Decreasing Resistance by Affirming the Self

Authors: Julia Zuwerink Jacks (Greensboro—North Carolina) & Maureen e. O’Brien (Louisiana State University at Alexandria)

Publication: Resistance and Persuasion. Ed. Eric S. Knowles & Jay A. Linn. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers

Year: 2004

Focus Area: Persuasion, Prevention

Relevance: The ability to facilitate acceptance of safe behavior and increase resistance towards dangerous behavior is an important opportunity for fraud prevention professionals.

Summary: This chapter outlines a series of studies examining the relationship between self-affirmation and susceptibility to persuasion.

  • Self-affirmed individuals are more likely to process a persuasive message in an open-minded fashion.  By reinforcing the target’s positive self-perception, the persuasive message is perceived as less threatening, making resistance less necessary.
  • The extent of a person’s susceptibility depends on the relationship between the attribute being affirmed (e.g., independence, cooperation) and the persuasive message.
  • The persuasive power of self-affirmation is only effective if the affirmation is unrelated to the persuasive message, or if the self-affirmation is compatible with the message (e.g., “you are so supportive” and “would you mind driving me to the bank?”).
  • If the self-affirmation is incompatible (e.g. reinforcing a person’s sensible caution and then asking the person to behave recklessly) then resistance increases.

Bolstering potential fraud victims’ perceptions of their own careful deliberation and sensible caution may increase resistance to a fraudster’s ploy of the quick sale, regardless of the specific fraud type.

Author Abstract: “You’re the coolest person I’ve ever met,” she said to Heather. They were drinking sweet tea on the patio and staring into the fishpond, both tired from a long day of classes. Heather wasn’t sure where her friend was going with this, but of course she didn’t mind the flattery. “I mean, of all the friends I’ve met in college you’ve got to be the nicest,” continued Jen. “You’re warm, caring, honest. Like, who else would have run after that man to give him the $20 he dropped? I would have kept it. I mean, like he wasn’t even good looking! What else have you done like that? It’s so . . . it’s so honest!”

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Consumer Psychology and Attitude Change

Authors: Curtis P. Haugtvedt, Richard J. Shakarchi, Kaiya Lui (The Ohio State University) & Bendik M. Samuelsen (Norwegian School of Management)

Publication: Resistance and Persuasion. Ed. Eric S. Knowles & Jay A. Linn. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers

Year: 2004

Focus Area: Prevention, Consumer Behavior

Relevance: Understanding how best to change consumers’ perspectives on the risk of fraud and their own vulnerability is a significant challenge to fraud prevention.

Summary: The studies outlined in this chapter focus on the role of ‘elaboration’ (thinking about, considering, mentally expanding upon a message) as it influences persuasion and attitude change.  The goal is to facilitate attitudes that are resistant to future changes.

  • A statement that might inspire a negative reaction (e.g. “You have no choice!”) may also draw more attention and may thus be remembered by the consumer.  If the argument is invalid, then resistance will occur, but if the argument is strong, it is possible that reactance might be overcome by the increased attention and focus.
  • Priming certain kinds of information (e.g., a safe investment warning with a story about a fraud) may lead people to consider the message in greater depth, increasing the likelihood of persuasion.
  • Asking individuals to consider their own prior experience in a related situation or with a related product may similarly increase their mental elaboration on the topic.
  • Asking individuals to imagine the benefits of a given option (e.g., hanging up on a solicitor) before suggesting it outright may make that option more appealing.  They may be more likely to be persuaded, as the arguments have come from a trustworthy and appealing source — themselves.

Author Abstract: The extent to which and the processes by which individuals are influenced by print, radio, television, interpersonal conversations, and Web sites (as well as future integrated technologies) is a fascinating area of study. As the various chapters in this book illustrate, as social psychologists make progress in understanding the nature of resistance to attitude change, new and very interesting questions about persuasion processes in general are raised. While many factors may be associated with strong attitudes, the extent to which individuals elaborate on the content of an initial persuasive appeal has been shown to be an important moderator of the extent to which and the processes by which they might resist subsequent opposing persuasive messages (see Petty, Haugtvedt, & Smith, 1995).

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Social Influence: Compliance and Comformity

Authors: Robert B. Cialdini & Noah J. Goldstein, Arizona State University

Publication: Annual Review of Psychology

Year: 2004

Focus Area: Persuasion, Decision Making

Relevance: Understanding what makes an individual more likely to comply with a request may help explain how fraud is achieved.

Summary: This article offers a review of the recent literature in compliance and conformity, a branch of persuasion research.  The themes of compliance and conformity are outlined around three central motivations that, together, help determine whether a person accepts or resists an outside persuasion influence:

  • Accuracy: the desire to achieve one’s goals effectively requires an accurate perception of reality – one misperception may be “the difference between getting a bargain and being duped” (p. 592).  An influence that appears reasonable and informs one’s thinking in a valuable way is more likely to be accepted, a tendency that can be influenced by distraction, authority appeals, and reframing.
  • Affiliation: the desire to be part of a meaningful social group.  A request emanating from a favored person or group, or that draws upon favored group identification, is more likely to be granted.  This tendency can be manipulated using flattery, reciprocation, and similarity appeals.
  • Maintenance of a positive self-conception: the desire to preserve a positive image of oneself.  A request framed to contribute to a person’s self-image is more likely to be granted.  This desire can be manipulated through appeals to consistency, public commitment, and follow-up techniques.

Author Abstract: This review covers recent developments in the social influence literature, focusing primarily on compliance and conformity research published between 1997 and 2002. The principles and processes underlying a target’s susceptibility to outside influences are considered in light of three goals fundamental to rewarding human functioning. Specifically, targets are motivated to form accurate perceptions of reality and react accordingly, to develop and preserve meaningful social relationships, and to maintain a favorable self-concept. Consistent with the current movement in compliance and conformity research, this review emphasizes the ways in which these goals interact with external forces to engender social influence processes that are subtle, indirect, and outside of awareness.

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Deception: From Ancient Empires to Internet Dating

Authors: Brooke Harrington, Ed., & Guido Möllering (Max Planck Institute), Paul Thompson & Hany Farid (Dartmouth College), Jeffrey T. Hancock (Cornell University), Tom Lutz (University of California, Riverside), Maureen O’Sullivan (University of San Francisco), Carl T. Bergstrom (University of Washington), Gary Urton, Frederick Schauer & Richard Zeckhauser (Harvard University), Mark G. Frank (State University of New York),  Gary Alan Fine (Northwestern University), Ford Rowan (George Washington University), William Glenney IV (Naval Operations’ Strategic Studies Group), & Kenneth Fields (Stanford University)

Publication: Stanford University Press
Year: 2009
Focus Area: Deception

Relevance: By synthesizing the fragmented world of deception research across the humanities and sciences, this text serves as a “status report on deception” (p. 2).

Summary: The interwoven contributions to this work are organized around four themes of deception:

  1. defining & detecting deception
  2. technology & deception
  3. the relationship between deception & trust
  4. social institutions through which deception is perpetrated & regulated

Each theme is addressed from three or four different perspectives, all of which account for and refer to the other works.  This creates a cohesive and broad view of the state of deception research, while allowing for the varying definitions, foci, and opinions within the field.  Of particular relevance to financial fraud are the sections on:

  • cognitive hacking (Paul Thompson, Dartmouth College)
  • digital deception (Jeffrey T. Hancock, Cornell University)
  • digital doctoring (Hany Farid, Dartmouth College)
  • method acting in daily life (Tom Lutz, University of California, Riverside)
  • fraud in financial markets (Brooke Harrington, Max Planck Institute)
  • why most people are poor lie detectors (Maureen O’Sullivan, University of San Francisco)

Opening Paragraph: Deception and especially lying are typically ascribed to human beings and often distinguished from other forms of conveying incorrect or misleading information by intentionality.  If a person is merely ignorant of the truth, then telling something other than the truth would not usually be considered lying, except that pretending to know the truth is itself a kind of deception.  (Different ideas about intentionality are presented elsewhere in this volume, along with proposals to distinguish lying from deception.) –excerpted from Foreword by Murray Gell-Mann, Santa Fe Institute (Nobel Prize in physics, 1969)

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Responding to Deception: The Case of Fraud in Financial Markets

Author: Brooke Harrington (Max Planck Institute)

Publication: (Book) Deception: From Ancient Empires to Internet Dating

Year: 2009

Focus Areas: Re-engaging with fraud, Victim behavior

Relevance: Fraud is a crime in which victims can be made to feel responsible for their victimization.  This text challenges the belief that this is just a response of “dupes,” by exploring the example of  consumers’  reactions to learning of wide-spread fraud in financial markets.

Summary: Understanding what leads victims of fraud to deny their own victimization is essential, as it is not uncommon, even among those who are informed, intelligent, and perceptive.  Previous scholarly work maintained that reactions to evidence of betrayal must be either withdrawal (removing oneself from exposure) or inaction (therapy, “cooling”, or other identity-maintenance).

This chapter (and the research it describes), uses the example of investors’ reactions to the massive frauds unveiled in the early years of the 21st century to explain how we can – and do – re-engage in the very process that has conned us, and often refuse to believe that we have been conned – either by expressing a belief in the “larger structure” or by assuming responsibility for our own victimization (“I should have known.”).

This behavior contrasts with the once popular notion, as expressed by Alan Greenspan, that, “Trust is at the root of any economic system based on mutually beneficial exchange.  In virtually all transactions, we rely on the word of those with whom we do business… If a significant number of business people violated the trust upon which our interactions are based, our court system and our economy would be swamped into immobility.”

The justification for this ongoing participation can take any number of forms, including necessity, self-delusion, or simply a weary acceptance that the pervasiveness of deception is such that, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

Even while everyday investors profess distrust, they continue to invest, to participate, to spend.  This research forms a foundation for a different theoretical and practical conception of consumer fraud and victimization.

First Paragraph: The economic history of the 21st century reads like a litany of Biblical plagues: instead of locusts, frogs, and boils, we have Enron, WorldCom, and Tyco, followed by the options-backdating scandal and now the subprime mortgage meltdown.  It is perhaps even more disheartening to realize that American investors are still in much the same position as Emerson was over 150 years ago: dismayed to find themselves on the receiving end of deceptive corporate practices.  BusinessWeek summed up this crisis in financial markets with the headline: “Can You Trust Anybody Anymore?”

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Predictably Irrational

Authors: Dan Ariely (Duke University)

Publication: (Book) HarperCollins Publishers

Year: 2009

Focus Area: Decision Making, Consumer Behavior

Relevance: Effective financial fraud prevention depends on an accurate understanding of the repetitive, predictable, and often irrational financial mistakes in consumer decision making.

Summary: This book outlines systematic, irrational tendencies of consumers and highlights ways in which we might account for, and protect against, these unconscious vulnerabilities.  Weaknesses include:

  1. Relative value— Comparative mechanisms such as anchoring price can dramatically change “market value”.
  2. Scarcity— We value something more because of its perceived rarity.
  3. Zero’s cost— There is a marked cost to getting something “free”, and why its psychological effects are so strong.
  4. Social vs. Market relationships— These two are starkly divided, mentally, and can be used for better business and civic relationships.
  5. Emotions— We not only make entirely different decisions when influenced by emotions, but are incapable of predicting these changes when not under their influence.
  6. Procrastination—The immediate value of gratification supersedes the delayed potential value of acts such as financial saving, regardless of pre-determined plans.
  7. Ownership—We overvalue what we have.
  8. Irresistible options—The desire to maintain “options” overwhelms basic priorities.
  9. Confirmation bias—We tend to perceive whatever we expect to perceive.
  10. Price as Placebo—Not only do we correlate increased cost with increased value, but the increase in perceived value can have an impact on actual value (e.g., 50-cent aspirin can provide greater pain relief than 5-cent aspirin).

On the positive side, these inefficiencies suggest that significant advances can be made by accounting for these mental weaknesses.  For example, making the option to “opt out of” instead of “opt into” organ donor programs drastically increases participation.  Similarly, one might take advantage of a person’s procrastination tendency by asking for a savings commitment tied to a future promotion.  (Both of these options have been implemented to great success.)  Behavioral economics, then, may provide to the fraud prevention world with, ironically, a free lunch: improved consumer behavior at limited or no extra cost.

First Paragraph: I have been told by many people that I have an unusual way of looking at the world.  Over the last 20 years or so of my research career, it’s enabled me to have a lot of fun figuring out what really influences our decisions in daily life (as opposed to what we think, often with great confidence, influences them).

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The Tyranny of Choice

Author: Barry Schwartz

Publication: Scientific American

Year: 2004

Focus Area: Consumer Behavior, Decision Making

Relevance: When developing protective strategies for those vulnerable to financial fraud, limiting options may increase participation in, and satisfaction with, a given program (such as protected accounts or savings plans).

Summary: We presume that more choices allows us to get exactly what we want, making us happier.  While there is no doubt that some choice is better than none, more may quickly become too much.  Drawbacks include:

  • Regret:  More options means constantly considering the option we didn’t choose –decreasing satisfaction overall.
    • Instead, learn to accept “good enough” and stop thinking about it.
  • Adaptation: By becoming accustomed to whatever we’ve chosen, the availability to more options decreases our satisfaction with our choice.
    • Instead, limit thinking about options foregone, and focus on the positive of the option chosen.
  • Unattainable expectations: With increased options, our expectation escalates until we constantly expect to get precisely what we want.  Thus anything less than perfect is disappointing, and we blame ourselves (as the decision makers) for our unhappiness.
    • Instead, control expectations to a certain standard of requirements, and keep them reasonable.
  • Paralysis: Too many options can decrease the likelihood of making any decision at all.
    • Instead, limit options when decisions aren’t crucial.

Largely an issue for modern, affluent Western societies, the paradox of too much choice strains consumers’ capacity for decision making.  Making financial security decisions simple, easy, and justifiable may facilitate increased and happier participation.

Author Abstract: Americans today choose among more options in more parts of life than has ever been possible before. To an extent, the opportunity to choose enhances our lives. It is only logical to think that if some choice is good, more is better; people who care about having infinite options will benefit from them, and those who do not can always just ignore the 273 versions of cereal they have never tried. Yet recent research strongly suggests that, psychologically, this assumption is wrong. Although some choice is undoubtedly better than none, more is not always better than less.

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Resistance and Persuasion

Editors: Eric S. Knowles (University of Arkansas) & Jay A. Linn (Widener University)

Publication: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers

Year: 2004

Focus Area: Persuasion, Prevention

Relevance: Understanding the properties of resistance puts one in a much stronger position to change another’s level of resistance – either to diminish or bolster it.

Summary: “This book explores persuasion by considering its antithesis: resistance” (p. 3).  This edited collection defines, dissects, understands, and explains the role of resistance as one half of a persuasive interaction.  Resistance can be expressed variously as: reactance, distrust, scrutiny, and inertia.

The book distinguishes “Alpha” from “Omega” strategies of persuasion – increasing the appeal of a change vs. reducing resistance towards a change – and identifies 7 strategies for managing resistance:

  1. pushing a decision into the future
  2. using narratives/stories to sidestep resistance
  3. warning a target of upcoming persuasion
  4. emphasizing positive thoughts about the message
  5. reinforcing the target’s self-esteem or self-image
  6. training people to identify illegitimate messages
  7. using resistance against itself

Identifying the processes that lead to a certain person’s perspective can indicate which methods would be most effective to overcome or reinforce that viewpoint.  The final chapter also provides a useful integration of information and points towards further areas of research.

Author Abstract: Do we need to convince you that persuasion is an important topic for the social sciences? Probably not. You know that humans are social beings. Our communication, psychology, social organization, political structures, market choices—in short, everything we do—is interpersonally coordinated. Persuasion is one of the important tools to achieve these alliances.

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Prospection: Experiencing the Future

Authors: Daniel T. Gilbert (Harvard University) & Timothy Wilson (University of Virginia)

Publication: Science

Year: 2007

Focus Area:

Relevance: If falling for a scam is partly the result of a victim incorrectly forecasting what will make them happy, then learning how to more accurately predict future feelings may help protect them.

Summary: Our notion of how we will feel in the future is based on simulation, or “prefeeling” – a combination of simulating an event, reacting to it internally, and then predicting that whatever we feel now is what we will feel when the event occurs.  Predictions can be flawed if the simulation is:

  1. Unrepresentative – by remembering the unusual instances the best, when we are called upon to envision something about the future, we think of the most memorable (and unlikely) situations in the past.  Our predictions become less accurate.
  2. Essentialized – by imagining the best or worst features of a future event, we fail to account for the many small things that will lessen the strength of whatever feelings we experience.  Bad events are not as bad and good events are not as good as we generally predict.
  3. Abbreviated – by simulating only key elements of a future occurrence, we tend to focus on the immediate repercussions of an event, and fail to anticipate how we will adapt to a given circumstance with time.

People also mispredict their future feelings when a simulation is decontextualized.  When the context in which the scenario is envisioned (and experienced cognitively) is different than when the scenario occurs (and is experienced actually), the feelings experienced are different.  Given that the context will likely change over a given span of time, predictions are frequently inaccurate.

Author Abstract: All animals can predict the hedonic consequences of events they’ve experienced before. But humans can predict the hedonic consequences of events they’ve never experienced by simulating those events in their minds. Scientists are beginning to understand how the brain simulates future events, how it uses those simulations to predict an event’s hedonic consequences, and why these predictions so often go awry.

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Creating Critical Consumers: Motivating Receptivity by Teaching Resistance

Authors: Brad J. Sagarin (Norther Illinois University), Robert B. Cialdini (Arizona State University)

Publication: Resistance and Persuasion. Ed. Eric S. Knowles & Jay A. Linn. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers

Year: 2004

Focus Area: Prevention, Persuasion, Resistance, Consumer Behavior, Decision Making

Relevance: Effective fraud prevention depends in part upon reducing the public’s susceptibility to the tactics of fraudsters, while facilitating their preference for legitimate information sources.

Summary: This chapter outlines a series of experiments seeking to improve consumers’ decision making by teaching them to reject illegitimate and prefer legitimate persuasion methods.  In order to accomplish this, they discovered that individuals must:

  1. Appreciate their own vulnerability: Many people do not believe that they personally are vulnerable, and so do not internalize warnings or feel motivated to learn.  This awareness can be achieved by exposing them to controlled examples of their own susceptibility.
  2. Know how to identify legitimate vs. illegitimate messages: A basic distinction can be identified, such as the validity of an authority endorsing a product (e.g., the Surgeon General vs. an actor who plays a doctor on television when discussing a medical product).  This provides a substitute “rule-of-thumb” to use in decision making instead of simply “someone who looks like an authority.”

Not only are subjects exposed to this progression of training more likely to resist persuasive messages from illegitimate sources, but they show a clear preference for messages endorsed by legitimate authorities.

Teaching individuals to accept legitimate persuasion may in fact be easier than teaching them to resist illegitimate messages.  Given limited mental processing capacity, easy rules that guide acceptance are more likely to be used than the draining task of careful resistance.

Author Abstract: Consumers have a paradoxical relationship with advertising. To our great personal detriment, we routinely resist health-related warnings from legitimate authorities such as the Surgeon General. At the same time, we readily accept advice from illegitimate authorities, even those who begin their appeal by admitting that “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” This chapter describes three studies designed to tackle the latter problem—maladaptive gullibility. However, it turns out that that the former problem—misplaced skepticism— proved far easier to solve.

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