Persuasion experiment

Assignment can be done in two or three-person groups

Overview. In this assignment you will test the impact of one of the principles of persuasion you have learned about this semester by conducting a small experiment in which you create differing versions of persuasive messages, varying on one dimension which research suggests should have an important impact on influencing an audience. Select one of the persuasion techniques you learned about through class readings or discussion. Conduct two versions of the message or appeal that asks your audience to express an attidude or perform a behavior.  For example, you can ask your target audience to indicate how much they like or would be willing to vote for a (fictious) political candidate, to sign an online petition at, or contribute money to a legitimate charity.  This experiment can be done online (a Facebook ad) or offline (a personal contact on the street or in the student union). The' behavior of people who receive the message will be your dependent variable.   

For example, imagine you were investigating whether similarity is a a way to get to get potential donors to think their money is being used to support people whom they like (Ciandini, Page 150). You might create flyers that either emphasize or deemphasize how similar the beneficaries are to the people viewing the flyer or do canvasing on the street, dressing similarly or dissimilarly to the people who are receiving your pitch. To make the experiment efficient to run and to control for other factors that make a beneficiary attractive, if possible you should show each potential donor multiple flyers and counterbalance the similarity manipulation, so that each similarity manipulation appears equally often with each charity or beneficiary. Some attributes, such as physical attractiveness of a model, should have a similar effect on all donors. For others, such as similarity, you would expect that the same objective attribute of a model will have different effects depending upon who is being addressed (e.g., a canvasser wearing a baseball cap on backwards will have better luck among college students than downtown business people, while a briefcase-carrying canvasser will have better luck downtown than on a college campus). To test the effect of similarity, you will need to expose the same ptich to different audiences. Some persuasion tactics are easier to test using flyers (e.g., attractiveness of the models), while others are easier through an in-person appeal (e.g., touching the donor to build a personal relationship).

To test whether your campaign works, you should ask for money, a signature or expression of an attitude. Your main dependent measures will be the percentage of people you approach who perform the behavior and, in the case of monetary contributions, the amount they contribute. However, you may want to include some follow-up questions, to ask your subjects about their attitudes toward the different version of the campaign, using 7-point Likert scales. What you ask will depend very much on the type of persusasion technique you are testing. For example, if you were testing the effects of attractiveness on persuasion, you might ask "How worthy do you think this person is to get money from charitiy X." It is often useful to have different people solicit money and ask about the attitude questions.


FAQ on the persuasion assignment:

How should we report the success of our own plea? In the case of a charitable pitch, do we simply list how much money we have acquired? Or do we need to write down some hypotheses of some sort and look at possible confounding variables? I assume that we should write down what method we are going for and how we will do it, but should this just be 1 paragraph or more, like a few pages?

This paper should be 4-6 pages long. The goal here is for you to learn how to translate from an abstract principle to its actual implementation in a persuasion technique.

1. Start with a hypothesis section. What persuasion technique are you testing? Why do you think it would work?

2. Describe your methods. What are the experimental conditions that manipulate this persuasion technique?

3. What are your results? Create a table of means and standard deviations for each experimental condition. Use a t-test, correlation, analysis of variance, regression, chi squared test or other statistical technique to test whether the differences between the means are greater or less than you’d expect by change.

4. Interpret your results. Why did they come out the way they did? Did anything unexpected happen when doing your pitches?

5. Include an appendix, an excel spreadsheet or other table that provides your raw data.

Is there some minimum number of people we are supposed to ask for our charity appeal?

In my experience, you’ll need to have between 10-20 respondents per experimental condition to see differences between them. (The size of the experiment is one reason you may want to do this assignment in groups of 2 or 3)

What should the pitch be about?

It can be an appeal for your veiwers to express an opinion or take an action.  You can ask for people for their opinion about (fictious or little known) political candidates or some political policy. You can ask them to sign an online petition at  The Petition SitePetition Spot,  Petition OnlineGo PetitionOnline Petition or similar sites or create you own petitions through  Google Docs and then send the link to friends on Facebook or other social media sites. You can ask them to give money to a legitimate charity. 

If I choose a charity, which one will the money be donated to? This is important to work into the advertisement/pitch that I use.

You can pick any charity that you want, as long as you give the money to the charity.