Susceptibility of personality traits, gender and culture to persuasion techniques
Impact of gender, cultural background and personality type on persuasibility
Research Paper (postgraduate) 2011 25 Pages
Much has been written on which types of people have more influence, are more successful negotiators and the techniques related to persuasion. However, this assumes that most people have the ability to enter a situation and accurately judge their audiences and respond accordingly to cues and effectively use numerous appropriate persuasion techniques. The ongoing hypotheses in the literature is that all people are equal when it comes to persuasion, whereas in practice we may use how much somebody cares about when it is one friend and using social pressure on another friend depending on that friend’s characteristics. Very little research has been done on how the identity of the audience changes their responsiveness to different persuasion techniques. The authors of this paper examine how the responsiveness to Cialdini’s six persuasion techniques varies by gender, cultural background and personality type. Each of the techniques is briefly described in the table below. Our results show that there are indeed differences in responsiveness to techniques depending on demographic and personality differences.
Table 1: Summary of Cialdini ’ s persuasion techniques 1
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2. Theoretical background
2.1 Personality and persuasion
2.1.1 Five-factor model of personality
Fifty years ago, Tupes and Christal (1961) established a five-factor model of personal traits (often termed the Big Five) consisting of neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness.2 Today, this framework is widely used to describe the most important aspects of personalities.3 Several studies showed that the five traits are stable over time and can be applied across cultures.4 Table 2 lists the most representative attributes of the extremes for each of the five factors.
Table 2: Personality traits and representative attributes
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2.1.2 Personality and persuasibility
Already before the five-factor personality model was created, Hovland et al. (1953) and Janis et al. (1959) studied personality factors related to persuasibility. In their Yale studies, the authors tested selected personal characteristics such as self esteem, richness of fantasy and interpersonal aggressiveness with regards to susceptibility to persuasion.7 These studies triggered further persuasion research which expanded to personal attributes such as anxiety, dogmatism and need for cognition.8 The following paragraphs summarize major findings regarding the five personality traits’ susceptibility to persuasion.
In their persuasion studies at Yale University, Hovland et al. (1953) found that individuals who felt socially inadequate and depressive were more responsive to persuasive communication than individuals without these symptoms.9 Interestingly, Janis’ early findings that high neurotic anxiety makes for low persuasibility due to defensive inhibition and emotional blocks could not be confirmed by later studies.10
Cohen (1959) investigated the role of self-esteem in persuasion, defining the former as value an individual places on oneself based on past successes and failures.11 He found that “persons of low self-esteem tended to be more susceptible to influence from persons of higher self-esteem than vice versa […]”.12 Later studies confirmed a negative correlation between high self-esteem and persuasibility.13
Carment and McMaster (1963) investigated the relationship of extraversion and intelligence with persuasibility. Their results indicated that more intelligent and extraverted individuals are less persuasible.14 Since Janis et al. (1959) stressed that none of their Yale studies “found a relationship between persuasibility and level of general intelligence […]”15, one could conclude that extraversion and persuasibility are negatively correlated. However, this conclusion is not supported by Bowers (1963) who found that extroverted listeners to argumentative speeches changed their minds significantly more in the direction of the concepts advocated than introverted listeners.16 Later studies have been equally ambiguous about a direct link between extraversion and persuasibility.
126.96.36.199 Openness to experience
Janis et al. (1959) showed that individuals with richness of fantasy were more receptive to persuasive communications. According to the authors, one major reason for this correlation was that imagination enabled these people to anticipate potential rewards or punishments conveyed by the communicator.17 Cialdini, Trost and Newsom (1995) confirmed and expanded this relation in their study on preference for consistency. The authors found that of all the Big Five personality traits, only openness to experience showed a statistically significant (negative) correlation with people’s preference for consistency (PFC). This was explained with low-PFC individuals’ general tendency to place more value on new stimuli than on earlier choices and commitments.18
According to Janis (1954), individuals who seldom criticized, distrusted or felt angry toward others and had a tendency to follow the demands of other people were more susceptive to persuasion than people without these indicators.19 In addition, agreeableness seems to be directly related to Cialdini, Green and Rusch (1992)’s reciprocal persuasion concept when the latter is perceived as a social norm which individuals feel obligated to abide by.20 Furthermore, one could conclude that people with high agreeableness are more susceptible to Cialdini’s persuasion technique of social validation. On a separate note, Janis et al. (1959) could not confirm their hypothesis of an inverse relationship between persuasibility and interpersonal aggressiveness, argumentativeness or suspiciousness.21
Cialdini, Trost and Newsom (1995) found a significant positive correlation between preference for consistency and personal need for structure and rigidity.22 The authors explain this relationship with the fact that all three concepts share the purpose to “assess orientations toward ordered responding”23 which apparently let respondents stick with previous commitments and beliefs instead of changing their minds.24
2.2 Gender and persuasion
Although relationship between gender and power and influence have been studied in depth these studies have strived to show the efficacy of women in settings where they have to negotiate and influence as compared to men or whether women are more persuadable than men. However, few studies have endeavored to see which persuasion techniques women are prone to use and which they are more susceptible to. Hovland and Janis (1959)25 showed women as being more persuadable than men, and attributed this to social norms of gender roles that pressure women to acquiesce. Research has also shown women respond more favorably to men persuading and vice versa26. Therefore it is important for us in our study to try to vary the gender of who is doing the persuading as well as to separately test for gender and personality when analyzing which techniques people are more apt to respond to. That being said, the goals demonstrated by these studies may help us form the foundation for our hypotheses namely that women seek closeness and consensus more than men do. It must be noted that although some interaction between gender and personality has been tested for, the same has not been done for culture. Many of these studies focus on women from Western cultures (Western Europe and North America) and few look at the interaction between culture and gender.
Multiple studies have shown propensity of women to have higher emotional intelligence and greater social orientation27 - often showing that women score higher than men on measures of emotional intelligence (Mayer, Caruso & Salovey, 1999)28. Therefore, it follows that women may be more receptive to and more likely to use socially based modes of persuasion. Likeability, consistency and social validation would therefore be stronger influencers for women than men, whereas scarcity, reciprocity and authority may play a greater role in persuading men. Consistency plays a larger role when one is more self-aware, and one is more self-aware with higher emotional intelligence. Past literature and research supports this hypothesis.
Guadagno and Cialdini (2003,2007) show that when there is not too much in common with the persuader men react much more favorably to rational persuasion over email, whereas women react much more favorably to persuasion in person and social cues in general29. Barone and Roy30 show that men are more responsive to exclusive marketing offers evoking the scarcity principle.
1 R. B. Cialdini , “Harnessing the Science of Persuasion”, Harvard Business Review, October 2001
2 E.C. Tupes and R.E. Christal, Recurrent Personality Factors based on Trait Ratings, (Lackland Air Force Base, TX: U.S. Air Force, 1961), pp. 61-97.
3 T. A. Judge et al., “Personality and Leadership: A Qualitative and Quantitative Review”, Journal of Applied Psychology, 2002, Vol. 87, No. 4, pp. 766-767.
4 P.T. Costa Jr. and R. R. McCrae, “Personality in adulthood: A six-year longitudinal study of self-reports and spouse ratings on the NEO Personality Inventory”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1988, 54, pp. 853-863 and R. R. McCrae and P. T. Costa, Jr., “Personality trait structure as a human universal”, American Psychologist, 1997, 52, pp. 509-516.
5 T. A. Judge et al., “Personality and Leadership: A Qualitative and Quantitative Review”, Journal of Applied Psychology, 2002, Vol. 87, No. 4, pp. 766-767.
6 R. L. Britain, "Incorporating Personality Traits in Hiring: A Case Study of Central Texas Cities", Applied Research Projects, Texas State University-San Marcos, 2007, Paper 258, http://ecommons.txstate.edu/arp/258 accessed March 2011
7 C.I. Hovland et al., Communication and Persuasion, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953) and I.L. Janis et al., Personality and Persuasibility, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), pp. 55-68.
8 S. Oskamp and P. W. Schultz, Attitudes and Opinions, (Mahwah, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005) p. 250.
9 C.I. Hovland et al., Communication and Persuasion, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953), p. 190.
10 I.L Janis, “Anxiety indices related to susceptibility to persuasion”, The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, Vol. 51(3), Nov 1955, p. 667 and I.L. Janis et al., Personality and Persuasibility, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), pp. 64-65.
11 A. R. Cohen,” Some Implications of Self-esteem for Social Influence” in I.L. Janis et al., Personality and Persuasibility, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), pp. 102-120.
12 A. R. Cohen, Attitude Change and Social Influence, (New York: Basic Books, 1964), p. 45.
13 J.W. Bowers, “Language Intensity, Social Introversion, and Attitude Change”, SPEECH MONOGRAPHS, Vol. 30, No. 4, Nov 1963, p. 345.
14 D.W. Carment and U. McMaster, “Persuasiveness and Persuasibility as Related to Intelligence and Extraversion”, British Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 1965, 4(1)
15 I.L. Janis et al., Personality and Persuasibility, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), p. 237.
16 J.W. Bowers, “Language Intensity, Social Introversion, and Attitude Change”, SPEECH MONOGRAPHS, Vol. 30, No. 4, Nov 1963, pp. 345-352.
17 I.L. Janis et al., Personality and Persuasibility, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), pp. 62-63.
18 R. B. Cialdini, M. R. Trost and J.T. Newsom, “Preference for Consistency: The Development of a Valid Measure and the Discovery of Surprising Behavioral Implications”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1995, Vol. 69, No. 2, pp. 318-328.
19 I. L. Janis, “Personality Correlates of Susceptibility To Persuasion”, Journal of Personality, Vol. 22 (4), June 1954, pp. 504-518.
20 R. B. Cialdini, B. L. Green and A. J. Rusch, “When Tactical Pronouncements of Change Become Real Change: The Case of Reciprocal Persuasion”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 63, No. 1, 1992, p. 30
21 I.L. Janis et al., Personality and Persuasibility, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), p. 63.
22 R. B. Cialdini, M. R. Trost and J.T. Newsom, “Preference for Consistency: The Development of a Valid Measure and the Discovery of Surprising Behavioral Implications”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1995, Vol. 69, No. 2, pp. 318-328.
23 Ibid., p. 320.
24 Ibid., pp. 318-328.
25 I.L. Janis et al., Personality and Persuasibility, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959)
26 Zanbaka et al., Can a virtual cat persuade you? The role of gender and realism in speaker persuasiveness, University of North Carolina, 2006
27 Mandell and Pherwani, “The relationship between emotional intelligence and transformational leadership style”, Journal of Business and Psychology, 2003
28 Mayer, Caruso and Salovey, „Emotional intelligence meets traditional standards for an intelligence“Intelligence, University of New Hampshire 1999
29 T. Guadagno and R. B. Cialdini, “Online persuasion: An examination of gender differences in computer mediated interpersonal influence”, 2002 Arizona State University; T. Guadagno and R. B, Cialdini, “Persuade him by email, but see her in person”, Computers and Human Behavior, Mar 2007, Vol 23 Issue 2
30 Barone and Roy, “Does exclusivity always pay off?”, Journal of Marketing, 2010