Perception and Persuasion

Scott Plous

Personal notes from lectures of Week 2: The Psychology of Self-Presentation and Persuasion
(These are personal summaries and paraphrasing of some of the major points of the lectures that I felt to be important. They are not meant to be comprehensive records nor intended to be reproductions of copyright materials. Social Psychology is the most fun course I have had on Coursera so far, and all the concepts mentioned below are presented in lectures with brilliant illustrative examples and experiments.)

Attribution Theory: Deals with how people interpret behavior, their own and that of others. It's important because our interpretation determines our further behavior.

According to Harold Kelley our interpretations of behavior are in terms of i) something about the person ii) something about the situation iii) something about the occasion. The attribution will be based on i) consensus ii) distinctiveness and iii) consistency.

A behavioral outcome is attributed to a person when there is low consensus (other people do not behave the same way), low distinctiveness (behavior happens in a variety of different situations) and high consistency (behavior is consistently displayed).

Salience: the attention-grabbing property of a stimulus. Research shows that salient stimuli are more likely to be viewed as causal. Perception of causality is a function of attention, and attention is a function of salience. 

For instance, an interrogation video which focuses on the suspect is more likely to be taken as a false confession on the suspect's part than another video which focuses on interrogator for the same interrogation. Salient people are also more likely to become scape-goats when there is a problem.

Kelley's framework has generally been supported by research, except that people don't often pay attention to consensus when deciding causal attribution. 

False Uniqueness effect: a false belief that when it comes to our behavior, we are more unique than we really are.

The fundamental attribution error is the tendency for people to underestimate the impact of situational factors and overestimate the role of dispositional factors in controlling behavior. 

Actor-Observer Differences in Attribution:
People downplay dispositional explanations for their own behavior (as actors), but mainly when the outcome is negative. Pattern is reversed when the outcome is positive. It's basically a self-serving bias. There is also, however, a role of salience. To the actors, the situation is the most salient thing, while for the observers, it is the actor. 

Attitude-Behavior Inconsistency: We often behave differently from the attitudes we hold.

Two prongs of cognitive dissonance theory:
* Holding two incompatible thoughts creates a sense of internal discomfort ('dissonance')
* People are motivated to reduce or avoid psychological inconsistencies

Two flavors of dissonance
Predecisional dissonance, in which dissonance influences decision
Postdecisional dissonance, in which dissonance after a judgement affects later judgements

Self-perception theory:
Individuals determine their own attitudes in part by their observations of their own behaviors and circumstances

Two-sided appeal: When a person arguing for a case brings up the objections first and answers them. This is more likely to persuade the audience. 

Attitude inoculation: The process by which people become immune to attempts to change their attitudes when they are initially exposing them to weak arguments against their position, and they are asked to respond to those arguments. This strengthens their attitude, such that when a stronger argument or attack is made later on, people are resistant to persuasion.

Central and peripheral routes of persuasion: Central route utilizes facts and relevant arguments to case, while peripheral route tries to persuade by association with something not really relevant. For instance, advertisements can sell a product by telling us facts about the product (central route) or by showing an attractive model endorse the product (peripheral route).

Fear can be effective, as long as people are given specific steps to avoid the threat (otherwise it may backfire, leading to denial of threat)

6 Short cuts to persuasion: 1. Reciprocity 2. Scarcity 3. Authority 4. Consistency 5. Liking 6. Consensus

Consensus information doesn't always have an impact of causal attribution, it often does have an impact of persuasion. Sometimes emphasizing the severity of a problem (such as saying that one in every four women is raped) can have the unintended effect of normalizing that problem by means of consensus. 

Techniques of Social Influence:

Foot-in-the-door technique
People are more likely to comply with a large request after they have accepted a smaller one

Door-in-the-face technique
People are more likely to comply with a smaller request after they have rejected a larger one

Low-ball technique
Once people commit themselves to honoring a request, the request can often be increased without them withdrawing from the commitment.