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Are Words More Important that Actions in the 21st Century?

Are Words More Important than Actions in the 21st Century?

A new study suggest the well-known adage that actions speak louder than words is incorrect — at least when it comes to acts of persuasion.

University of Chicago researchers discovered that when it comes to the art of persuasion, you can attract more followers if you stress what you like, not what you do.

The study, which will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, finds that people are more likely to conform to others’ preferences than conform to others’ actions.

In other words, people want to like what others like, but they want to have or do what others don’t have or don’t do.

In the study, “Words Speak Louder: Conforming to Preferences More Than Actions,” Professor Ayelet Fishbach and former Ph.D. student Yanping Tu, designed a series of six experiments involving everyday activities such as choosing a type of chewing gum, shopping for groceries, picking a favorite mug design, and watching a pet video on YouTube.

“The tendency to conform is pervasive and rooted in human psychology,” said Fishbach. “When people conform, they conform to what others like and to others’ attitudes. But in terms of what they do, they want to be different. So if you want to persuade people, you should talk about liking, not about having.”

Investigators found that people conform to others’ preferences at least partially because they adopt others’ judgments as their own. They further found that when people behave as if they are not conforming, their motivation could be to coordinate or complement their actions with others’ actions.

For example, when people mentally share an action, such as watching a friend eat a bowl of oatmeal over breakfast, they feel in a way that they ate the oatmeal too, so they seek to enrich their own experience by choosing something that is different, such as an omelet.

But when people mentally share another person’s preference, such as liking oatmeal more than omelets, they adopt the others’ preference as their own and say they like oatmeal more than omelets.

Even when information about others’ preferences and actions are available at the same time — such as an online shopping site that lists both its bestselling products and its most liked products — people are more likely to follow what others like, rather than what others buy.

The research has implications for online shopping, social media marketing, and political campaigns.

Marketers, for example, could collect “likes” from Facebook users, rather than collecting information on what users buy, eat or own. Likewise, they could present products as “everyone likes it,” rather than “everyone buys it.”

Source: University of Chicago/EurekAlert

Are Words More Important than Actions in the 21st Century?

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Are Words More Important than Actions in the 21st Century?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 30 Jun 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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