For many years, communication has been and still is an inseparable part of human lives. Communication can be perceived in many different ways, one of them being heuristic. The heuristic approach to seeking and resisting compliance is a mixture of many different social science fields that come together from behavioral economics, decision-making psychology and communication through a dual-process model. Recently, Dr. Andrew Jones, an Assistant Professor in the Communication department at LCC International University, presented a series of nested hypotheses. He discussed the presence of seeking and resisting compliance in our everyday lives and how we can tackle it by using a few simple techniques.
In the 1980s, Richard Petty and John Cacioppo, distinguished university professors in the psychology department at Ohio State University started investigating persuasion in depth. Taking a more scientific and technical approach, they were trying to understand the dual-process theories of persuasive communication. How do human beings make decisions? How do we come to be persuaded?
Building their ideas on social psychology, and behavioral economics, both Petty and Cacioppo proposed key nested hypotheses. The first being that multiple factors influence how much people think about aspects of their interactions. That being said, factors like features of the source, recipient, message, and context can influence decisions. It might sound too complicated, but part of the researcher’s duty is to use technical language not to make it complicated, but rather in a specific context. Secondly, that message content has the strongest potential effect on outcomes when recipients process that content systematically and extensively. This means that the message content has the strongest effect when you think about the content. When recipients think little about message content, other elements of the situation trigger heuristics that may influence recipient outcomes. A great example is when a student is not in the lecture, listening to the professor’s explanations in the classroom, but is simply enjoying a day in the park. That is when heuristics, which are features of the source, the recipient, the message, and the context might play a part by influencing the outcomes. And lastly, that message recipients are more likely to extensively process content when they possess both the motivation and ability to do so. The third hypothesis suggests that once a person thinks deeply about the message received, the content becomes the most important part.
A specific model to break down these series of complex hypotheses can help better understand the process. If the persuasive communication is present, what is the motivation to process the information? This can be based on personal relevance, and need for cognition. Is there an ability to process that information, if yes, then is it in an understandable language? Is it in an environment without distraction? Then there is the nature of cognitive processing (favorable, unfavorable, or neutral thought predomination) and considerations for cognitive structure changes (adopting and storing new cognition in memory), which leads to a central route towards persuasion. It can be either a positive or negative attitude. Combining all of it together, it leads to peripheral cues, which are the factors that exist outside of the message that encourage us to make an attitude change.
“As the researchers became more interested in the heuristics phenomenon, they wanted to find every single heuristic device that influence us to make a decision,” said Dr. Jones. At first starting from a list of twelve items, later evolving to over a hundred items. A researcher, and a Professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University, Robert Cialdini, in his book, Influence: Science and Persuasion narrowed the devices to six main heuristic items that can influence our decisions, when we are not being influenced by the content of a message. Firstly, there is reciprocation, which means “if I do something for you, then you do something for me.” Secondly, commitment and consistency. Commitment and consistency mean being consistent with decision making. The third item is social proof and it means that people do what others do around them. The next item is liking, and it is simply doing something for someone you like. The fifth is authority. For example, if a person wears a uniform, the other person is likely to respect the authority and comply with their requests. Last, is scarcity. Scarcity advocates for rarity. The more rare something is, the more valuable we perceive it to be. “We are more likely to be swayed or influenced by scarce resources,” commented Professor Jones.
Thinking about the compliance techniques and how modern society should seek and resist compliance can be looked at within the framework of persuasion. Using the primary heuristic devices, we can try and identify exposure to them in today’s world. “Have some coffee or sweets!” is a simple, yet great example of reciprocation. It is not necessarily to influence in a broader sense, but rather to create a favorable disposition. Did you register for a certain event, or a lecture to attend? This is an act of commitment and consistency, that also leads to social proof. Who do you know at this event or lecture? When it comes to the liking factor, this technique is perfectly utilized in the digital, social-network-mediated world. People ask to like their page, to like the account, and with that it puts people in a positive frame of mind. Lastly, authority and scarcity. Authority can be as simple as a person’s title we refer to, and scarcity is, for example, that the participation to the event or lecture lasts for one day only, meaning that it will end. “It's not to say that these devices remove your ability to make a decision. These things are not about the message or the content, but about the influence of your decision,” reflects Jones.
Analyzing persuasion techniques, seeking and resisting compliance are a few of the most important matters to understand in communication. From email scams to discount schemes, from children’s birthdays, to baby showers. Humans are constantly bombarded with persuasive appeals. It is possible to resist these compliance requests, but it is highly important to always ask questions and be aware. What is the message? On what motivational grounds? The ability to process the message and based on the content of the message, you decide, whether to comply with it or not. The heuristic cues play a big part as fundamental principles in understanding persuasion, and evaluation of communication. “My encouragement is to process the messages that you receive and think deeply about the content. These heuristic devices are all things that happen when you're not paying attention to the content of a message. Think deeply, process using your brain’s power to understand what is given and distinguish what message comes through your ears,” concluded Dr. Jones.