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EASP – European Association of Social Psychology

Seedcorn Grant Report

24.05.2017, by Sibylle Classen in grant report

Barbara C. N. Müller (Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen)
How differences between independent and interdependent self-construal could influence the effectiveness of self-persuasion

With the seedcorn grant, I investigated how the effectiveness of anti-smoking campaigns could be improved. More specifically, I looked at whether self-persuasion (i.e., persuade yourself to do something by generating arguments yourself why a certain behaviour is good) would also work efficiently to decrease smoking behaviours for eastern people with a more interdependent self-construal. In other words, does the positive influence of self-persuasion have its cross-cultural generality?

According to the latest data provided by WHO, the global tobacco epidemic kills over 5 million people each year, and the number will rise to 8 million per year by 2030 without any interventions1. For this reason, the health risks associated with tobacco use are highlighted in public campaigns as a way to strengthen people's smoking cessation activities. Anti-smoking campaigns mainly focus on the use of direct persuasion techniques (i.e., providing people with information about the risks and consequences of smoking). Direct persuasion however can result in defensive responses, which diminish the success of a possible intervention2. Prevailing theories indicate that information against smoking behaviours can be overtly confrontational and give people the impression that their 'freedom to choose' is threatened, which leads to the experience of psychological reactance, and can even increase smoking3. Researchers have found that compared with passively accepting anti-smoking messages, self-persuasion (i.e., generating own arguments against smoking) is a far more effective method for changing smoking behaviour and decreasing smokers' defensive responses towards persuasive messages4,5.

These findings regarding self-persuasion seem promising, at least for people who highly value what comes from themselves. Looking at these self-referential processes, a prevailing cultural factor, self-construal6 - the extent to which a person thinks of himself or herself as independent from or interdependent with social others - could influence and regulate the very nature of individuals' experience, including cognition, motivation, and social behaviours7. An extensive body of literature has shown that western people seek to maintain their independence from others by attending to the self and by discovering and expressing their unique inner attributes, while most Asian cultures have a distinct conception of individuality that highlights the relatedness of individuals to each other.

Relating these differences in self-construal to anti-smoking interventions, a significant point contributing to the positive influence of self-persuasion on smoking behaviours might lie in the fact that people in western countries, where a more independent self-construal dominates, tend to abide by their own thoughts and principles. With the seedcorn grant, two studies were conducted to test the assumption that smoking-related warning messages from others could work better for people with interdependent self-construal, while self-persuasion warning messages work better for people with independent self-construal. Furthermore, I visited Prof. Rainer Greifeneder (University Basel; expert on social influence and decision-making), and Dr. Sabine Glock (University Wuppertal; expert on anti-smoking and anti-drinking interventions) to discuss my ideas, the design, and results of the present studies.

As it was very difficult to find enough daily smokers for both studies, we adjusted the design for both studies to make it compatible for an online version of the research. Due to this change, the EMA assessment had to be excluded from the procedure of study 1. In study 2, we asked for the smoking behaviour within 24 hours after the experiment. Study 2 was preregistered on the Open Science Framework.

Study 1 – trait self-construal
In the first study, I tested the hypothesis that self-persuasion works better for trait independent people, meaning that it increases their intention to limit smoking, risk perception towards smoking, and negative attitudes towards smoking; while direct persuasion works better for trait interdependent people. Two typical persuasion paradigms were used to induce daily smokers’ self-persuasion versus direct persuasion: In the first paradigm, the self-persuasion manipulation consisted of asking participants to generate their own arguments on the topic “smoking is bad” and write them down; the direct persuasion manipulation consisted of asking participants to read several arguments on the topic “smoking is bad” (see also Müller et al., 2009). The second paradigm used video clips which consisted of either statement-format warning labels or question-format warning labels to induce self-persuasion and direct persuasion (adapted from Glock, Müller, & Ritter, 2013). Participants’ trait self-construal scores were tested before the persuasion tasks, and their intention to limit smoking, risk perception towards smoking, and negative attitudes towards smoking were tested after receiving certain type of persuasion. Analysis showed no significant main effects or interaction effects, suggesting that there is no moderation effect of trait self-construal on the effectiveness of self-persuasion and smoking-related outcomes. Bayesian statistics analysis is planned to further strengthen this finding.

Study 2 – state self-construal
In the second study, I tested the hypothesis that self-persuasion works better for situational independent people, meaning that it increases their intention to limit smoking, risk perception towards smoking, and negative attitudes towards smoking; while direct persuasion works better for situational interdependent people. Participants situational self-construal was primed with an adapted Similarities and Differences between Families and Friends (SSDF) priming task (Trafimow, Triandis, & Goto, 1991): in this task, they had to think about and write down either their similarities with or differences from the members in their communities and society, and what they are expected to do to achieve their uniqueness or as a member of the society in 3 minutes. Subsequently, they were presented with video clips which consisted of either statement-format warning labels or question-format warning labels to induce self-persuasion and direct persuasion used in Study 1. Their intention to limit smoking, risk perception towards smoking, and negative attitudes towards smoking were tested after receiving certain type of persuasion. First analyses with 220 of the 260 planned participants showed no significant main effects or interaction effects, suggesting that there is no moderation effect of situational self-construal on the effectiveness of self-persuasion and smoking-related outcomes. Bayesian statistics analysis is planned to further strengthen this finding, and data collection of 40 more participants is still ongoing.

Together, these studies have yielded interesting results that will stimulate further research and collaboration with Rainer Greifeneder, Sabine Glock, and their lab members. As such, the EASP seedcorn grant allowed me to extend my network and gather first evidence for my ideas. The data already served as input for a conference poster presentation at the International Convention of Psychological Science (ICPS) in March 2017 in Vienna.

References

  • 1 World Health Organization (WHO). (2015). World No Tobacco Day 2015: Stop illicit trade of tobacco products, from: http://www.who.inVcampaigns/no-tobacco-day/2015/event/en/
  • 2 Liberman, A., & Chaiken, S. (1992). Defensive processing of personally relevant health messages. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 18, 669 -679.
  • 3 Brehm, J. W., & Sensenig, J. (1966). Social influence as a function of attempted and implied usurpation of choice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 703 -707.
  • 4 Müller, B. C. N., van Baaren, R. B., Ritter, S. M., Woud, M. L., Bergmann, H., Harakeh, Z., Engels, R. C. M. E, & Dijksterhuis, A. (2009). Tell me why... The influence of self-involvement on short term smoking behaviour. Addictive Behaviors, 34, 427-431.
  • 5 Müller, B. C. N., Ritter, S. M., Glock, S., Dijksterhuis, A., Engels, R. C. M. E., & van Baaren, R. B. (2016). Smoking related warning messages formulated as questions positively influence short-term smoking behaviour. Journal of Health Psychology, 21, 60-68.
  • 6 Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98, 224-253.
  • 7 van Baaren, R. B, Maddux, W. W., Chartrand, T. L., de Bouter, C., & van Knippenberg, A. (2003). It takes two to mimic: Behavioral consequences of self-construals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 1093-1102.
  • 8 Gudykunst, W. B., Matsumoto, Y., Ting-Toomey, S., Nishida, T., Kim, K., & Heyman, S. (1996). The influence of cultural individualism-collectivism, self-constmals, and individual values on communication styles across cultures. Human Communication Research, 22, 510-543.