A Persuadable Personality

17.05.2016 |

Episode #5 of the course The psychology of persuasion by Jake Teeny


As persuasive as a message may be, in the end, all persuasion comes down to belief change in the recipients of the message. For example, even if the foremost expert on health used the most persuasive arguments possible to get you to exercise, unless you find those arguments convincing, you won’t exercise.

So what qualities of a recipient tend to make him or her more or less persuadable?

To understand this, one must first recognize the difference between situational and dispositional factors.

Situational factors are temporary states or conditions that influence a person’s psychology. For example, research has shown that when people are tired, they are more susceptible to political ads. That is, in this temporary state, you have fewer mental resources to resist the incoming persuasive message.

Similarly, if you’re happy, you become more persuadable because you’re now less suspicious of persuasive attempts. In fact, this is one reason that malls and television ads often have “happy music” in the background; it makes people more susceptible to marketers’ influences.

However, beyond these situational factors, there are also long-term, dispositional characteristics that make a person either more or less persuadable—particularly, one’s lay theories of persuasion, one’s “need for cognition,” and one’s self-esteem.

Lay theories of persuasion refer to how persuadable you believe others are. And the more you believe others are persuadable, the more persuadable you yourself end up being, too. Although this differs between topics (for example, you may think opinions about the death penalty are unmovable but opinions about a political candidate aren’t), generally, the more you believe other people’s opinions are changeable, the more changeable you yourself tend to be as well.

Need for cognition (NC) refers to how much you like to think about things. And the higher you are in NC (you enjoy thinking deeply about topics, no matter how small they are), the less persuadable you are. That is, because those high in NC like to scrutinize everything (even persuasive messages), they will only be convinced by the most thoroughly convincing arguments.

Self-esteem refers to the extent you find value in yourself and your opinions. Interestingly, those with low and high self-esteem are the least persuaded—but for different reasons. If you have low self-esteem, you’re unlikely to pay close attention to the message, and thus it is unable to really influence you. If you have high self-esteem, you’re likely to think your own opinions are already great, and so any persuasive message won’t have much effect.

However, if you’re right in the middle, you’re most likely to listen to the message but then also be open to considering the merits of the appeal.

Still, even if you had the perfect mix of situational and dispositional factors to be persuaded, simply holding this new opinion is a lot different than acting on it. Thus, changing the right type of opinion to actually influence behavior is the real aim of persuasion research.

Interested in how you can persuade yourself? This brief read provides some insight on just that.


Recommended book:

“Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation” by Sally Hogshead


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