Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies

Photo by Flickr user adamknits. Click for sourceFlattery can work it’s magic, even when we know it’s insincere. The Boston Globe covers a new study that found that even when we realise the compliments we’re hearing are an attempt to butter us up, they can still have a persuasive effect.

Insincere flattery gets a bad rap. Sure, it sounds cheesy or even awkward. But new research suggests that one’s initial conscious reaction Рdiscounting the flattery as a self-serving ploy Рmay mask a more durable implicit positive emotional association with the flatterer. People who were given a printed advertisement from a department store that paid compliments to their sense of fashion had higher opinions of the store, but only when they weren’t given much time to think about it, or when they were asked several days later. This effect was boosted after people engaged in self-criticism but was nullified after people engaged in self-affirmation, suggesting that flattery Рeven the patently insincere type Рwill be especially effective on folks who are down on their luck.

Sadly, the study itself is locked behind a paywall, but there’s a longer summary of the experiment at the journal website which has a few more details.

By the way, could I just say what a lovely gas mask you’re wearing? Mind Hacks, getting the readers we deserve since 2004.

Link to brief Boston Globe write-up.
Link to study abstract.
Link to longer summary of study (via Neuromarketing).

3 Comments

  1. Posted February 18, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Ah that explains the “charming rogue” phenomenon. You know they’re a rogue but…what the heck you’re charmed by them anyway! And I’d just like to say what a wonderfully written piece : )

  2. Posted February 18, 2010 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    Vaughan,
    The funny thing is, I actually thought that I should write a comment about how much I enjoyed this post and how I laughed out loud at the closing lines – before I realized the self-referential aspect of doing this. And I’m being sincere! You’re the best!
    Regards, Simon

  3. Posted February 22, 2010 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    First, may I say what an excellent post this is!
    Actually, I think the flattery can, in many cases, serve a valid and sincere purpose, which may be why people enjoy receiving it. Allow me to give two examples: a man who is wooing a woman flatters her. She knows it’s flattery; yet she feels complimented, anyway, by the fact that he bothered to make the effort of engaging in flattery. A second example: a woman compliments the clothing of a co-worker. It’s a shallow compliment, yet the recipient realizes that it is a way of saying more than “I like your sweater.” What it’s really saying is “I’d like to find some way of letting you know that I’m interested in having a positive relationship with you.”
    In each case, the recipient of the flattery is (at least subconsciously) responding to the subtext of the flattery, which is a statement that he or she is worth the effort of flattering.


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