Who’s really in control? Study finds link between personality, persuasion susceptibility

ORMSKIRK, England — Most people would scoff at the idea that they aren’t in full control of their own decisions. However, a study out of England has identified certain personality profiles that make people more, or less, perceptible to different types of persuasion.

We all like to consider ourselves the master of our own lives, but the plain fact remains that each person is influenced and persuaded to make certain decisions on a daily basis. From advertising campaigns to recommendations from bosses or family members, most people are persuaded to make certain decisions far more than they may realize.

Researchers from Edge Hill University in England had 316 individuals fill out an online questionnaire asking about personality traits and openness to persuasion. Using the questionnaires, the research team identified three personality profiles that are strongly related to persuasion susceptibility: Fearful, Malevolent, and Socially Apt.

“Rather than looking at personality traits in isolation we looked at the Big-5, Dark Triad and Type D Personality scales together, and in relation to Cialdini’s model of persuasion,” explains lead researcher Dr. Helen Wall in a release. “This helped us create more accurate personality profiles, so we could then predict a person’s likelihood to do something and how easily they could be persuaded.”

According to the research, Fearful people who are socially inhibited, anxious, and shy were more likely to follow the crowd and be persuaded to do something by those in authority.

Those who exhibited the Malevolent profile were less likely to be influenced by authority figures, less willing to do something to “return the favor,” and more likely to be persuaded if the opportunity was available for only a limited time.

Socially Apt people who are more agreeable, extroverted, and conscientious were more likely to be persuaded to take a certain action if it helps them maintain their commitment to something they’ve done before.

“Our study sheds some light on how combining personality characteristics can influence human persuasion. We are now in a position to further explore how our findings can benefit the health, wellbeing and behavior for many people across varied contexts in society,” says Dr. Andy Levy.

The research team says they hope to build off of this study in the future, and potentially use their findings to persuade children to adopt healthier habits early in life.

“I’m very passionate about the need to encourage a proactive approach to children’s mental health and wellbeing,” Dr. Hill comments. “From this research I’d like to develop a program of research which utilizes personalized persuasive approaches encouraging young children to be proactive towards their own wellbeing. Adopting a personalized approach that ‘nudges’ people towards taking positive action, I believe, is very important.”

The study is published in the scientific journal Personality and Individual Differences.

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