Archive for October, 2011

When What Comes First Should Go Maybe Second

Stone_pathBy Steve Martin, CMCT

Decisions are rarely made in a vacuum and as a result the order in which options and choices are offered becomes important. Regular readers of the Inside Influence Report will be familiar with the phenomenon of perceptual contrast – the idea that you can change someone’s perception of an offer not by changing the offer at all, but instead by changing what they experience immediately before you present your offer (Cialdini, 2009). A $25 wine seems expensive if it appears halfway down a list that begins with a house wine priced, at say, $10. However that same $25 wine will appear more reasonably priced if the options on the list are reversed and start with a $50 wine first. Nothing changes about the wines, just the order in which they are presented.

However, rather than just single items, products and services will often be made up of a package of multiple items. For example a movie theatre might offer customers the option to watch 15 movies for $99. A lawyer may offer 10 hours of consulting time for $2500. An online music retailer might charge $29 to download 70 songs.

In such situations does the order in which the price and number of items is presented actually matter? And if it does, what might be the implications for your influence attempts?

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Clarification on Our Article Retraction from Dr. Cialdini

Dear Readers,

Two things are important to recognize about this situation. First, the author of the IIR article, Steve Martin, was in no way implicated in the problem. His summary of the research, as published, was accurate and insightful. The difficulty lies only in the actions of one of the authors of the original study, Dr. Stapel.

Second, This kind of scholarly fraud is extremely rare and doesn't characterize the vast majority of published research in the behavioral sciences. With that said, we still felt it necessary to inform our readers of the problematic nature of the conclusions within the original article. We will maintain constant vigilance in this regard and keep you apprised in the future so that you will be able to have confidence in the information we present.

Robert B. Cialdini

IMPORTANT – Retraction of Previous IIR Article

Dear Readers,

It’s just been brought to our attention that Dr. Diederik Stapel, one of the authors cited in

Sweet Hooligans, Honest Salespeople and the Influence of Stereotypes

is currently under investigation for producing fraudulent data. Because INFLUENCE AT WORK is scrupulous about providing information about which we can be confident, we can no longer stand behind the referenced article cited in the last Inside Influence Report. Consequently, we are formally withdrawing it from the IIR. We urge you not to use, rely on or cite the article or its conclusions. We will replace it with another article shortly.

We apologize for this misinformation. We’ll continue to look out for the best peer reviewed research available to provide us all with honest, accurate, and actionable results.

Robert Cialdini

Sweet Hooligans, Honest Salespeople and the Influence of Stereotypes


By Steve Martin, CMCT

The French word stéréotype, originated in the late 18th century, was used to describe a process of printing or reproduction using a solid plate. It would be another fifty years before the word began appearing in the English language. By then its meaning had evolved somewhat to “an image perpetuated without change”, arguably closer and more familiar to today’s modern use of the word.

Stereotypes are widely used in modern day life and can help to simplify how we formulate ideas and opinions about others. When a person learns that someone they are introduced to is a minister, or a realtor, or a politician, or a charity worker, or an athlete they might make certain assumptions about that person’s likely traits, behaviors and attitudes.

But what if that response is unhelpful or simply wrong? For example you may work in an industry or environment where a number of stereotypical reactions are negative? How might you convince people that rather than viewing you as “an image perpetuated without change” they instead see you as a “shining example of change”?

The results of a new series of studies could provide some useful advice.

Stereotypes can help us to process our perceptions of others quickly and effectively making the world appear more orderly, predictable and manageable (Macrae, Milne & Bodenhausen 1994). In the context of the universal principles of influence stereotypes can help satisfy a basic need for consistency. Given that one of our fundamental desires is to remain consistent with our thoughts, feelings and beliefs (Cialdini 2001) it is likely that the stereotypes we hold will not be easily abandoned.

But sometimes a stereotype that someone holds will be disconfirmed rather than confirmed and that may lead to feelings of discomfort. For example a person may feel disappointment if they hear that a company they hold in high esteem has acted in a way that is inconsistent with their expectations of them.

On the other hand the disconfirmation of a stereotype might represent a pleasant surprise. An example might be having an interaction with someone that we expect to be difficult and stressful that in actual fact turns out to be very pleasant and valuable.

In their wonderfully titled paper ‘When Sweet Hooligans Make You Happy and Honest Salesmen Make You Sad,’ Marret Noordewier and Diederik Stapel from the Behavioural Research Unit at Tilburg University examine some of the factors that amplify a person’s response to the confirmation or disconfirmation of a stereotype they hold.

In one experiment participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups and asked to read a short passage of text about an individual. One group was given text describing an individual that in previous tests had been shown to be associated with positive stereotypes whereas the second group was provided with a description of an individual that was associated with negative stereotypes.

Immediately after reading the descriptions both groups were then provided with additional information that was either consistent or inconsistent with that stereotype. For example a participant who read a description of an individual which would lead them to think that that person was selfish and inconsiderate would then be presented with additional information that was consistent with them being selfish and inconsiderate (confirmation condition) or inconsistent “they are actually very kind and considerate to others” (disconfirmation condition). The researchers then asked participants to rate their feelings towards the individual they had read about.

In an interesting twist the researchers asked certain participants to memorise a 9- digit number during the experiment that clearly made their evaluation of the individual they were reading about more complex because they were more cognitively overloaded than the groups that weren’t asked to remember a 9-digit number. 

Noordewier and Stapel’s subsequent analysis of the results showed that those participants who were required to remember the 9-digit number (cognitive load condition) were significantly more likely to base their evaluation of an individual on the extent to which they were consistent with the stereotypes they already held. However the group that weren’t given the additional memory task (no cognitive load condition) were more likely to base their evaluations on the specific attributes of that individual.

Put another way, the busier and more distracted someone was the more likely they were to rely on cues that confirmed the stereotypes they possessed. The less distracted someone was the more they were able to make an evaluation based on the merits of the specific individual in question.

At first glance, the idea that an audience is more likely to pay attention to your message to the extent to which their attention is focussed on you rather than something else appears to be common sense. However, like many things in business, common sense doesn’t always translate to common practice. Of course it is vitally important that a communication or message is optimised in such a way that the target audience will likely be influenced by it. Systematically and ethically employing the principles of influence would be our recommendation for ensuring your messages do just that.

However, as Noordewier and Stapel show in their studies, your message (regardless of how persuasive it is) can easily be diluted if your target audience is distracted or their attention is elsewhere. As a result there is another consideration for the detective of influence – the timing of their message.

Consequently when considering which key messages to employ or which request you wish to make it is also necessary to ask “how distracted and information overloaded is my influence target likely to be at the point when I communicate my key message or request?

If there is a good chance that they will be distracted then it will be vital to take steps to reduce those distractions as much as possible before you deliver your message or make your request. As is often the case, what you do before you do what you do can be as important as what you do.

This extra step, whilst simple and relatively small, could mean that “an image perpetuated without change” is a stereotype left to your competitors to be assigned, while you and your organization is viewed as a “shining example of change.




What examples have you seen that have been effective at reducing the influence of negative stereotypes or enhancing the impact of positive ones?


How have you seen the influence of stereotypes play out in different domains, for example in regular business meetings, sales calls, customer service environments or even online environments?  


Macrae, C.N., Milne, A.B., & Bodenhausen, G.V. (1994). Stereotypes as energy saving devices: A peek inside the cognitive toolbox. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 37-47.


Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: Science and Practice (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.


Noordewier, M.K., & Stapel, D.A. (2011).  Stereotype Disconfirmation Effect: When Sweet Hooligans Make You Happy and Honest Salesmen Make You Sad. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, Volume 33, pg 1 – 6




Surprises Revealed by Recent Research for the NHS

Appointment By Bobette Gorden

Recently, the result of a fascinating set of studies sponsored by INFLUENCE AT WORK, BDO and the National Health Services UK (NHS)was released.  Steve Martin, CMCT and director of the INFLUENCE AT WORK UK office led this research with Dr. Suraj Bassi and Dr. Rupert Dunbar Rees of BDO.

This research examined DNAs (Did Not Attend/No-Shows) in doctor’s offices.  DNAs are a significant and costly problem all over.  But according to The King’s Fund, a health think tank based in the UK, there is an estimated direct loss of £700m annually due to patients failing to come to their appointments or failing to cancel in time. 

The goal of this study was to find simple and cheap approaches to reduce DNAs.  This pilot study is now being peer reviewed by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

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