Actions influence attitudes

Type classification: this is a notes resource.

One of social psychology’s most significant findings is that action shapes attitude, a principle that can be illustrated further in class.

For example, the low-ball technique, a device presumably used by some new-car dealers, demonstrates the powerful effects of action on attitude. After a customer has signed on to buy a new car because of its very low price, the salesperson reports that the sales manager won’t agree because “we’d be losing money". Reportedly, more customers stick with their purchase, even at the higher price, than would have agreed if the full price had been disclosed from the start.

In another investigation of the technique, introductory psychology students were asked to participate in a laboratory experiment at 7am. Only 24% of those asked came. When students agreed to participate without knowing the time and then were asked if they would come at 7am, 53% of those who had been asked showed up!

Brainwashing, a technique first used on American prisoners during the Korean War, also demonstrates how attitudes may follow actions. The captors would have the prisoners write a series of essays, each one representing a more serious attack on the U.S. government. Slowly the writer’s attitude would become consistent with his words (Myers, 2008).

In his delightful book, Influence, Robert Cialdini gives numerous examples of how other compliance professionals use the written statement to shape attitudes. The Amway Corporation, for example, promotes sales by asking its personnel to set individual sales goals and then record them on paper: “Whatever the goal, the important thing is that you set it ... and write it down. There is something magical about writing things down ... when you reach that goal, set another, and write that down. You’ll be off and running.”

Similarly, some door-to-door sales companies have used a “write-it-down” technique to counteract legislation that allows customers a few days to cancel their order. By having the customer rather than the salesperson fill out the original sales agreement, they push them to commit to the purchase. As one encyclopedia company official notes, this change alone has proved to be “a very important psychological aid in preventing customers from backing out of their agreements.”

The actions-shaping-attitude principle may also operate in the “50 words or less” testimonial contests. Why do manufacturers of toothpaste, breakfast cereal, and chewing gum pay thousands of dollars to a contestant who composes a short personal statement that begins, “Why I like…”? To get as many people as possible to go on record as favoring the product. Saying is believing!