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Suggestibility and acceptance

When opportunity comes up to influence someone and you are the influencer how likely you are you to succeed will depend not just on you but on your target as well.

The relationship between suggestibility and acceptance

Let’s review a study that examines how someone high in suggestibility differs from someone who is low on this characteristic. Martin Brune and his colleagues from Ruhr University Bochum in Germany examined the relationship between suggestibility and acceptance in an ultimatum game.

Before research participants play the game they answered a portion of the suggestibility survey then they played. The ultimatum game is used in many decision-making studies and involves two players who interact to decide how they would share money given to them.

The typical sequence goes like this: you were told that your partner is being given 10 money units, he offers you some percent of that amount you can refuse in which case no one keeps any of those units or you can accept which case you both keep the proposed sums. More concretely in this study we walk you through what would happen if you were subject.

You would be seated at the computer screen and told to watch the screen, the screen would indicate that you and a partner pictured and named on the screen somehow find €10 on the street. The partner picks it up and suggest how the money will be split, on the next screen you can either accept or reject that offer.

Again if you accept they told you earn that money if you reject neither of you gets any money. At the end of the experiment you were rewarded with an amount that reflects what you decided to keep during the game, so there is a real-world consequence in terms of the money you receive.

Influence is determined by multiple factors

As you might imagine in this ultimatum game a 50-50 split is considered fair and everyone agrees, the interesting question is what happens when the proposed split is not fair say 7 to 3 your partner keeps €7 and you 3, 8 to 2, or even 9 to 1.

Are you willing to say no even though it means you don’t get anything just because you think it’s unfair and you don’t think the other person should keep any money? In the study by Brune and colleagues they found that suggestibility did not matter in the fair split condition, after all everyone agreed when the split was 5 and 5.

Suggestibility also did not really matter in the 7:3 split condition either, but in the most unfair situations when the partner offered in 8:2 or a 9:1 split people with higher suggestibility were much more likely than others to say yes to that ultimatum. In other words, those high in suggestibility were willing to acquiesce to what is clearly an unfair proposal.

What would you do? In this study only 16% of subjects agreed to the 9:1 offer, but the majority of that group were high in suggestibility. So, the answer to what you would do probably depends on how you answer the questions that I posed to you earlier. If you were more suggestible then you are more likely to take an offer even if it is unfair. Let’s think about this finding a bit more broadly.

When opportunity comes up to influence someone and you are the influencer how likely you are you to succeed will depend not just on you but on your target as well. If your target is more suggestible then you’re more likely to win even if what you are asking isn’t really fair. If your target is low on suggestibility and you may not win even if you are a master at wielding influence.

This reinforces the idea that the success of influence is determined by multiple factors, and you cannot guarantee success every single time.