How Persuasion Can Work in Unseen Ways

How Persuasion Can Work in Unseen Ways

by: Rob Reed

The seemingly little things can make a big difference when it comes to persuasion.

A group of students participated in what they thought was a market research study for high-tech headphones. Using the headphones, each student listened to songs and heard a radio editorial arguing that their tuition should go up from the current $587 to $750.

A third of the students were told to nod their heads vigorously up and down while they listened to the editorial. Another third were told to shake their heads from side to side. The final third were told to keep their heads still.

The students then completed a short questionnaire on the effect of head shaking on the quality of the sound. The question the experimenters really wanted the answer to was at the end: “What do you feel would be an appropriate dollar amount for undergraduate tuition per year?”

The students who kept their heads still said tuition should be $582, or roughly their current tuition. Those who shook their heads from side to side disagreed with the tuition increase proposed in the editorial. They wanted tuition to fall to $467 a year. However, those who nodded their heads up and down wanted tuition to rise — as the editorial suggested — to $646.

Simple physical movements and observations can have a profound effect on how we feel and think. Persuasion can work in unseen ways. If you asked the head nodders why they wanted a tuition increase that would come out of their own pockets, none of them would say “Because I nodded my head while I listened to that editorial.” They would attribute their attitude to some more logical cause.

So do the little things. Make the extra effort. Chances are, you’ll win some sales.

You might even get your prospect nodding.


Source: Tipping Point, P. 97-100. Study: Gary L. Wells and Richard E. Petty, “The Effects of Overt Head Movements on Persuasion,” Basic and Applied Social Psychology (1980), vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 219-230.