Straight Talk: When It Comes To Persuading Others, Your Opinions Work Better Than Your Actions

straight talk
When it comes to persuasion, your opinions may be more important than your actions. European Parliament (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Apparently, the old adage that actions speak louder than words isn’t exactly true. According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a person’s preferences are more likely to influence others than their actions are.

Professor Ayelet Fishbach, of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and former Chicago Booth PhD student Yanping Tu designed six different choice experiments involving everyday things — shopping for groceries, choosing a type of gum, and watching a YouTube video.

The chewing gum experiment, for example, tested the influence of action by having participants watch another person choose between two flavors of  gum and begin to chew it. They were then asked to make a choice between the same options.

Preference’s influence was tested by the first study partner verbally indicating which gum they liked better. This person would also fill out a survey on the qualities of the gum, but would not actually pick it up and taste it. The participant was then asked to choose a gum.

Results indicated that the participants were less likely to conform to the study partner’s choice when they actually tasted the gum, rather than when they merely indicated their preference for one gum or another.

"The tendency to conform is pervasive and rooted in human psychology," said Fishbach in a press release. "When people conform, they conform to what others like and to others' attitudes. But in terms of what they do, they want to be different. So if you want to persuade people, you should talk about liking, not about having."

The researchers found that people seem to adopt others’ judgments as their own, and that when people behave as if they are not conforming, they may actually be attempting to complement or coordinate with others’ actions.

This information has great value for online entities including social media marketing and online shopping — people would be more likely to be influenced by a “Most liked” list rather than a bestseller list, and “everyone likes it” would be a more effective approach to advertising than “everyone buys it.”

Source: Fishbach, A. Tu, Y, et al. Words Speak Louder: Conforming to Preferences More Than Actions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2015.

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