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  • cognitive dissonance tactics:

    • "ben franklin effect": enemies who do you one favor will want to do more
    • hazing: get people to like their situation by making them suffer to get there
    • counterattitudinal advocacy: when we state opinions we don't believe, we start to believe them
    • labelling: get people to act a certain way by talking to them as if they already were that way

  • salesman tactics:

BEN FRANKLIN EFFECT: enemies who do you one favor will want to do more

  • Franklin, 1868/1900, pp. 216-217 >
    Franklin was annoyed by a political opponent in the Pennsylvania state legislature. He thus set out to win him over, as described in one of his books:

    I did not ... aim at gaining his favour by paying any servile respect to him but, after some time, took this other method. Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book I wrote a note to him expressing my desire of perusing that book and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately and I returned it in about a week with another note expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met in the House he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends and our frendship continued to his death. This is another instance of the truth of an old maxim I had learned, which says, "He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself has obliged."

    In summary, if you can get an enemy to do you a favor, he or she will be even more willing to do you more favors. Blatant manipulation. But why does it work?

  • Cognitive dissonance > Central to many slick persuasion techniques is cognitive dissonance theory, which basically has two points:


    • Contradictions are uncomfortable.
    • Because they're uncomfortable, contradictions motivate change.

    The "Ben Franklin Effect" is a great example of cognitive dissonance theory at work. Ben's political opponent originally had antagonistic views toward Ben. However, Ben then very politely asked him for a small favor. For whatever reason -- perhaps the refinement of Ben's letter, or the smallness of Ben's favor -- the opponent obliged. After obliging, the opponent feels cognitive dissonance. Ben is his enemy, and yet, he just did his enemy a favor. He just contradicted himself. Logical contradictions are discomforting. How can he get rid of this contradiction? There are two ways:

    • take back book (change behavior so it aligns with original attitudes about Ben)
    • decide Ben is actually a good guy (change attitudes about Ben so they align with new behavior)

    And what we have discovered is that it is very easy to change one's attitude to relieve dissonance, but very difficult to change one's behavior. Thus, the political opponent becomes Ben's friend, and in fact, is even more willing to do more favors for Ben, to further relieve any evidence of contradiction between his thoughts and his actions.

  • To convert an enemy into a friend, try asking your enemy for a small favor. If your enemy obliges, he or she will be even more willing to do you more favors.
HAZING: get people to like their situation by making them suffer to get there

  • Cognitive dissonance > If you spend a lot of effort to get somewhere, and you don't like the end result, that's a contradiction. Why would you spend so much effort for something you don't even like? Contradictions make us feel uncomfortable and even stupid. Thus, we change our attitude about the situation, and say that we like it.

Experimental Basis
  • Cult Infiltration Research > Several experiments have been performed to investigate the fascinating psychology of cults.

    In one experiment, three psychology graduate students join a doomsday cult with the hidden intent of simply observing what goes on, so they can publish a paper on it later. (Ideal research.) This cult had a charismatic leader, a Ms. Kitsch, who apparently was telepathically tuned to the planet Clarion. The world was going to end soon on a particular date. A flying saucer would pick up the cult members at a particular location. Ms. Kitsch included many details that seemed to make her prophecy more convincing, such as saying that all pieces of metal would have to be removed during the pick up (perhaps the metal would disrupt the tractor beam). The students watch cult members give up everything, relinquishing their jobs and families, selling all possessions.

    On doomsday, the cult members are standing in the middle of nowhere, staring quietly up at the sky, waiting with bated breath. The anticipation in the air is so thick, you could pick it up and eat it with chopsticks. The critical moment comes. The critical moment passes! Hey we're still alive! The graduate students look around, and look at each other. An awkward silence. What happens now? Ms. Kitsch then says that she's receiving another message from the aliens, and will be back shortly. After a brief leave, Ms. Kitsch returns and says: "We have saved the world."

    How did the cult members respond to this contradiction? You might think they became really angry, having discarded their entire lives for an event that didn't happen. However, what actually happened is that belief in the cult became stronger than ever. The cult members were even more convinced of the cult's validity. It is worth noting that the cult body tended to consist of rational and intelligent people, often skilled in computers and web design (a useful skill to have for disseminating propaganda).

  • Sex Discussion Screening (Aronson & Mills 1959) > Female students at the University of Minnesota are told of an interesting class that engages in group discussions about sex. Sounds enticing ... who wouldn't want to take the class? However, there's a screening test to make sure you are mature enough to participate in such discussions. The different kinds of screenings are tabulated below. After the lengthy screening, the students are allowed to listen in on a discussion being conducted by the group they would be joining. They are led to believe that they are listening to live dialogue, but it was actually a prerecorded tape consisting of the dullest dialogue humanly possible. The secondary sexual characteristics of insects. Is that the thorax or the abdomen? Blah blah blah. After the listening, the students fill out a questionnaire rating how much they liked what they just heard.

    condition screening process discussion rating
    control recite sexually neutral words, like "car", in front of male experimenter so-so, or boring
    mildly embarrassing recite sexually mild words (e.g. "prostitute" and "virgin") in front of male experimenter so-so, or boring
    extremely embarrassing recite raunchy X-rated Henry Miller literature in front of a male experimenter it was incredibly fascinating

    Those poor females who recited Henry Miller decided that the boring discussion was actually interesting. They changed their attitude about the ends to justify the means.

Real-world Basis
  • Fraternities >
    Fraternities are notorious for their abusive hazing initiations. One semester, when I was living in the dorms at UC Berkeley, I had two roommates who were rushing for different fraternities. One fraternity emphasized physical strength, and required such abilities as doing hundreds of pushups in a short time. The other fraternity had many weird rituals, which I don't know the details of because it's top-secret (ooooh). All I know is that one night, Mark came home with a double-sided dildo in his hand. Another time, he came back doused in dirt and mud. Apparently he had to sleep in a dirt pit like a prisoner, or something. I guess he really likes his fraternity now.
  • Military > Soldiers are treated inhumanely in boot camps. After a harsh initiation, soldiers strongly believe in their cause.

  • Falling in Love > People who fall in love tend to experience a period of chaos, in which they lose sleep, eat irregularly, receive the consequences of neglecting their work, etc. When couples have kids, this chaos multiplies. However, many years later when these couples reflect on their lives, they ironically highlight these turbulent times as being the happiest times of their lives.

  • Graduate Students > Graduate students make small money, and are frequently annoyed by reports of how much money their old friends who left academia are now making in the real world. As deadlines come closer, they can become very stressed out about research papers and qualifying exams. Despite these difficulties, when these students reflect on their lives many years later, they often highlight graduate school as their happiest experience.

  • Approval of a situation is greatly amplified if people have spent lots of effort to reach that situation. Sometimes an effortful path can be purposely planned in the interest of manipulating attitude.
when we state opinions we don't believe, we start to believe them

  • Cognitive dissonance > Why am I saying something that I don't believe? It's a contradiction and it doesn't make sense. Maybe I believe what I'm saying after all.

Experimental Basis
  • Really Boring Tasks (Festinger & Carlsmith 1959) > College students spend an hour performing a series of excruciatingly boring and repetitive tasks. Researchers tell the students that the experiment has to do with intelligence, creativity, and other blather, but actually the students are being deliberately tortured. In the first phase of the experiment, students put spools of thread on a rack of sticks. Then they dump the rack. Then they put the spools back on the rack. Then they dump the rack. Repeat for 30 minutes. In the second phase, the students are given a board with 48 twistable pegs on it, and have to rotate each of the pegs 1/4 of a rotation. Repeat for 30 minutes.

    Three experimental conditions then follow:

    • Control: Fill out questionnaire describing how much they liked the experiment.
    • Case 1: The experimenter tells the students that he's running late, and there are still other students (actually confederates) waiting to be debriefed. He offers the students $1 to help him debrief the others, and just tell them how much they liked the study. Afterwards, the students fill out a questionnaire like in the control condition.
    • Case 2: Same as Case 1, except the experimenter awards $20.


    condition how much they liked experiment
    Control they really hated it
    Case 1: $1 they liked it
    Case 2: $20 they either liked it a tiny bit or just didn't like it

    The control condition results prove that the experiment was indeed excruciatingly boring. The other conditions produced contradictions in the subjects: even though they disliked the experiment, they were paid money to tell others how much they liked it. Those who received $20 used the money to relieve their dissonance: their public lies were justified by the fact that they were getting $20 to say the lies, and thus their original attitude toward the experiment didn't change. However, those who received only $1 had trouble justifying their lies for such a small amount of money. Thus, they reconcile that they must have liked the experiment.

Real-world Basis
  • AIDS Prevention (Aronson 1991) > College students were asked to compose a speech describing the dangers of AIDS and the importance of using condoms. Students were placed in one of several experimental conditions:

    • just compose the speech
    • compose speech, then recite it on video camera for a high school audience
    • compose speech, write a list of circumstances in which you have failed to use condoms, and then recite your speech on camera for a high school audience

    After the ordeal, students were given the opportunity to purchase condoms cheaply.

    Results: Students in the hypocrisy condition were far more likely to buy condoms. By reminding the students of their failure to use condoms, and then having them preach condom usage, Aronson induced high dissonance. To remove this dissonance, students practiced what they preached. Follow-up telephone interviews with the students several months later showed that the hypocrisy condition students were still practicing condom usage to a greater extent than students in other conditions.

  • Simply asking people to compose an opposing argument can make them change their minds.
get people to act a certain way by talking to them as if they already were that way

  • Cognitive dissonance > Why do you keep describing me as if I'm like that? I'm not really like that. But you keep treating me as if I'm like that, and it's making me uncomfortable. I'll change my behavior so that it agrees with your view of me.

  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy > Labelling could be interpreted as a self-fulfilling prophecy effect. The difference is that with labelling, we are consciously constructing artificial expectations of a person. However, that person doesn't know it's artificial, so it's all the same to him or her.

Experimental Basis
  • 5th Grader Trash Pickup (Miller, Brickman) >
    Miller and Brickman were trying to figure out how to convince 5th graders to pick up their trash during recess. (5th graders tend to just drop their crap on the ground.) A nigh impossible task, considering how 5th graders tend to be ... in the words of my psychology professor Dr. Dacher Keltner, "monsters". Tell them to do one thing and they'll do the opposite.

    Three different experimental conditions:

    • Control: The researchers didn't do anything to the 5th graders.
    • Persuasion: The 5th graders listen to lectures about environmental awareness and the consequences of improper litter disposal.
    • Labels: Adults at the school label the 5th graders as really clean people. A teacher might say, "Wow, you kids are so clean! Gosh I'm impressed." When the principal comes by to visit the class, he might say, "Oh, you guys must be the neat and tidy kids! I've heard about you."


    condition percentage of kids who put their trash in cans
    control 25%
    persuasion 25%
    labels 85%

    Dramatic effects. 85% of the kids in the labelled class condition picked up their trash during recess. Also note that the persuasion approach using environmental lectures had no effect on 5th graders whatsoever.

  • Get people to act a certain way by treating them as if they already act that way.
people are more likely to satisfy a large request after agreeing to a small one

  • Informational Social Influence > When you agree to a small request, you acquire information about the kind of person you are. If you agree to make a small donation to my charity, you come to view yourself as a person who helps out on community issues. Your self-image is changed. So the next time I come around asking for more money, you are more likely to comply. This tactic has long-term effects.

Experimental Basis
  • Homeowner Frontyard Signs (Freedman & Fraser, 1966) >
    Psychologists went door to door in Palo Alto, asking housewives if they would grant ridiculous requests. In one experiment, they claimed to be conducting some scientific survey, and asked, "Would you allow 5-6 people to come into your kitchen, search through it, and classify all household objects?" In another experiment, they were asked to post a giant, obtrusive sign that says "Drive Carefully" on their front lawns.

    Both experiments had two conditions. In the first condition, the subjects were asked only the large requests. In the second, the psychologists preceded their large request with a a small request. For instance, they might first ask the housewives to sign a petition about driving safely before asking them to post the giant sign. Interestingly, it didn't matter whether or not the small request was thematically related to the large request! Sometimes the petition was about environmental causes instead of driving. The dramatic results, shown below, were the same.

    large request preceded by small request large request compliance
    kitchen intrusion Yes 52.8%
    No 22.2%
    giant lawn sign Yes 76%
    No 17%

  • Sell large requests by first asking for small ones. Smooth transition.
written by William Wu
page last modified Friday, 13-Jun-2003 11:22:01 PDT

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