Personality and Persuasion

We are exposed to so many advertisements and other persuasive messages every day that it is impossible to attend to every single one. Because of this, there is a large amount of research dedicated to identifying ways to make these messages more effective. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to tailor the message specifically to the intended audience. Messages that align with a person’s motivation (e.g. gaining a reward, preventing loss) tend be seen and interpreted more easily and rated more positively.

Motivation is usually examined from a goal achievement standpoint, but different personality traits are also accompanied by different values and motivation. Extraverted people like social attention and rewards, agreeable people tend to value community and interpersonal harmony, conscientious people want order and efficiency, people who are open to experience desire creativity and intellectual stimulation, and neurotic people need safety and stability. Hirsh, Kang, & Bodenhausen (2012) believe that targeting each of these personality based motivations can increase the effectiveness of an ad.

To test this theory, the researchers created an ad for the “XPhone” and manipulated the contents so that it reflected the motivational concerns of the five major personality traits. For extraversion, they emphasized the phone’s ability to help find excitement and make the owner the life of the party. The agreeable ad focused on the phone’s ability to bring people to together and help people stay in touch, and the conscientious ad showed that the phone was able to help keep the owner organized and would increase productivity. For the openness to experience ad, they said the phone would keep the owner’s mind active and inspired and help the owner discover the world, and for the neuroticism ad, they demonstrated how phone was designed to keep the owner safe in a stressful and uncertain life.

Participants then rated each ad on several questions that were averaged together for a total effectiveness score for the ad. The researchers found that the effectiveness scores for each of the ads were significantly correlated with its corresponding personality trait, but there was no correlation between effectiveness scores and non-corresponding traits. This means that specifically tailoring an ad to the audience’s personality driven motivations increased the ad’s effectiveness. So, if you need to persuade someone, if possible, emphasize aspects of the message that align with his or her personality.

Hirsh, J.B., Kang, S.K., & Bodenhausen, G.V. (2012). Personalized persuasion: Tailoring persuasive appeals to the recipient’s personality traits. Psychological Science, 23(6), 578-581.


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