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.

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