A powerful theme in literature is the deception of people who probably should have known better. In the Bible there’s Eve being convinced that eating the fruit of the tree is in her best interest.
Yes, Some people are more likely to be tricked
In Virgil’s Aeneid the Trojans carried the gift of a wooden horse into their gates, thus sealing the fate of their impervious city by unwittingly bringing inside a group of Greek soldiers. In Shakespeare’s Othello a single misplaced handkerchief was all Othello needed to be convinced that his wife was unfaithful.
In Mark Twain’s the Adventures of Tom Sawyer the protagonist convinces Ben Rogers, Billy Fisher, Johnny Miller and a string of other boys just how much fun it is to paint a fence and even lets them pay for the privilege to do it. Many of us know people like Johnny Miller or Othello, people who were a bit too willing to believe.
Does modern research support the idea that some people are more likely to be tricked or, for something less dramatic, convinced? The answer is an unequivocal yes. Returning to the ATTiC model created for this course, the first T refers to characteristics of the target being influenced. Research indicates that some targets of influence are more suggestible than others.
If you happen to be someone who’s been called gullible in the past or maybe you know someone who has then knowledge and acceptance of that personal characteristics can help you escape being a victim of an influence expert with bad intentions like Bernie Madoff. This is why in previous articles we discussed characteristics of agents that made them more likely to be able to influence.
Now are shifting to the target, examining what makes them more likely to be influenced. If you recall from the first article Solomon Asch of Swarthmore College conducted a series of important experiments on social conformity. These experiments show the people who found themselves amidst others who claim something obviously false “line a there, that’s the one that matches” they would sometimes go along with the group and say out loud things they did not believe.
Cultural characteristic of collectivism
But some of the subjects in these famous experiments would even come to believe something that their eyes weren’t seeing. Videos from the original Asch experiments show people truly doubting their own vision and as mentioned in the first article of the series some people are more likely to be concerned about and try to adhere to group norms, those people were called collectivists.
Collectivists value their connections with the group and will subsume their individual preferences and feelings to the good of the group. Collectivism varies across individuals and across cultures, certain countries have cultures that promote a higher level of collectivism among their citizens.
Countries with high levels of collectivism include Japan and Korea, countries with low levels of collectivism include the United States, Canada and Australia. At these extremes we would observe differences in the way that participants behave in conformity experiments like Asch’s.
So the first target characteristic is the cultural characteristic of collectivism. Collectivists will be more likely to be influenced by others within their group in order to preserve harmony and consensus within the group.
The second characteristic of targets that’s relevant to persuasion is suggestibility. Suggestibility is basically synonymous with gullibility, it’s a person’s willingness to accept messages from himself or others. In fact it’s the likelihood that something that is seen heard or felt will immediately be judged as true.