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Concept: Persuasion


People are exposed to persuasive communication across many different contexts: Governments, companies, and political parties use persuasive appeals to encourage people to eat healthier, purchase a particular product, or vote for a specific candidate. Laboratory studies show that such persuasive appeals are more effective in influencing behavior when they are tailored to individuals' unique psychological characteristics. However, the investigation of large-scale psychological persuasion in the real world has been hindered by the questionnaire-based nature of psychological assessment. Recent research, however, shows that people’s psychological characteristics can be accurately predicted from their digital footprints, such as their Facebook Likes or Tweets. Capitalizing on this form of psychological assessment from digital footprints, we test the effects of psychological persuasion on people’s actual behavior in an ecologically valid setting. In three field experiments that reached over 3.5 million individuals with psychologically tailored advertising, we find that matching the content of persuasive appeals to individuals' psychological characteristics significantly altered their behavior as measured by clicks and purchases. Persuasive appeals that were matched to people’s extraversion or openness-to-experience level resulted in up to 40% more clicks and up to 50% more purchases than their mismatching or unpersonalized counterparts. Our findings suggest that the application of psychological targeting makes it possible to influence the behavior of large groups of people by tailoring persuasive appeals to the psychological needs of the target audiences. We discuss both the potential benefits of this method for helping individuals make better decisions and the potential pitfalls related to manipulation and privacy.

Concepts: Psychology, Personality psychology, The Target, Behavior, Social psychology, Social influence, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Persuasion


Persuasion is at the core of norm creation, emergence of collective action, and solutions to ‘tragedy of the commons’ problems. In this paper, we show that the directionality of friendship ties affect the extent to which individuals can influence the behavior of each other. Moreover, we find that people are typically poor at perceiving the directionality of their friendship ties and that this can significantly limit their ability to engage in cooperative arrangements. This could lead to failures in establishing compatible norms, acting together, finding compromise solutions, and persuading others to act. We then suggest strategies to overcome this limitation by using two topological characteristics of the perceived friendship network. The findings of this paper have significant consequences for designing interventions that seek to harness social influence for collective action.

Concepts: Psychology, Sociology, Perception, Social psychology, Philosophy of perception, Friendship, Social influence, Persuasion


Popular belief holds that eye contact increases the success of persuasive communication, and prior research suggests that speakers who direct their gaze more toward their listeners are perceived as more persuasive. In contrast, we demonstrate that more eye contact between the listener and speaker during persuasive communication predicts less attitude change in the direction advocated. In Study 1, participants freely watched videos of speakers expressing various views on controversial sociopolitical issues. Greater direct gaze at the speaker’s eyes was associated with less attitude change in the direction advocated by the speaker. In Study 2, we instructed participants to look at either the eyes or the mouths of speakers presenting arguments counter to participants' own attitudes. Intentionally maintaining direct eye contact led to less persuasion than did gazing at the mouth. These findings suggest that efforts at increasing eye contact may be counterproductive across a variety of persuasion contexts.

Concepts: Eye, Social psychology, Attitude change, Persuasion


This study investigated the interactive effects of attitudinal ambivalence and health message framing on persuading people to eat less junk food. Within the heuristic-systematic model of information processing, an attitudinal ambivalence (ambivalent or univalent toward eating junk food) by health message framing (advantage- or disadvantage-framed appeals) between-subjects experiment was conducted to explore a cognitive resource-matching effect and the underlying mediation processes. Ambivalent individuals reported a higher level of cognitive elaboration than univalent individuals did. The disadvantage frame engendered more extensive cognitive elaboration than the advantage frame did. Ambivalent individuals were more persuaded by the disadvantage frame and, for them, cognitive elaboration mediated the persuasion process via the systematic route. Univalent individuals were equally persuaded by the advantage frame and the disadvantage frame and, for them, neither the perceived frame valence nor cognitive elaboration mediated persuasion. Discussion of the null results among the univalent group leads to a response-reinforcement explanation. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

Concepts: Nutrition, Eating, Cognition, Regulatory Focus Theory, Valence, Persuasion


The aversive state of social exclusion can result in a broad range of cognitive deficits. Being unable or unmotivated to process relevant information, we assumed that social exclusion would also affect the success of persuasive attempts. We hypothesized that socially excluded people would adopt attitudes regardless of persuasion quality. In three studies using different manipulations of social exclusion and persuasion, we showed that participants who were socially excluded adopted persuasive messages regardless of argument quality. In contrast, this undifferentiated response was not shown by socially included participants who were more persuaded by high compared to low quality arguments. In Study 3, we moreover revealed that this pattern could only be replicated in reliable situations, that is, when the communicator appeared credible. These findings support the assumption that social exclusion can lead to reduced processing of information. (136 of 150 words).

Concepts: Adoption, Regulatory Focus Theory, Rhetoric, Persuasion


Much of contemporary American political rhetoric is characterized by liberals and conservatives advancing arguments for the morality of their respective political positions. However, research suggests such moral rhetoric is largely ineffective for persuading those who do not already hold one’s position because advocates advancing these arguments fail to account for the divergent moral commitments that undergird America’s political divisions. Building on this, we hypothesize that (a) political advocates spontaneously make arguments grounded in their own moral values, not the values of those targeted for persuasion, and (b) political arguments reframed to appeal to the moral values of those holding the opposing political position are typically more effective. We find support for these claims across six studies involving diverse political issues, including same-sex marriage, universal health care, military spending, and adopting English as the nation’s official langauge. Mediation and moderation analyses further indicated that reframed moral appeals were persuasive because they increased the apparent agreement between the political position and the targeted individuals' moral values.

Concepts: Critical thinking, United States, Logic, Morality, Regulatory Focus Theory, Social influence, Rhetoric, Persuasion


Current concerns about vaccination resistance often cite the Internet as a source of vaccine controversy. Most academic studies of vaccine resistance online use quantitative methods to describe misinformation on vaccine-skeptical websites. Findings from these studies are useful for categorizing the generic features of these websites, but they do not provide insights into why these websites successfully persuade their viewers. To date, there have been few attempts to understand, qualitatively, the persuasive features of provaccine or vaccine-skeptical websites.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Vaccination, Sociology, Qualitative research, Quantitative research, Regulatory Focus Theory, Persuasion


While a persuasion network has been proposed, little is known about how network connections between brain regions contribute to attitude change. Two possible mechanisms have been advanced. One hypothesis predicts that attitude change results from increased connectivity between structures implicated in affective and executive processing in response to increases in argument strength. A second functional perspective suggests that highly arousing messages reduce connectivity between structures implicated in the encoding of sensory information, which disrupts message processing and thereby inhibits attitude change. However, persuasion is a multi-determined construct that results from both message features and audience characteristics. Therefore, persuasive messages should lead to specific functional connectivity patterns among a priori defined structures within the persuasion network. The present study exposed 28 subjects to anti-drug public service announcements where arousal, argument strength, and subject drug-use risk were systematically varied. Psychophysiological interaction analyses provide support for the affective-executive hypothesis but not for the encoding-disruption hypothesis. Secondary analyses show that video-level connectivity patterns among structures within the persuasion network predict audience responses in independent samples (one college-aged, one nationally representative). We propose that persuasion neuroscience research is best advanced by considering network-level effects while accounting for interactions between message features and target audience characteristics.

Concepts: Scientific method, Emotion, A priori, Message, Rhetoric, Attitude change, Persuasion, Bruce Payne


Numeric political appeals represent a prevalent but overlooked domain of public opinion research. When can quantitative information change political attitudes, and is this change trumped by partisan effects? We analyze how numeracy-or individual differences in citizens' ability to process and apply numeric policy information-moderates the effectiveness of numeric political appeals on a moderately salient policy issue. Results show that those low in numeracy exhibit a strong party-cue effect, treating numeric information in a superficial and heuristic fashion. Conversely, those high in numeracy are persuaded by numeric information, even when it is sponsored by the opposing party, overcoming the party-cue effect. Our results make clear that overlooking numeric ability when analyzing quantitative political appeals can mask significant persuasion effects, and we build on recent work advancing the understanding of individual differences in public opinion.

Concepts: Effect, Effectiveness, Regulatory Focus Theory, Persuasion


This article presents an anthropological analysis of heterosexual seduction behaviors of men and women (from 18 to 65 years old, with varying civil status) who attended nightclubs located in the movida areas of Lisbon, Portugal. These behaviors were analyzed according to structure versus communitas theories. Nighttime seduction behaviors were observed and recorded in a field diary, and in-depth semistructured interviews with 60 men and 60 women were conducted. Interviews were analyzed using the thematic content analysis model. Results suggested that the communitas domain was evinced in the various seduction strategies. These courtship behaviors tended to follow a specific pattern: nonverbal seduction, visual seduction, verbal seduction, and acting-consisting of caresses, touches, and kisses. When this escalation process evoked positive responses, it generally culminated in the complete synchrony of movements between the two bodies. The seduction process encompassed both masculine and feminine initiatives: Women engaged primarily in nonverbal and visual seduction, while men appeared to orchestrate verbal courtship and acting. However, sometimes men and women did not want to seduce or be seduced because they were married (especially women) or were with their partners (especially young men) and did not want to endanger the structure domain.

Concepts: Gender, Persuasion, Seduction