The pique persuasion technique plays on our curiosity and it’s surprisingly effective

501125424By Alex Fradera

Sorry to bother you – I’m just after three pounds sixty-five for a bus ticket to Bromley.

Living in an urban area you frequently hear this kind of request, which showcases a persuasion approach called the “pique technique”, whereby people are more likely to comply with requests for an unusually specific quantity, because it piques their interest. But do people really give more readily, or in higher amounts, when exposed to the technique? A meta-analysis in the journal Social Influence puts pique through its paces.


The technique was first investigated in the nineties by a trio of researchers – Michael Santos, Craig Leve and Anthony Pratkanis – with experimental assistants posing as panhandlers on Santa Cruz wharf and asking passers-by for either 17 cents or a quarter. They found the unusual sum led to more compliance from the passers-by, and so to more coinage in the cup.

The researchers hypothesised that the unusual sum is effective as it disrupts the “refusal script” that people have primed in response to generic requests, and instead generates curiosity that encourages the person to engage. The paper spawned further work exploring the technique, including its effectiveness when asking for someone’s time, but some studies found no effects or even negative effects.

To make sense of this muddied picture, Seyoung Lee and Thomas Feeley from the University of Buffalo looked across the available research, six studies in all, to verify whether there is a reliable case for the technique and what might be driving it.

Does piquing pay? Across the studies, there were 16 tests of whether successful requests led to more generous donations when the request was for an unusual sum, and the meta-analysis showed that this was not the case: donations, when given, were similar for both typical and unusual request amounts.

However, piquers earned more overall, because the technique enhanced the chances of getting a donation in the first place. The size of the effect was larger than for other tricks for gaining compliance like the foot in door technique (.27 vs. .11 in terms of statistical effect sizes). The effect size varied across different studies and conditions, so Lee and Feeley investigated what might moderate it, finding the technique more successful in studies conducted in France compared to the US, and working better for smaller requests than for those involving more than a dollar.

The analysis also showed that when the technique was used, people were more likely to respond by asking what the money was for. This is consistent with the idea that the technique disrupts automatic processes and encourages conscious engagement with the request. It’s as if the unusual detail shakes the person out of a slumber to see the moment as the beginning of an interaction, rather than as environmental noise to tune out. Unfortunately the paper doesn’t provide data on whether these curious people were more likely to donate; we do know, however, that when the piquer preemptively explained what the request was for (as per my opening example), participants were more likely to comply.

Many persuasion techniques are overtly exploitative, trying to win compliance by wearing away the target’s defences. Piquing in some way fits this mould, by dodging underneath the normal means of parrying an unsolicited request. But its basic mechanism seems legitimate: to wake us up to what’s happening right now, and then leave it to our conscience how to react. After all, even if you have a principled objection to giving to charity street reps or to the homeless, it’s no bad thing to sometimes be prompted to consciously reflect on your decision.

Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) is Contributing Writer at BPS Research Digest

A meta-analysis of the pique technique of compliance

from BPS Research Digest

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How to tell if someone is lying

It may be easier to tell if someone is lying when you cannot see their face, new research finds.

 Contrary to most people’s expectations, being able to see someone’s full face does not help lie detection.

In fact, it actually hurts it.

Dr Amy-May Leach, the study’s first author, explained that the reason may be because it helps people focus on important cues:

“The presence of a veil may compel observers to pay attention to more ‘diagnostic’ cues, such as listening for verbal indicators of deception.”

The finding emerges from a study of the wearing of veils in court.

Witnesses appearing in US, UK and Canadian courts are not allowed to wear a niqab (covering the whole body except for the eyes) or hijab (covering the head and neck).

This is partly because judges believe it is necessary to see the face to tell if someone is lying.

Dr Leach, though, explained that they thought this was wrong:

“We hypothesized that lie detection accuracy would be higher in the niqab condition than in the hijab or no-veil conditions because it would minimize the availability of misleading cues to deception.

It was only when witnesses wore veils (i.e., hijabs or niqabs) that observers performed above chance levels.

Thus, veiling actually improved lie detection.”

The researchers conducted two experiments with a total of 523 participants.

They compared people’s ability to detect lies when witnesses were wearing a hijab or a niqab or neither.

The researchers explained the results:

“Contrary to the assumptions underlying the court decisions cited earlier, lie detection was not hampered by veiling across two studies.

In fact, observers were more accurate at detecting deception in witnesses who wore niqabs or hijabs than those who did not veil.

Discrimination between lie- and truth-tellers was no better than guessing in the latter group, replicating previous findings.”

The study was published in the journal Law and Human Behavior(Leach et al., 2016).

from PsyBlog


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How To Read Personality From Online Profile Pictures

Social media profile pictures can reveal clues about personality, according to new research.

 Thousands of Twitter user’s pictures were included in the study, along with an analysis of their personality.

Here is how to spot each of the five aspects of personality:

1. Conscientiousness

More conscientious people used pictures that were more natural, colourful and bright.

They expressed the most emotions of all the different personality types.

This probably reflects the fact that conscientious people like to do what is expected of them.

2. Openness to experience

People high in openness to experience often had the best pictures: these tended to be sharper, at higher contrast.

Their photos tended to be more artistic or unusual and their faces were often larger in the frame.

3. Extraverts

Extraverts used more colourful images and were more likely to show a group of people rather than just themselves.

Unsurprisingly, they were usually beaming at the camera.

4. Neuroticism

People higher in neuroticism tended to use simpler photos with less colour.

 They were more likely to show a blank expression or even to be hiding their face.

5. Agreeableness

Highly agreeable people post relatively poor pictures of themselves…

…but they are probably smiling and the pictures are bright and lively.

The study’s authors sum up their findings:

“Users that are either high in openness or neuroticism post less photos of people and when these are present, they tend not to express positive emotions.

The difference between the groups is in the aesthetic quality of the photos, higher for openness and lower for neuroticism.

Users high in conscientiousness, agreeableness or extraversion prefer pictures with at least one face and prefer presenting positive emotions through their facial expressions.

Conscientious users post more what is expected of a profile picture: pictures of one face that expresses the most positive emotion out of all traits.

Extraverts and agreeable people regularly post colorful pictures that convey emotion, although they are not the most aesthetically pleasing, especially for the latter trait.”

The study was published in the journal AAAI DIGITAL LIBRARY (Liu et al., 2016).

from PsyBlog


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