Episode #10 of the course The psychology of persuasion by Jake Teeny
Through these ten episodes, you have acquired enough knowledge about the psychology of persuasion to better understand how your own mind becomes convinced of a belief. However, for as much knowledge as you may have gained, there are still some persuasive tactics you can’t help being influenced by.
Even when you’re fully aware of their ploys.
At our basest level, we are animals that approach what we like and avoid what we don’t. Thus, there is one particular type of persuasive tactic that is incredibly effective: fear.
Whether the persuasive appeal uses fear to persuade you (“Do it now, before it’s too late!”), notes a fearful outcome if you don’t comply (“What will you be wearing? A seatbelt or a casket?”), or simply triggers the idea of fear (e.g., using an image of blood along with the message), incorporating fear into the persuasive appeal makes it reliably more persuasive.
In fact, from an analysis of nearly 250 studies for a combined 27,000 participants, researchers reported, “The results are striking…there was not one level of any moderator that we tested for which fear appeals backfired or produced less persuasive outcomes” (33). That is, no matter how the fear appeal was implemented, it resulted in greater persuasion.
Fear itself is one of our most primal emotions, motivating us to act and act quickly. So when it’s incorporated into persuasive messages, it gets us to pay attention and place more weight on what’s being said. And one of the most common (though more subtle) ways that fear gets implemented is through the reactance effect.
The reactance effect refers to people’s natural fear of having their freedom constrained. That is, if people believe their personal control is being limited (e.g., “You have no choice but to believe what I tell you”), people are automatically inclined to reject the incoming appeal.
A prime example of this comes from research showing that people are more persuaded when overhearing a persuasive message compared to when it’s told to them directly.
In fact, in another big analysis of over 40 studies and 22,000 participants, researchers showed that simply adding the statement “But you’re free to decide whatever you want” after a persuasive appeal greatly increased the effectiveness of that appeal.
That is, simply affirming to someone that they have the freedom to make up their own mind reduced resistance to the persuasive message and made the recipient more likely to change his or her attitude in line with the request.
Fortunately, though, we are not thoughtless animals tied to the influences of our primal urges, and with careful deliberation, we can overcome these baser, kneejerk reactions. For no matter how persuasive someone may be, in the end, you are the one who gets to decide whether or not you’re persuaded. And of course, you’re free to decide whatever you’d like….
The reactance effect is a powerful one, so if you’d like more info on it, see here.
You read all the way to lesson 10? Learn more unexpected psychological facts at my website: Psychophilosophy Tips for Everyday Life.
“The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene
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