It Ain’t What You Say, It’s The Way That You Say It

People who are confident about what they are saying are more likely to persuade others of their point of view confirm psychologists. The research by Dr Briony Pulford and Professor Andrew Colman of the University of Leicester will be presented at the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference at the University of Manchester today, Thursday 31 March 2005.

Using an experiment involving participants who had to look at nine photographs of faces then work with each other to agree which e-fit type picture showed the best likeness, the researchers confirmed a theory originally proposed in 1995. This stated that when people communicate beliefs to one another they express degrees of confidence proportional to the certainty with which they hold those beliefs. Furthermore the people being communicated to tend to judge the reliability of the information they are being given according to the confidence with which it is expressed.

Fifty six participants worked in pairs with one participant being shown a good e-fit likeness of one of the faces in the set of nine photographs they were given designed to induce high confidence and accuracy of identification. The other partner was given a weak e-fit with a poor resemblance of one or more of the other faces. Participants were not shown each other’s e-fits but were allowed time to discuss which face from the set of photographs they wanted to choose as the suspected criminal. When they both chose the right face they were rewarded with 40p, when they both agreed on a face but it was the wrong one they received just 20p. If they chose different faces they received no reward.

The number of times the person with the strong evidence persuaded the other to agree on the correct face was significantly higher than the number of times the person with the weaker e-fit persuaded the other to choose the incorrect face.

Dr Briony Pulford said:

“What we have been able to do is experimentally support the theory of Thomas and McFadyen that confident communicators are more persuasive, but we think there may still be much to learn about this process and what other factors might have a bearing. Never the less, it should make us aware that those people who are the most persuasive are likely to be those who have the highest certainty in what they are saying.”

From University of Leicester

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