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John S. Seiter, Robert H. Gass (Editors)-Perspectives on Persuasion, Social Influence, And Compliance Gaining-Allyn & Bacon (2003)

John S. Seiter, Robert H. Gass (Editors)-Perspectives on Persuasion, Social Influence, And Compliance Gaining-Allyn & Bacon (2003)

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1
Rationale
or
Studying Persuasion
John
S. Seiter
and
Robert
H.
Gass
Some
lime
ago.
one
of
(he
author
\\
i I\
imitcd
10
hi
"on· ,",ccond
grade
c1a
rool1l
10
tal"
about
·pcr~uasion. ·
the
:-.ubjeci
the author
tC~lchc
and
rC\l i.Jn.:hel"
at
a univcr..,ity. The
t;CC
and
graders.
the:
author
wa told. were hu\
illg
··care . f year:-and
parent'
with all
'orts
of
professions were making
appearallce:...
The
author
said
he
would he
happy
to
do
it.
though
privately
he had his
douhts. Pcrhap
hc'u
\cell
Ino
man)
mo\'ic\
\\
ilh "career
day
scenes-featuring
o\,crzc<.Ilous parent speaking to
cla
sroorns
of
\quirmy.
fidgety
chil
dren. Wh;Hcvcr the ca..,c. he
wa
,ure
about
nne
thing:
He
was
going
to hu\'c to adapt
to
an
audience
prone to
ants
in the
pant
"
On presentation day.
aftc;" a
quid
definition
of
pep'Iuasioll
(involving
a
chocolate
bribe for all those
who
li
tcned
do\cly),
the
author
and
<;;;econd
grader,
tried a few
simple
experiments.
In
one.
they
watched
eommerciab
that made certain
products
(c.g.,
dolls,
car
cerea
l)
appear
much more
dalliing
and irre,i
tiblc than they were
when
een
or
ta
ted in the
classroom.
Onc
ad featurl u a
child
\I
'ho.
IIllIllCdi
lIcly
after eating
a
particular brand
of
cereal.
became
popular. hmfy. and
k.il1ed
at katehoarding. But
when
\"cvcnll
of
the sl cond
graders
"'<lmpled the cercal thl mselvl s.
none
seemed
hairicr
(a\"
if
they
would
want
[
he )
and
none
\1,.-(-1'"
able
to
replicate the
atehoard
stunts.
The author
\Va
pleased
with his result....
The
second
gradcr:-.
\;ccmcd
to under:-.tand that there were a lot
of
sneaky ways people
try to pcr\"uadc them.
So. after warning them
anollt a few
other
mes:-.ages
they shou
ld
watch
Ollt
for
(e.g
.
tho
e il1\'ol\'ing. drug\" and cigarette
).
the
author pas ed
out
Snickers and
went
on
hi
v
a).
cOl1\inccd
he'd
done
a line
job.
It did not take
long
to di cO\'cr he
wa"
mistaken.
Ju<;;;t
a few day\" later, in fact. a fj",hing trip with
hi,
\ 011
turned
Into
a
discu\sion
of
o~quitoes
Ilies. bullies. and
persua-
sioll
all
of
which
had
made
hi
son·
li
t
of
bad
thing\"." Thai \\a\"
when
the
author
rcal
iled
he might
have spent
loa
much
of
hi
pre
cntalinn
time on
entcrlainmcnt and snacks
while
neglecting
to di\;cu the
good
thing'
per
uasioll
can accompli
h. He
also wondered
about
hi\"
reputation.
Arter
all.
If
pcr'LltI,ion were
hao
and hc taught it. what
ind
of
a
1
 
2
Chapter
1
A R01;OIwh 
or
Studying Per.w(lsioll
villain did
hi o.
-Ion
think he was?
Of
course.
i
hi5,
son
or
c
la
ssmates had been thinking such
thoughts, they
wouldn't
be
the
fI,,1.
Ind
eed, from
time
to time,
those who
s
tudy
and
teach social
inlluencc have
been
criticized harshly.
In
the fifth
century
B.C.,
for
example.
Plato
derided
the first
teachers
of
persuasion
for
"making
the
worse appear the
better
reason" (Corbell,
1971, p.
598).
Later.
in
the
mid-1970s, Simons
(1976) noted:
From a number
of
quarters
hc~c
day
...
persuasion
is
under attack for being a manipulative
acti\ity
. Its highest critic equate
notjusl
some
persuasion. but all persuasion with
de ep~
(ion
and
rote-playing,
domination and
exploitation.
p.
35)
More recently
still.
femini:-.{
scholars
have
characterized
traditional rhetoric. that is. per
suasion.
as
a
type
of
communication
that
devalues
the lives
and perspectives
o
others.
and
a
means
by
which persuaders attempt
to feci
good about themselves
by
denigrating
others. By
way
of
example,
Foss
and Griflin (1995)
wrote:
The
value
of
the
~elr
for
rhelor~
in
this rherorical system comes from the rhelor's ability to dClllon.'ttrate .'tuperior knowledge. skilL
...
and qualifications-
in
other words.
authority-in
order to dominate the perspectives and knowledge
of
those
in
their audiences
The
act
o
changing others not only establishes the power
of
the rhelor
over
other :.
but also deval
uc"
the lives and pep pcctivcs
of
other . (p.
3)
With
such criticisms
in
mind
(and
reputations
at
stake ).
we thought
it
essential that the iIHroduclory
chapter
10
Ihis text set forth a
rationale
for studying
persuasion
as well as
provide
a
brief
ethical
backdrop
for
exami
ning
such
a study.
Before we do
so,
however,
we
think
it
important
to
address two
related
issues. First.
considering
that critics
of
persua
sion
seem
to
emcrge and recmerge
with
some
regularity.
yo
u
might
be
wondering
whether
the study
of
persuasion
has
suffered
as
a result.
At
first
glance.
one
might
be
tempted
to
conclude
thai
this
is
the
case. When examining
this issue. for
example,
Miller
and
Burgoon (1978)
initially noted:
While
il
would be hyperbolic to state Ihal Ihe gum. arc silent on the persuasive battle ground. their roar
ha~
grown poradic and muted. No l
onger
are the pages
of
journals
glutled with the results
or
per~l asion
studies. As a result
of
th
ese disciplinary trends. bedrock pessimists proclaim thaI
per~l asion
research is a dying enterprise. while skeptics content themselves with the observation that
it
has become
an
area
of
limited,
seco
ndary import. (p. 29)
Though observations
such
as thes.e paint a
gr
im
picture. such
skep
tics
and pessimists are
mistaken.
To
be certain. upon
funher
inspection. Miller and
Burgoon
(1978)
con
cluded
that the
study
of
persuasion has
not
wavered;
it
has
simp
ly
changed
focus
and direction. Thus.
while
traditional
studies
examining
linear.
"one-
to-many
 
persuasive
attempts
are less
in
evidence
now,
you'lI
find a host
of
srudies on n
ew
persuasion
topi
cs.
including those on
compliance
gaining
and
deception.
In
other
words,
s
keptics
concluding
that
persuasion
re~cnrch
has
diminished
were looking
in the
wrong
places.
Persuasion
is a
dynamic
area
of
srudy.
On
the
one
hand.
scholar
ly
int
erest
in topics
may change
as a result
of
socia
l.
per\onal.
or
political
climates
-
hence
the large
amount
of
research
on
mass
per-
 
Chapter
I
Rationale for Studying ersuasion
3
suasion and propaganda during the I 940s, especially
in
World War
II
followed
by
exami
nations
of
social protest
and
resistance
to
persuasion
during
the
196Os
.
when there
was
a
greal deal
o
political
unreSI
and distrusl
o
governmenl On the other hand. scholarly in
terest
in
specific
topics may
not fade
forever.
Instead, interest in various
aspects
of
persua-
sion may be cyclical. This ebb and flow
o
interesl
is
evidenced
by
research on cognitive dissonance, which flourished
in
Ihe 1950s and I 960s, entered a period
o
Ihe doldrums
in
Ihe I 970s and 1980s.' and then reemerged as a vilaltheory with importanl implicalions for
persuasion
in
the
1990s.
At
one
point.
Leon
Festinger,
who created
Cognitive
Dissonance
Theory, Slopped conducling research on the Iheory altogether. In a Iranscriplion
o
his remarks
al
a 1987 symposium (cited
in
Harman-Jones Mills, 1999),
he
said, "I ended up leaving social psychology I left and Slopped doing research on the theory
o
cognitive
dissonance
because
I
was in
a
total
rut.
The only
thing
I
could
think
about
was
how
correct
Ihe original slalement had been" (p. 383).
In
a recent volume
by
Harmon-Jones and Mills (Eds.) devoled
to
cognitive dissonance, however, Aronson (1999) underscored the impor lance
o
Ihe theory and "ils reemergence
in
the 1990s as a powerful means
o
predicting and changing human behavior
in
a variety
o
areas, including those thaI have abiding social importance" (p. 103).
In
short, then, despite what skeplics and pessimisls might say.
persuasion research
has
never
gone
out
of
fashion;
it
has
just
changed
i s
style
and
has on
occasion broughl back inlo fashion styles
o
old.
In
addition
to
noting
the
unwavering
nature
of
interest
in
persuasion research.
a
sec-ond
point
we
would
like
to
make
before
offering
our
rationale for studying
persuasion
is
that
we
do not
disagree
with
all
that
critics
of
persuasion
have
to say.
That
is.
we agree
that
plenty
of
people have
used
persuasion for
the
wrong
reasons,
sometimes
with
tragic
con-
sequences.
Focusing
on such
instances
alone. however,
strikes
us
as
seeing
the
glass
half
emply. Think, for example, as the author and his son did for the rest
o
Iheir fishing Irip,
o
all
Ihe good Ihings that persuasion mighl accomplish. Withoul persuasion, how does a
physician
urge
a
diabetic
patient
to
l yoff
sweets
or
get
more exercise?
How
does
a
friend
gel her drunken buddy
10
accept a ride rather than drive himself home? How does a mother warn her five-year-old child never
10
take rides from strangers? How do civil righls aClivislS speak
OUI
against racism or world leaders lobby for peace agreements? We hope you see our pain . The list
o
good things that can be accomplished through persua
sion
is
endless.
The
arguments
of
some
critics, however,
focus
less
on
the ends
of
persuasion
and
instead
point
accusing
fingers
at
the
means
by
which
persuasion
is
accomplished. For
ex-
ample.
the
feminist
scholars we
mentioned
earlier
take
issue
wit
traditional
persuasion because
it embodies
an
adversarial view
of
communication
encounters
in
which
one person
is
trying
to
do
something
to
another.
In
contrast,
their
approach,
an
invitational
approach
to
rhetoric,
emphasizes
cooperation
and
dialogue. One
person
is
trying
to
com-municate
with
another.
We respecI this poinl
o
view. Indeed, we would be among the first
to
acknowledge
that
in
our
patriarchal society,
people
often
fail
to
recognize incentives for cooperative
communication. They
presume
that communication
encounters
are
competitive
or adversarial
in
nature.
They overlook their
interdependence
and
view
communication
as
a
win-lose process. They neglecI shared or communal approaches
10
problem solving and
decision making.