Persuasion requires a message to be presented in vivid language and backed by data.
- The message should be such that it establishes a common ground with target people. For example- Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas Slogan used by BJP during election campaign established common ground with the public.
- Point out the benefits: Persuader should highlight the major benefits of changed behaviour or attitude.
- Social proof technique: People tend to follow others (bandwagon effect) more so when they don’t have sufficient information to decide on their own. This technique will involve you telling the target population that other people are getting benefits from the suggested change, with empirical evidence. For example, in campaigning against female feticide in Haryana we may invoke the examples of some female sportspersons who have won laurels like S. Nehwal in Badminton.
- Scarcity: This involves letting people know that they stand to lose on a chance to get the benefits out of the proposed change. For example, we often see the end of the season or hoardings like Hurry!! Limited offer.
Best results are obtained when the Persuasive message has both emotional and factual element in it.
3. Receiver Characteristics
3.1 Personality factors
- Individuals with high self-efficacy, high self-esteem, moderate level of arousal and internal locus of control are difficult to persuade but when they are presented with logical arguments supported by relevant facts, they are likely to be won over.
- Intelligence refers to the information processing ability of an individual.
- Intelligent people because of their superior critical thinking abilities are less likely to be influenced by appeals that are illogical or not supported by relevant facts. However, when presented with appeals that have factual backing, they are likely to be convinced.
4. Channel Factor
- Use appropriate channel of communication (Don’t show the picture to the blind).
Cognitive Route to Persuasion – Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM)
- It is an influential cognitive model of persuasion and it suggests that attitude change can occur either through
- Careful processing of attitude relevant information i.e. Central Route OR
- In a relatively automatic manner in response to various persuasion cues i.e. Peripheral Route
- Attitude change produced through Central Route is more lasting and has a stronger impact upon the old behaviour.
Central Route: When the target group finds the message interesting, important and personally relevant and when nothing else prevents them from devoting careful attention to it, they are likely to examine the message in a careful and thoughtful manner evaluating the strength and rationality of the arguments made. If they find the arguments appealing, relevant and factually supported, then they are likely to change their attitude and Persuasion occurs.
Peripheral Route: In contrast, if they find the message uninteresting or uninvolving, they are not motivated to process it carefully but still the persuasion occurs but this time through the peripheral route. If the message contains something that induces a positive feeling or the source of a message is high in prestige and status, under these conditions Attitude change may occur without critical analysis of message content.
Attitude Change accomplished through Central Route is more desirable because
- It lasts longer than one achieved through the peripheral route.
- It is more resistant to later attempts at persuasion.
- It is more closely related to behaviour than the attitudes changed through the peripheral route.
Culture and Attitude Change
- In the west, people are more individualistic (not bothered about what others feel about them). But Asian Culture is different & people are more interdependent
- The western ad should let people feel that they are free but Indian ad should be such that you will be treated positively by the community if you do something (because here what society thinks about you is more important).
Social Influence / Peer Pressure
- Social Influence can be defined as a change in behaviour caused by real and imagined pressure from others (in the society).
- It plays a very important role in
- Attitude formation and change.
- Removal of Prejudice
- Group Decision making
- It gets manifested through three mechanisms
|Conformity||Group influence in action|
|Compliance||Making a request|
- Involves changing one’s behaviour to match the responses of others and to fit in with those around us.
- Why person do this?
- Human beings, being inherently social, desire companionship or associations. For a successful and healthy atmosphere in the group, people try to blend in.
- They change their behaviour somewhat so that they are liked.
- To avoid social rejection and fear of being different from the group.
Case Study of #SelfieWithDaughter
The selfie campaign showcased examples of parents around the country who were celebrating the birth child. Most people wanted to conform, and more and more parents posted selfies with their girls. Started by one proud father in a village in Haryana, the campaign went viral and #SelfieWithDaughter became a worldwide hit.
- Act of changing one’s behaviour in response to a direct request from friends, neighbours, relatives etc.
- In this, people appear to agree with others in public but keep their dissenting opinions private.
- Obedience is a special type of compliance that involves changing one’s behaviour in response to a directive from an authority figure.
- One reason authorities are influential is that they are often experts, and, by following an authority’s directives, people can usually choose correctly without having to think hard about the issue themselves.
- Reasons for Obedience
- Visible Badges: Badges on the dress of General is different from Captain to remind them who is IN-CHARGE.
- Transfer / Diffusion of Responsibility: Transfer of responsibility in case you are ordered to do that work by your superior or person of authority and diffusion of responsibility when a person is working in a group.
- To show that how people indulge in acts of destructive obedience.
- Hitler was an evil dictator. But even ordinary Germans participated in atrocities against Jews. The reason for this observation was given by Milgram’s Experiment.
- Prof. Stanley Milgram of Yale University (1961) did this study and experiment.
- In this experiment, Confederate (Learner / Actor) and Subject (Teacher) were made to sit in two rooms separated by transparent glass.
- Subject (Teacher) was asked to give a shock to the Student if he did a mistake and increase the magnitude of shock with each mistake.
- Confederate (Actor) was the person implanted by the Experimenter in the experiment who deliberately committed mistakes and pretended to be hurt by the shocks and scream in pain when the button was pushed.
- 2/3rd of the participants gave shocks to a fatal level (450 volts).
- Reason: There was a doctor (Person of Authority) who kept saying “increase the voltage, the person will not die.”
Moral of the story
- Ordinary people are willing although with some reluctance to harm an innocent stranger if ordered to do so by someone in authority. They did so because of (destructive) Obedience since there was
- Visible badge (person of authority)
- Transfer of responsibility (responsibility was of a person who gave order)
- The gradual escalation of orders by an authority figure.
- This is the reason why German Officers many of whom were not even anti-Semitic killed Jews.
How to resist Destructive Obedience
- Exposure to Disobedient Morals such as Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of Civil Disobedience. A person should learn to say no to things which his/her conscience won’t allow.
- Making the target group members realize that it is them and not authorities that would be responsible for the harm produced.