Miller, R.L., Brickman, P., and Bolen, D., Atreibution Versus Persuasion
as a Means for Modifying Behavior, JPSP, 1975, 31, 430-441
This research compared the relative effectiveness of an attribution
strategy with a persuasion strategy in changing behavior.
Prior studies showed that merely persistence in persustion doesn't produce
lasting change. However, for good persuation, studies have shown that the
following techniques improve effectiveness:
* high credibility source
* deliver a repeated message
* explicitly stated conclusion
* support with arguments of the benefits of the change
* overlearned by the audience
* face-to-face communication
* restatement of the source at the time of attitude assessment
* active role playing or participation by the audience in the message
For attribution techniques, it's important to:
* consistency of evidence over time
* consistence of evidence over modalities
* consistency or consensus across sources
They tested among three innercity 5th grade classrooms in Chicago. In
the attribution group, they did things like:
* teacher commended kids for not throwing wrappers on floow
* said paper was left on floor but "our class is clean and wouldn't
* one student picked up paper on floor and was commended by the teacher
* row 1 was pointed our as exceptionally neat by the teacher
* the principal came by and said how clean the class was
* big poster saying "We are Anderson's Litter-Conscious Class"
* Principal sent letter to class commending for neatness
* janitors left a note saying class was easy to clean
In the persuasion condition, they
* Told about ecology during field trip
* Teacher talked about garbage and reasons to throw it awasy
* Teacher passed note from janitor asking people to be clean
* Tell students not to throw litter on the floor with reasons
* poster saying "DOn't be a litterbug"
* Principal sent not saying "Please keep your room clean".
For both conditions, they did pre and post tests for littering by handing
out a reading assignment and telling them to throw them away.
Results were pretest: control = 20% in wastebasket, 16% persuation, and
immediate posttest = control 25% persuation 45% attribution 83%
twoweek posttest control = 30% persuation - 30% attribution = 85%
They also did some littering and observed each classes efforts to notice
and put the litter in the garbage. The attribution group picked up all
items in both post and two week post, compated to less than half for the
The second study put all the treatments into each classroom to remove the
classroom bias. The improvement area was in math achievement , a more highly
"valenced" skill and more important in the classroom than littering
habits. They had a similar plan to the first test (with less role-playing),
and reduced explanation of benefits (they seemed more obvious in this case).
All subjects received a math and self-esteem pretest. Five techniques were
used (plus a control group)
Attribution ability: focus attributions on math skills and abilities, including
letters from teacher & principal and medals
Attribution motivation: focus attributions on hard work and trying in arithematic.
Persuasion ability: Persuade student that they should be good in math with
letters and medals as above
Persuation motivation: Persuade that they should work harder and spend
more time on math.
Reinforcement: Like attribution but added comments from teacher that she
was proud of the student's work. "proud of your work" was general
Self-esteem went up for all groups except control. The order of effectiveness
* Attribution Motivation
* Attribution Ability
* Reinforcement Control
* Attributton Ability
In mathematics, increase and maintenance of ability was clearly better in
the attribution methods, with ability higher than motivation.
The attribution effects made a significant change that persisted over time
(unlike the persuasion groups. It seems less critical whether the attributions
are made to ability or to effort.
"Attribution statement as truth statements... enable them to work directly
on a person's self-concept, as noted, but it may alsoenable them to slip
by the defenses a person ordinariliy employs against persuasive attempts
that are recognized as such."
A persuasive appeal may have a negative attribution that the person is deficient
in some ability or habit or attitude, which causes a negative reaction to
the persuasive argument.
"This present study supports the idea that an effort to improve the
child's academic self-concept will help improve academic performance, if
only because the improved self-image will make actual success less inconsistent,
less unexpected, and less likely to be discounted or rejected".