Does Insincere Flattery Work?

Does flattery work in helping you get what you want, dear talented and awesome reader, who will surely tell their friends and loved ones about Neatorama? Apparently so.

A new study by Elaine Chan and Jaideep Sengupta at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology revealed that flattery does work - even if the flatteree (is that a word?) knows that the compliment is insincere:

What, however, of situations in which the flattery is clearly "bogus" - in that the recipient knows fully well that the flatterer is offering an insincere compliment, presumably driven by an ulterior motive? Instances of insincere flattery abound in marketing context - such as the salesperson who offers prospective customers profuse compliments on how an expensive outfit makes them look, or mass mailings in which hundreds of consumers are informed that they are receiving the mail because they (and they alone) possess unique attributes - such as an impeccable dress sense - which allows them to appreciate the virtues of the services or store being advertised.

In cases such as these, where the prospective consumer is aware of a clear ulterior motive underlying the compliment, both research (e.g. Campbell and Kirmani 2000; Vonk 1998) and intuition suggest that recipients will discount the flattering comments and correct their otherwise favorable reactions. While in agreement with this premise, the current investigation suggests that despite such correction, a positive impact of flattery may still be observed. Specifically, we draw on recent perspectives in dual attitutes theory to predict that even after the recipient consciously discount an insincere compliment, the original positive reaction (the implicit attitude) co-exists with, rather than being replaced by, the discounted evaluation (the explicit attitude).

The experiment was simple: they asked subjects to rate the appeal of a hypothetical new store after looking at a promotional leaflet. Subjects that were given leaflets that praised their sense of fashion, and were fully aware that such praise were bogus, still rated the store more positively and said that they were more likely to shop there.

Link | The study [PDF]


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