Ethics and Integrity: Social Influence and Persuasion

Persuasion is symbolic process in which communicators try to convince other people through transmission of a message to change their attitudes or behaviours.  Thus, Persuasion is one form of social influence on attitude; in fact it represents the intersection of social thinking and social influence of everyday life.

The key elements of persuasion are:

  • Persuasion is symbolic, utilizing words, images, sounds, etc
  • It involves a deliberate attempt to influence others.
  • Self-persuasion is key. People are not coerced; they are instead free to choose. Coercive techniques are not scientifically proved to be effective.

Methods of transmitting persuasive messages can occur in a variety of ways, including verbally and nonverbally via television, radio, Internet or face-to-face communication.

Persuasive communications have a great impact on our attitudes. Everyday, we come across hundred of advertisements; Television, radio and the Internet all help spread persuasive messages very quickly.

However, success of persuasion depends upon three factors

  • Source of message
  • Content of message
  • Nature of target

Persuaders try to influence our beliefs and attitudes for e.g.: we will vote for them, buy their products, do them favours, or otherwise behave as they want us to. Thus, advertisements are most common kind of persuasion.

Persuasive Communication

Any communication which tends to change, shape and reinforce the responses of another is known as persuasive communication. It is usually targeted at:

Cognition

Persuasion is considered as a potent tool to change individuals’ beliefs about an object or issue. This may include attributes, interpretation, definition, outcome etc.

Attitude

Persuasion is also employed to change individuals’ attitude towards an object or an issue. It basically refers to categorisation of an object or the issue as per evaluative dimension which stretches from negative to positive.

Behaviour

Persuasion is also used to change a person’s behaviour i.e. the overt actions regarding an object or an issue.

Persuasion stands in contrast to manipulation and propaganda. Where propaganda is the communication of a viewpoint, with the final goal of having the recipient voluntarily accept the position as if it were his own. It thus, comes laden with distinctive features like ideological bent, institutional nature, mass persuasion etc. Manipulation on the other hand, has elements of coercion automatically embedded unlike persuasion which is ethically neutral.

Means of persuasion

Source credibility

This involves two major criteria namely- expertise and trustworthiness. Along with these, likeness, similarity and physical attractiveness also plays a subtle role in influencing source credibility. Source credibility is further enhanced by information on background, formal training, education, legitimacy etc. Furthermore, non-verbal communication cues like facial expressions, formal training, education, personal experience etc. also play a divisive role.

Rational and emotional appeals

A rational appeal makes use of logical arguments and even factual evidence to persuade individuals about the legitimacy and likelihood of attainment of goals. The success of the same depends on the strength and quality of arguments in the message provided that the recipient is able to process the message in the right light. An emotional appeal on the other hand, is framed to arouse emotions of the recipient and make use of the emotions as a means of persuasion. The most commonly used methods is the fear or threat appeal. Latter emphasizes the informational content of the message. Even guilt-appeal is said to be highly persuasive.

Methods of Persuasion

They are also known as persuasion tactics or strategies. Robert Cialdini has earmarked the following cues of influence.

Reciprocity

Reciprocation is considered as a strong tool of persuasion which leads to a sense of obligation. The rule of reciprocity is highly effective and overpowering.

Commitment and Consistency

Both the values are considered highly important as they are a valuable short-cut through the complicated nature of modern existence. If a person makes any commitment, he or she will likely take up all steps to honour that. Likewise, consistency is highly valued in society as it allows a person to make effective decisions and process information accordingly.

Social proof

The behaviour of people surrounding us has a great effect on our thoughts and actions. The ‘power of crowd’ is considered very important. This becomes utmost effective when there are uncertainties or similarities in a situation.

Liking

This is simple as people usually agree to people whom they like. There are two primary factors which contribute to overall liking. They are: physical attractiveness and similarity of attitudes.

Authority

People always listen to those who are either knowledge or trustworthy. The words of an expert are always taken seriously by everyone concerned as compared to a beginner.

Scarcity

Scarcity is often underestimated by people as a method of persuasion. Anything which is of limited availability is given more importance by people. People want more of you when they cannot have.

Social Influence

This is a condition when a person’s thoughts and actions are consciously and unconsciously getting affected by other people and groups.  There are many ways and forms in which people get influenced, viz. Advertising, Coercion, Criticism, Enabling, Ethics, Ethnic values, Interpersonal influences, Mass media, Power, Prejudice, Propaganda, Self-brand, Social approval, Social desirability, Social norms, Social values, Superstitions, Taboos etc.

The effects of these influences can be seen in a number of areas which include conformity, socialisation, peer pressure, obedience, leadership, social change, social control and even social facilitation. As per Herbert Kelman, there are three broad types of social influence. These are:

Compliance

It happens when people agree with others but do not disclose their opinions.

Identification

It happens when people get influenced by someone who is liked and respected. E.g. celebrities, etc.

Internalisation

It happens when a belief or behaviour is completely internalised and agreed to both publically and personally.

Factors Affecting Social Influence

Factors affecting social influence are:

Charisma

Charisma of a person is the ability to influence people as per one’s own will. People who have beauty, riches, good jobs etc. usually wield greater influence on others than ordinary people. All these things instil undying confidence in a person which boosts self-esteem. This is a vital factor in determining the influence one exerts over others.

Reputation

This involves credibility factor in determining social influence. Credibility comes from many reasons like experience, attractiveness etc.

Peer Pressure

In this people tend to do things which they might not be personally interested in, just to maintain positive relationship with other people and even friends.

Emotions

Strong emotions have stronger influences over people.

Social Trends

They are great carriers of social influence especially when they are creative and non-conforming.

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