The Psychology of Influence
eBook - ePub

The Psychology of Influence

Theory, research and practice

Joop Pligt, Michael Vliek

  1. 250 Seiten
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

The Psychology of Influence

Theory, research and practice

Joop Pligt, Michael Vliek

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Über dieses Buch

Whether it's our choice of a new car or what we think about our neighbours, our opinions and attitudes are a way of negotiating the world around us. The Psychology of Influence explores how these preferences and behaviours are influenced and affected by the messages we receive in daily life. From consumer choices to political, lifestyle and financial decisions, the book examines how and why we may be influenced by a range of sources, from written text and television to social media and interpersonal communication.

In a field that has fascinated scholars since Plato, the book addresses the key questions across cognitive, social and emotional domains:

  • When do arguments become persuasive?
  • What influence do role models have?
  • What role do simple rules of thumb, social norms or emotions play?
  • Which behaviours are difficult to influence, and why?

Covering topics from attraction, prejudice and discrimination to reward, punishment and unconscious bias, The Psychology of Influence will be invaluable reading for students and researchers across a range of areas within applied and social psychology, as well as those in political science, communications, marketing and business and management.

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Definition, history and a model
In this chapter we briefly describe the roots of modern research into influence and provide a concise summary of the rest of the book. We introduce a model incorporating the most important factors involved in shaping attitudes and behaviour.


In any society, people influence and are influenced by others on a day-to-day basis. From birth, parents exert a huge influence over their children’s preferences, opinions and behaviours. As we grow and develop, our peers and friends gradually come to exert a greater influence, teaching us what is appropriate within the group and what is not. Schools and universities influence us through the knowledge they impart and the expectations they impose. Neighbours and colleagues often try to influence us too, attempting to persuade us that their views are right. But probably the most pervasive and recognisable form of influence comes from people we do not even know, in the form of public information and advertising.
To advertise is to ‘call attention to’, or ‘to notify or warn’ people of something, often by means of an announcement in a public medium (Oxford English Dictionary, 2016). Advertising stems from the Latin ad vertere which means ‘to turn towards/to change’. And of course, this is exactly what influence agents like salespeople, marketers, advertisers, public relations officers, communications officers and ‘spin-doctors’ try to achieve: they all seek to influence us, in the hope of encouraging a specific type of behaviour – from buying a particular product or service to changing our lifestyle habits, voting for a particular political party or supporting a specific cause.
All of these agents deploy information in their efforts to influence people’s thoughts and behaviour. That information can take many forms – either verbal or non-verbal communication, images or sounds, or a combination of different forms of communication. Even aromas and flavours are used to influence people (e.g., baking smells in supermarkets). With the significant increase in the amount of televisual broadcasting, free newspapers and the internet, the range of media through which information might be disseminated has expanded considerably in recent years. As a result, the total amount spent on advertising per year has increased 59.5 per cent since 2003, totalling a staggering $513 billion in 2013. As you can see in Table 1.1, the importance of the internet as a medium has risen significantly. Nonetheless, television broadcasting is still the single most important advertising medium worldwide.
What kind of information is disseminated? According to a recent report of the international market research firm Nielsen (2013), the categories most advertised in 2013 were automotive products (9.2 per cent), media and publishing (9.1 per cent), healthcare (7.4 per cent), entertainment (7.4 per cent), cosmetics and toiletries (7.1 per cent) and food (7.0 per cent).
Table 1.1 Total global advertising expenditure by medium in millions ($)
Table 1.1 Total global advertising expenditure by medium in millions ($)
Box 1.1: Merging Interests
Recently, two of the largest advertising agencies announced their intention to merge. They were the French group Publicis (annual turnover €6.64 billion) and US-based Omnicom (€11.9 billion). The new Publicis Omnicom Group would have become the largest business of its kind on the planet and would have overtaken the established market leader, the British firm WPP (annual turnover €12.8 billion).
Publicis was founded by Marcel Bleustein, who started the company in 1926, in a tiny apartment above a Paris butcher’s shop. One of the early slogans he came up with, for a furniture manufacturer, was ‘Un meuble signĂ© LĂ©vitan est garanti pour longtemps’ (‘A piece of furniture signed LĂ©vitan is guaranteed for a long time’). But his most famous one, created in 1968 for the very first commercial shown on French television and still in international use today, was for the soft cheese Boursin: ‘Du pain, du vin, du Boursin’. Well-known Omnicom slogans include ‘I’m lovin’ it’ (McDonald’s) and ‘Think different’ (Apple). Some of the two companies’ clients are direct and fierce competitors; Publicis represents Coca-Cola and Samsung, for example, whilst Omnicom works with Pepsi and Apple. Representing such fierce competitors would have been a serious challenge. However, in May 2014, the merger was called off, partly because some of the challenges associated with it seemed insurmountable.
Due to the cost of exerting influence and the scale of the interests often associated with it (see for example Box 1.1.), it is important to understand how influence comes about, what strategies and techniques are most effective and why that is. That is why more and more effort is directed towards understanding and evaluating the impact of advertising and publicity campaigns. For example, large international market research firms regularly publish reports on the effectiveness of advertising in different media. Advertising and publicity have also become favourite topics for researchers approaching them from a psychological, marketing or communications perspective (see Box 1.2). Their areas of interest range from consumer behaviour to health and lifestyle changes, and from voting behaviour to mobility issues and road use, making research into influence a multidisciplinary approach. One example of this multidisciplinary approach is the World Advertising Research Centre ( WARC is an independent organisation that works together with universities, trade associations, advertising agencies and market research firms. It offers a database with hundreds of case studies, over 15,000 articles, and advertising expenditure data from 88 global markets. WARC also publishes scientific journals such as the Journal of Advertising Research and the International Journal of Market Research.
The amount spent on advertising and publicity campaigns suggests that we face a huge number of influence attempts. In fact, there are so many attempts that we fail to even notice much of the information the parties behind the campaigns are seeking to convey. This was revealed recently in a fascinating analysis by Owen Gibson (2005), a reporter with The Guardian. He attached a miniature camera to his glasses to record a journey through London by public transport. Reviewing the pictures, it was found that he had seen 130 advertisements for more than 50 different products in a 45-minute period. In all, 29 minutes were spent looking at ads on trains, in buses, on billboards and at stations. Asked what they were for, however, Gibson was unable to recall a single one! And when shown them again, he recognised only half – most for products he was interested in and had therefore looked at for longer than ten seconds.
Gibson later repeated the experiment, but this time filming for 90 minutes. His total exposure now amounted to 250 advertisements for more than 100 different products. Of these, he was able to recall just one spontaneously: a poster on a bus announcing the latest Harry Potter film. Based upon these experiences, Gibson estimated that the average London commuter sees around 3500 advertisements a day. Others have come up with quite different figures, though (see Box 1.3).
Box 1.2: Leading Scientific Journals
The interest in influence and persuasion is evident from the wealth of (scientific) literature appearing on the subject. Scientific journals covering the subject include those with a focus on linguistics (such as Thinking and Reasoning, Argumentation and Advocacy and the Journal of Pragmatics) and psychology (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Social Influence, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology), as well as numerous titles that explore it as a means of changing attitudes and behaviour, like the Journal of Consumer Research, Public Opinion Quarterly, Communications, Communication Research, Health Education and Practice, Health Communication, Health Psychology, the Journal of Advertising Research, Psychology and Marketing and the Journal of Marketing.
Box 1.3: How Many Advertising Messages Do We See Per Day?
Although the estimates vary, there is no doubt that we are confronted by a considerable number of advertising messages each day. Of course, we do not take all these in consciously. And how many we see also depends upon where we are: London certainly has a far higher advertising density than most rural villages. So what is a reasonable average?
According to Saul Landau, in The Business of America: How Consumers Have Replaced Citizens and How We Can Reverse the Trend (2004), a US consumer is exposed to 3600 commercial messages a day. In Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut (1997, p.30), David Shenk writes, ‘In 1971 the average American was targeted by at least 560 daily advertising messages. Twenty years later, that number has risen six fold, to 3000 messages per day.’ The figure of 560 comes from the book Future Shock by Alvin Toffler (1970), that of 3000 from the article ‘What happened to advertising?’ by Mark Landler, published in the magazine Business Week in 1991. Finally, the television network CBS has quoted Jay Walker Smith of marketing firm Yankelovich as putting the current daily total in the US at 5000.
In short, numbers between 3000 and 5000 are mentioned on a regular basis; however, as far as we can tell, there is no scientific basis for them. And a quick calculation reveals that a person would have to watch, see or hear ten-second advertisements non-stop for ten hours a day to arrive at a total of 3600. Unsurprisingly, therefore, other researchers have described the figures as unrealistic. One of the lowest estimates is provided by Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point (2000): the average person in the US sees up to 254 commercial messages a day. This estimate is partly based on data from the research firm Media Dynamics Inc., which has been investigating exposure to advertising for the past 30 years. Media Dynamics’ calculation begins with an estimate of the number of hours the average person watches television – about four a day, with the viewer seeing 32 to 34 commercial messages an hour. The same is then done for other media. In this way Media Dynamics arrived at a total of 310 potential exposures per day in 2012: 127 on television, 29 via radio, 106 in newspapers and 48 on the internet. Taking into account avoidance behaviour, the figure is reduced to 136. This is certainly too low, though. After all, most commercial messages reach us not through the media but in the course of everyday activities: we see them on packaging, on products, on buildings, on the street, in shops and so on. Therefore, Gladwell’s estimate seems reasonable, and perhaps even slightly on the conservative side. Although significantly less than 3600, it is still a considerable amount.
With so much information being directed at us and so many attempts being made to influence us, does any of it have any effect? At the levels described, there is no way we can even notice all of it, never mind absorb it, and so it looks highly unlikely that every effort to shape our opinions, preferences and behaviour will be effective. Even many professionals in the world of advertising and marketing are extremely sceptical about the influence they have (Nyilasy & Reid, 2009). And yet, as Gibson’s experiment shows, while we might not recall many of the messages we see, we do often recognise them. This suggests that the information is indeed internalised, perhaps in ways many times subtler than we might suspect at first sight. Those subtle, influence-exerting processes are one of the main topics of this book.
Academic interest in influence is nothing new. Seven decades ago, it was the events of the Second World War which really kick-started research into the subject. We therefore begin with a brief review of the history of that work before introducing the subject matter to be covered in the rest of this book.

A brief history of influence research

The ancient Greeks paid a lot of attention to eloquence and the art of persuasion. The sophists travelled from town to town to give lessons in rhetoric, paving the way for subsequent developments in dialectics and logic. Later sophists were more interested in material success, to such an extent that in some circles they gained a reputation as populists, braggarts and casuists, capable of arguing that white is black. The philosopher Plato regarded them as nothing more than smooth talkers, uninterested in the truth. For a fee, they would teach you how best to win people over to any point of view. Well-founded arguments were one way of doing that, but holding out false promises and other such tricks were also quite permissible. For Plato, that was going too far. In our day and age the sophists would be perfectly happy to help political parties, salespeople and advertisers. Plato certainly would not: he was interested in concepts such as truth and fairness, and in a form of justice which did not rely on trickery, manipulation or casuistry.
Aristotle, Plato’s most famous pupil, approached the process of persuasion from a scholarly perspective and so is generally regarded as the founder of argumentation studies, the academic...


  1. Cover
  2. Title
  3. Copyright
  4. Dedication
  6. List of figures
  7. List of tables
  8. List of boxes
  9. Preface
  10. 1 Influence: definition, history and a model
  11. 2 Attitudes and behaviour
  12. 3 Persuasion through argumentation
  13. 4 Cognitive heuristics
  14. 5 Social heuristics
  15. 6 Emotions and influence
  16. 7 Punishment and reward
  17. 8 Automatic influences on attitudes and behaviour
  18. 9 Social norms and social comparison
  19. 10 Modification of complex behaviour: from intentions to action
  20. 11 Back to the future
  21. Glossary
  22. Index