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.

Full Text

Looking Ahead as a Technique to Reduce Resistance

Authors: Steven J. Sherman (Indiana University—Bloomington), Matthew T. Crawford (University of Bristol, England), & Allen R. McConnell (Miami University, Oxford, Ohio)

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

Year: 2004

Focus Area: Persuasion, Prevention, Resistance

Relevance: Successful fraud prevention depends on understanding both how victims are persuaded, and how to persuade victims to resist future ploys.  Manipulating a person’s perception of the future may be used to either increase or decrease a potential victim’s vulnerability.

Summary: Fear of regret is a primary source of motivation when a person thinks about the future.  One can use a person’s tendency to think about the future and fear regret as a persuasion method in a number of ways, including:

  • What if I’m wrong?: People are more likely to follow the advice of someone else when they think about the consequences of making a wrong decision.  This fear of regret reduces trust in their own judgment.
  • Scarcity: Scarcity increases the fear of missing out on something valuable, increasing motivation and persuasion.
  • Hypothetically-speaking:  Rather than requesting something directly (“Will you do x?”), it is more effective to first ask if the target would be willing to comply if the request was made (“Would you do x?”).  People are more likely to agree to a hypothetical, and will later tend to act in accordance with their earlier statement.
    • E.g. Simply asking subjects to volunteer for a charity received 2% compliance.  Asking if they would comply if asked yielded 40% compliance.  When the subjects were phoned weeks later and asked if they would volunteer, 38% complied – a 36% increase.
  • Easy futures: Given that people tend to underestimate the difficulty of carrying out a request when the event is far in the future, people are more likely to agree to requests of all types if they do not require immediate action.

In order to encourage compliance for a long-term request, it is better to focus on abstract motivators, such as desirability (positive) or moral repercussions (negative).  When seeking short-term compliance, concrete or “low-level” factors are more convincing, such as ease (positive) or high cost (negative).

Author Abstract: Social influence always involves resistance on the part of the target of influence. Regardless of the pressures toward acceptance of the influence, there is always a countervailing force in the form of resistance that reduces the likelihood of persuasion being effective. Successful influence, then, will be achieved only when the forces toward acceptance are greater than the forces stemming from resistance. As Knowles and Linn (this volume) so aptly point out, bringing about a situation where the forces toward acceptance are greater than the forces toward resistance can be achieved either by increasing the positive forces for persuasion or by decreasing the resistance that prevents persuasion.

Full Article

Rethinking Trust

Authors: Roderick Kramer (Stanford University)

Publication: Harvard Business Review

Year: 2009

Focus Area: Decision Making, Emotion, Prevention Techniques, Consumer Behavior

Relevance: Fraudsters prey on humans’ natural inclination to trust in others.  Establishing guidelines for safe establishment of trust — rather than operating by easily-faked rules such as friendliness, class, or social standing — may help guard against predatory ploys.

Summary: While trust is necessary and useful, our process of giving and receiving trust is often superficial and flawed.  This article outlines recent research on the subject and summarizes findings into practical guidelines.  These principles (below) include insights for both individuals and organizations.

  1. Know yourself: Establishing oneself as either generally trusting or distrusting can help one guard against the weaknesses of each tendency.
  2. Start small: Incremental steps in establishing trust are more reliable and long-lasting than simply placing trust wholly with a new individual or company.
  3. Write an escape clause: Hedging the risk of trust with a back-up plan both guards against mistakes in judgment and allows people to trust more fully.
  4. Send strong signals: Strong, quick and proportional retaliation to violations of trust is as vital for the protection against predatory individuals as open sharing is to the establishment of trusting relationships.
  5. Recognize the other person’s dilemma: To foster trust, understanding other people’s need for reinforcement is important for establishing a mutually solid, trusting relationship.
  6. Look at roles as well as people: It is easier for someone to trust a person in a position that inherently evokes trust — such as an engineer or investment advisor.  This tendency can be misleading, causing one to see the role and forget the people.
  7. Remain vigilant and always question: By continuing to evaluate the relationships in which we place trust, we are more likely to perceive changes (such as a shift in an investment advisor’s reporting) that indicate a breach of trust.

Author Abstract: For the past two decades, trust has been touted as the all-powerful lubricant that keeps the economic wheels turning and greases the right connections—all to our collective benefit. Popular business books proclaim the power and virtue of trust. Academics have enthusiastically piled up study after study showing the varied benefits of trust, especially when it is based on a clear track record, credible expertise, and prominence in the right networks.

Full Article

Narrative Persuasion and Overcoming Resistance

Authors: Sonya Dal Cin, Mark P. Zanna, & Geoffrey T. Fong (University of Waterloo)

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

Year: 2004

Focus Area: Persuasion, Resistance, Prevention

Relevance: Fraud prevention efforts struggle to convince potential victims of their own vulnerability, of the prevalence of fraud, and of the magnetic appeal of many fraudsters.  These messages might be more effectively received if they were presented in a narrative, or story format.

Summary: Narratives are particularly effective for overcoming strong resistance for a number of reasons, including:

  1. People don’t expect to be influenced by a tale, and so don’t summon the same degree of resistance.
  2. Given that narratives inspire careful attention, targeted messages are attended to that might otherwise be ignored.  People generally avoid information that is incongruous with their existing attitudes (e.g., Sweeney & Gruber, 1984), but narratives convey a message “under the radar.”
  3. Arguing against the “real” experience of someone in a story is more difficult than arguing against a hypothetical situation.  While fictional stories may not be true, if they appear plausible then they may still carry the same persuasive impact.
  4. Beliefs can be presented implicitly in a story, as opposed to being stated explicitly in an argument.  With no specific arguments to resist, the beliefs are more difficult to oppose.
  5. When people are cognitively and emotionally invested in a story, they are left with less ability (mental resources) or motivation to resist the targeted message.
  6. As people are more inclined to accept information from someone they like and feel kinship with, stories can present messages from likable characters with whom people can relate. (For example, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) negotiated with television networks to include anti-drug story lines in popular series (Forbes, 2000).  The opportunities for message placement are substantial.

Author Abstract: Narratives are ubiquitous. Consider the vast numbers of people who are consuming stories at any given time. Casual observation of rush-hour passengers on the subway in Toronto (and we imagine those in Chicago, New York, and Paris) reveals a large number of commuters reading newspapers, magazines, and novels. At the same time, commuters driving the city’s major highways are listening to the radio—hearing stories about what is happening in the world. Children in day care and at school spend part of the day reading (or being read) stories, selected as age-appropriate and noncontroversial in their content, lest impressionable youth be led astray. Meanwhile, adults at home avidly tune in to soap operas. After school and after work, millions of people around the world switch on the television, expecting to be entertained by dramas, comedies, and “reality” television.

Full Chapter

Investor Fraud Study: Final Report

Authors: The Consumer Fraud Research Group, for NASD Investor Education Foundation

Year: 2006

Focus Area: Persuasion, Profile

Relevance: Successfully preventing fraud depends on both understanding the techniques of fraudsters and identifying who is vulnerable to which types of fraud.

Summary: This study examines the characteristics of different types of victims and fraudsters’ tactics by  reviewing transcripts of fraud pitches and conducting interviews and phone surveys of lottery and investment fraud victims (165) and non-victims (150).

Fraud tactics:

  • source credibility (claiming to be from a legitimate business),
  • phantom fixation (tantalizing with wealth and riches), and
  • social consensus (claiming others are already investing successfully), along with many other methods from fear to friendship, tailored to any given audience.

Victim profiles:

  • Investment fraud victims were more often married men with higher educations and incomes, and with greater financial literacy than non-victims.
  • Lottery fraud victims were more often widowed women over 75, living alone and with strong religious feeling.  They were also more likely to feel that they “have not gotten what they deserve out of life” and “should live for the moment.”
  • Both investment and lottery victims were more likely to have experienced more difficulties and negative life events, relied on their own judgment rather than a professional’s opinion, were more open to sales pitches, and demonstrated “low persuasion literacy.”

Author Abstract: A multifaceted inquiry of consumer fraud analyzed undercover tapes of fraud pitches and surveyed victims and non-victims to determine how they differ. Tape analysis revealed con criminals customize their pitch to match the psychological profile of the victim and use a complex combination of influence tactics within each pitch to persuade. Investment fraud victims demonstrated a better understanding of basic financial literacy than non-victims. Both investment and lottery victims were more likely to have experienced a negative life event unrelated to their fraud experience. Both victim types were more likely to listen to sales pitches from unknown sales persons. Investment and lottery fraud victims both dramatically under-report fraud. It is recommended that 1) Financial literacy and fraud prevention efforts be broadened to incorporate greater emphasis on spotting and resisting con criminals’ persuasive tactics; 2) Encourage more reporting of illegal activity to law enforcement and 3) Conduct more research to develop a vulnerability index and test the effects of persuasion education as a deterrent to fraud.

Full Article

Positive Psychology: Fundamental Assumptions

Authors: M.E.P. Seligman

Publication: The Psychologist

Year: 2003

Focus Area: Emotion, Motivation, Decision Making

Relevance: Positive psychology provides a different perspective on motivation, emotion, and ultimately decision making, and in so doing contributes to a balanced understanding of consumer behavior.

Summary: This article frames the field of positive psychology, outlining important terms and concepts and emphasizing the need for greater focus on “the parts of life that make life worth living.” (p. 127)

  • The author distinguishes between the pleasant life (pursuing positive emotions), the good life (using strengths and virtues for gratification in the main realms of life), and the meaningful life (using strengths and virtues in the service of something larger than one’s self).
  • Positive psychology hopes to refute the common idea that at the core of all positive emotion and behavior is some negative impetus, or “core.”  Instead, it posits that behavior such as morality, cooperation, and altruism are evolved in the same manner as murder, theft, and terrorism.
  • Understanding the positive elements of psychology may provide greater insights into motivation than the Freudian emphasis on guilt and repression.

Author Abstract: FOR the last half century psychology has been largely consumed with a single topic only – mental illness – and it has done fairly well with it. Psychologists can now measure with some precision such formerly fuzzy concepts as depression and alcoholism. We now know a fair amount about how these troubles develop across the lifespan, and about their genetics, their biochemistry and their psychological causes. Best of all, we have learned how to relieve some of these disorders. But this progress has come at a high cost. Relieving the states that make life miserable has relegated building the states that make life worth living to a distant back seat.

Full Article

Positive Illusions and Well-Being Revisited: Separating Fact From Fiction

Authors: Shelley E. Taylor, University of California, Los Angeles; Jonathon D. Brown, University of Washington

Publication: Psychological Bulletin

Year: 1994

Focus Area: Self illusion, Mental health, Decision making

Relevance: People have an occasionally problematic tendency to see themselves in an excessively positive light, which may prompt them to take greater risks, fail to appreciation their vulnerability to fraud, and other dangerous actions.  Combating this tendency may have negative repercussions because, in moderation, an unrealistic self-assessment may in fact be necessary for good mental health.

Summary: This article discusses the theory that positive self illusions contribute to mental well-being, and refutes criticisms of the theory raised by other researchers (Colvin & Block).

  • Taylor & Brown’s 1998 article demonstrated that people tend to hold unrealistically positive views of themselves, their control over events, and their future.  As opposed to previous assumptions that mental health depends upon accurate perception, these positive illusions were found to actually improve psychological well-being.
  • While positive illusions that are too unrealistic can be detrimental to mental health (such as believing that one can make the sun rise, for example), optimistic self-assessments may be both empowering and necessary for healthy action.
  • As it systematically counters the critiques of Colvin & Block, the article serves as an extensive resource for further research on the subject of positive illusion and mental health.

Author Abstract: In 1988, we published an article that challenged the notion that accurate perceptions of self and the world are essential for mental health (Taylor & Brown, 1988). We argued instead that people’s perceptions in these domains are positively biased and that these positive illusions promote psychological well-being. In the current article, we review our theoretical model, correct certain misconceptions in its empirical application, and address the criticisms made by Colvin and Block.

Full Article

Instilling Resistance to Scarcity Advertisement

Authors: Savia A. Coutinho and Brad Sagarin, Norther Illinois University

Publication: Studies in Learning, Evaluation Innovation and Development

Year: 2007

Focus Area: Decision Making, Emotions, Prevention, Persuasion

Relevance: Reducing the incidence of fraud depends in part upon reducing the public’s susceptibility to the tactics of fraudsters.  People are more vulnerable when they deny their own vulnerability.

Summary: This article expands on previous work (Sagarin et al 2002) investigating how to train people to detect and defend against unscrupulous persuasion methods.  The study focused on developing resistance to the use of illegitimate scarcity tactics by dispelling illusions of invulnerability.

  • Subjects of the study were either assigned treatment or left as controls.  Those who were assigned treatment were either a) demonstratively shown that they had been misled by advertisements, b) told that some advertisements use scarcity techniques illegitimately, or c) told of the illegitimate techniques and asked to rate the extent to which they were convinced by a set of advertisements.  Subjects were then provided with two rules for discerning legitimate from illegitimate scarcity tactics, and asked to record their responses to the advertisements.
  • Subjects who had experienced the feeling of being misled were substantially more resistant to subsequent illegitimate scarcity tactics.
  • Reducing this “illusion of invulnerability” has potential benefits in the realms of health and safety, as individuals typically perceive themselves as less vulnerable to illness, disease, infection, and other negative consequences than the population in general.

Author Abstract: This study examined the effectiveness of instilling resistance to scarcity advertisements among college students. Participants, who were undergraduate students enrolled in introductory psychology classes in their first year of college, were taught the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate uses of scarcity in advertisements through constructivist learning theory-based training. Following Constructivist Learning Theory which suggests that direct experience is a powerful learning tool, some participants had their vulnerability to deception demonstrated to them by unambiguously showing them that they had been misled by illegitimate scarcity advertisements. Other participants only read about how to distinguish illegitimate from legitimate uses of scarcity in advertisements. Results showed that participants with direct experience of demonstrated vulnerability found the advertisements to have manipulative intent and to be unpersuasive. Results suggest that Constructivist Learning Theory-based programs can effectively train students on identifying illegitimate scarcity advertisements; such training in schools and colleges may help students become critical thinkers.

Full Article

Dispelling the Illusion of Invulnerability: The Motivations and Mechanisms of Resistance to Persuasion

Authors: Brad J. Sagarin, Northern Illinois University; Robert B. Cialdini and William E. Rice, Arizona State University; Sherman B. Serna, Northern Illinois University

Publication: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

Year: 2002

Focus Area: Prevention, Education, Profile

Relevance: Reducing the incidence of fraud depends in part upon reducing the public’s susceptibility to the tactics of fraudsters.  People are more vulnerable when they deny their own vulnerability.

Summary: This article describes three experiments that explore how to increase people’s resistance to illegitimate forms of persuasion.  The authors note that a great deal of attention has been spent understanding persuasion methods, but little on how to protect against persuasion that seeks to deceive.  Effective persuasion resistance training was found to consist of two parts:

  1. Demonstrating personal vulnerability to persuasion – not just the vulnerability of people in general (an outline of how to achieve this is provided as a three-step process)
  2. Educating individuals on how to distinguish legitimate from illegitimate forms of persuasion

The focus of the experiments was not to increase resistance to all forms of persuasion, only to reinforce resistance against those that use illegitimate methods to manipulate consumers.  By combining the two principles above, participants consistently demonstrated:

  • Increased preference for ads that used legitimate (or “fair”) persuasion methods
  • Increased resistance to ads that used illegitimate (or “unfair”) methods
  • Sustained improvement over time

The authors note that these results were obtained using brief, written formats, and that significantly greater results might be achieved through interactive and longer-lasting interventions.  Further work on this topic has been published by Professors Coutinho and Sagarin of Northern Illinois University (2007).

Author Abstract: Three studies examined the impact of a treatment designed to instill resistance to deceptive persuasive messages. Study 1 demonstrated that after the resistance treatment, ads using illegitimate authority-based appeals became less persuasive, and ads using legitimate appeals became more persuasive. In Study 2, this resistance generalized to novel exemplars, persevered over time, and appeared outside of the laboratory context. In Study 3, a procedure that dispelled participants’ illusions of invulnerability to deceptive persuasion maximized resistance to such persuasion. Overall, the present studies demonstrate that attempts to confer resistance to appeals will likely be successful to the extent that they install 2 conceptual features: perceived undue manipulative intent of the source of the appeal and perceived personal vulnerability to such manipulation.

Full Article

Consumer decision making and aging: Current knowledge and future directions

Authors: Carolyn Yoon, University of Michigan; Catherine A. Cole, University of Iowa; Michelle P. Lee, Singapore Management University

Publication: Journal of Consumer Psychology

Year: 2009

Focus Area: Decision making, Aging

Relevance: Understanding of the effects of age on consumer decision making is necessary to understand what leads older consumers to accept fraud and what methods can be used to aid their fraud resistance.

Summary: This article serves as a survey of research on decision making and aging, outlining a range of conclusions, their pragmatic implications, and questions for future research.  Older consumers are not well understood, and are often oversimplified.  Understanding the effects of age must be longitudinal; one group of people in their 70s will have different tendencies than another, later generation in its 70s, in part due to different sets of shared defining experiences (e.g., Baby Boomers vs. Depression era).

Older consumers are more likely than younger consumers to:

  • respond to emotional material, personal information, familiar names and big brands
  • forget the source of information (and thus misremember a fact as true, for example)
  • use rules of thumb, intuition, or “common sense” to make decisions
  • make poor decisions under time pressure, later in the day, or when accompanied by references to negative elder stereotypes
  • delegate decision making to others (either younger consumers or by using default options)

The article also contains many practical tips for marketers interested in targeting an older audience, as well as recommendations for further areas of research.

Author Abstract: We review existing knowledge about older consumers and decision making.  We develop a conceptual framework that incorporates the notion of fit between individual characteristics, task demands and the contextual environment.  When the fit is high, older consumers use their considerable knowledge and experience to compensate for the impact of any age-related changes in abilities and resources.  When the fit relatively low, older consumers feel increased need to adapt their decision making processes.  We discuss these consumer adaptations and propose a number of research questions related to the processes underlying them in order to contribute to a better understanding of how they can lead to more effective consumer decision making for older adults.  We further consider some pragmatic implications of the adaptations for marketing management and public policy.

Full Article