Sunday, February 25, 2018

News You Can Use: "Psychological targeting as an effective approach to digital mass persuasion"

Still working to take your "nudge" game to the next level?
Wish there had been more 'how-to' and hands-on info in "The Psychopathy of  Everyday Life"?
Think Edward Bernays was a piker and Goebbels was a punk?

Well friend, look no further for your manipulation needs. Here's the latest research in easily digested pieces.

From the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:
Building on recent advancements in the assessment of psychological traits from digital footprints, this paper demonstrates the effectiveness of psychological mass persuasion—that is, the adaptation of persuasive appeals to the psychological characteristics of large groups of individuals with the goal of influencing their behavior. On the one hand, this form of psychological mass persuasion could be used to help people make better decisions and lead healthier and happier lives. On the other hand, it could be used to covertly exploit weaknesses in their character and persuade them to take action against their own best interest, highlighting the potential need for policy interventions.
People are exposed to persuasive communication across many different contexts: Governments, companies, and political parties use persuasive appeals to encourage people to eat healthier, purchase a particular product, or vote for a specific candidate. Laboratory studies show that such persuasive appeals are more effective in influencing behavior when they are tailored to individuals’ unique psychological characteristics. However, the investigation of large-scale psychological persuasion in the real world has been hindered by the questionnaire-based nature of psychological assessment. Recent research, however, shows that people’s psychological characteristics can be accurately predicted from their digital footprints, such as their Facebook Likes or Tweets. Capitalizing on this form of psychological assessment from digital footprints, we test the effects of psychological persuasion on people’s actual behavior in an ecologically valid setting. In three field experiments that reached over 3.5 million individuals with psychologically tailored advertising, we find that matching the content of persuasive appeals to individuals’ psychological characteristics significantly altered their behavior as measured by clicks and purchases. Persuasive appeals that were matched to people’s extraversion or openness-to-experience level resulted in up to 40% more clicks and up to 50% more purchases than their mismatching or unpersonalized counterparts. Our findings suggest that the application of psychological targeting makes it possible to influence the behavior of large groups of people by tailoring persuasive appeals to the psychological needs of the target audiences. We discuss both the potential benefits of this method for helping individuals make better decisions and the potential pitfalls related to manipulation and privacy.
Persuasive mass communication is aimed at encouraging large groups of people to believe and act on the communicator’s viewpoint. It is used by governments to encourage healthy behaviors, by marketers to acquire and retain consumers, and by political parties to mobilize the voting population. Research suggests that persuasive communication is particularly effective when tailored to people’s unique psychological characteristics and motivations (15), an approach that we refer to as psychological persuasion. The proposition of this research is simple yet powerful: What convinces one person to behave in a desired way might not do so for another. For example, matching computer-generated advice to participants’ dominance level elicited higher ratings of source credibility and increased the likelihood of participants changing their initial opinions in response to the advice (2). Similarly, participants’ positive attitudes and purchase intentions were stronger when the marketing message for a mobile phone was tailored to their personality profile (4). While these studies provide promising evidence for the effectiveness of psychological persuasion, their validity is limited by the fact that they were mainly conducted in small-scale, controlled laboratory settings using self-report questionnaires. Self-reports are known to be affected by a whole range of response biases (6), and there are numerous reasons why people’s natural behavior might differ from that displayed in the laboratory (7). Consequently, it is questionable whether—and to what extent—these findings can be generalized to the application of psychological persuasion in real-world mass persuasion (see ref. 8 for initial evidence).

A likely explanation for the lack of ecologically valid research in the context of psychological persuasion is the questionnaire-based nature of psychological assessment. Whereas researchers can ask participants to complete a psychological questionnaire in the laboratory, it is unrealistic to expect millions of people to do so before sending them persuasive messages online. Recent research in the field of computational social sciences (9), however, suggests that people’s psychological profiles can be accurately predicted from the digital footprints they leave with every step they take online (10). For example, people’s personality profiles have been predicted from personal websites (11), blogs (12), Twitter messages (13), Facebook profiles (10, 1416), and Instagram pictures (17). This form of psychological assessment from digital footprints makes it paramount to establish the extent to which behaviors of large groups of people can be influenced through the application of psychological mass persuasion—both in their own interest (e.g., by persuading them to eat healthier) and against their best interest (e.g., by persuading them to gamble). We begin this endeavor in a domain that is relatively uncontroversial from an ethical point of view: consumer products.

Capitalizing on the assessment of psychological traits from digital footprints, we conducted three real-world experiments that reached more than 3.7 million people. Our experiments demonstrate that targeting people with persuasive appeals tailored to their psychological profiles can be used to influence their behavior as measured by clicks and conversions. [Click-through rates (CTRs) are a commonly used digital marketing metric that quantifies the number of clicks relative to number of times the ad was shown. Conversion rate is a marketing metric that reflects number of conversions, such as app downloads or online store purchases, relative to the number of times the ad was shown.] The experiments were run using Facebook advertising, a typical behavioral targeting platform. As of now, Facebook advertising does not allow marketers to directly target users based on their psychological traits. However, it does so indirectly by offering the possibility to target users based on their Facebook Likes. (Facebook users can like content such as Facebook pages, posts, or photos to express their interest in a wide range of subjects, such as celebrities, politicians, books, products, brands, etc. Likes are therefore similar to a wide range of other digital footprints—such as web-browsing logs, purchase records, playlists, and many others. Hence, the findings based on Facebook Likes are likely to generalize to digital footprints employed by other advertising platforms.) For example, if liking “socializing” on Facebook correlates with the personality trait of extraversion and liking “stargate” goes hand in hand with introversion, then targeting users associated with each of these Likes allows one to target extraverted and introverted user segments (see SI Appendix for a validation of this method)....MUCH MORE