The purpose of the present research was to investigate circumstances under which an attractive but non-similar communicator will be more persuasive than a similar but non-attractive communicator and circumstances under which a similar but non-attractive communicator will be more persuasive than an attractive but non-similar communicator. In the context of a study of memory for ads, female college students listened to an advertisement, after having received information that the speaker of the advertisement was either an attractive African-American male or a similar female student. The speaker described the product as something everyone needs, something everyone would like, something you need, or something you would like. Participants then indicated their attitude toward the product and rated characteristics of the speaker. It was found that when the product was described as something for everyone, participants liked the product more than when it was described as something for you (the listener).
That persuasion is greater the greater the attractiveness of the communicator to the audience is not a new idea in social psychology. Attractiveness of the communicator is determined by physical characteristics of the communicator and also by likable attributes of the communicator. Previous research has investigated circumstances under which attractive communicators are more persuasive than less attractive communicators. According to Petty and Wegner in the recent Handbook of Social Psychology by Gilbert, Fiske, and Lindzey (1998), “Source attractiveness or liking has been observed to exert a greater impact when relevance is low rather than high (Chaiken, 1980; Petty, Cacioppo, & Schumann, 1983), when attitude-relevant knowledge is low rather than high (e.g., Wood & Kallgren, 1988), and when messages are externally paced on audio- or videotapes rather than self-paced and written
That similarity of the communicator to the audience influences persuasion is also not a new idea in social psychology. Source-audience similarity has been shown to increase persuasion in a field experiment by Brock (1965) in which a paint salesman was trying to sell customers a certain brand of paint. Sometimes the paint salesman said that he had used the same amount of the brand that the customer intended to purchase and sometimes he said he had used twenty times as much as the customer intended to purchase. Persuasion was greater when the amount he said he used was similar to the amount the customer intended to purchase.
Previous research has also investigated circumstances under which similar communicators are more persuasive than less similar communicators. A study by Berscheid (1966) showed that background similarity between the listener and the communicator is more influential when the listener perceived the background similarity as relevant to the issue than when the listener perceived the background similarity as irrelevant to the issue. In her study, participants received messages about either returning to the gold standard or awarding scholarships on need or merit, and the communicator was either similar on international affairs values and dissimilar on educational values or dissimilar on international affairs values and similar on educational values. She found that if the listener and the communicator had dissimilar positions on an issue, the listener changed to move closer to the communicator’s position when the communicator and the listener were similar on a relevant background characteristic (something perceived by the person to be relevant to the issue) than when the communicator and the listener were similar on an irrelevant background characteristic.
Mills and Kimble (1973) asked participants to rank poetry after they saw the rankings of another student who was either similar or dissimilar to them on background characteristics. Sometimes ranking the poetry was described as subjective (a matter of personal taste). Other times ranking the poetry was described as objective (a matter of artistic knowledge). Mills and Kimble found that when the topic was perceived as subjective, the participant’s ratings agreed more with the similar other’s ratings than with the dissimilar other’s ratings. When the topic was perceived as objective, the opposite occurred. This study by Mills and Kimble (1973) was based on an idea suggested by Hovland, Janis, and Kelley (1953).
Purpose and Hypotheses
The purpose of the present research was to investigate circumstances under which an attractive but non-similar communicator will be more persuasive than a similar but non-attractive communicator and circumstances under which a similar but non-attractive communicator will be more persuasive than an attractive but non-similar communicator. In this study the attitude object was a product. For simplicity the attractive but non-similar communicator will be called the Attractive Source and the similar but non-attractive communicator will be called the Similar Source. This variable will be abbreviated as Attractive/Similar. One variable that was investigated was whether the product was described as something for everyone or something for you (the listener).
This variable will be abbreviated as Everyone/You. From Balance Theory it was assumed that people want to like the same things as people they like, like. That should occur especially if the liked person wants people to like the attitude object. If the Attractive Source endorses the product, it may be assumed to have objectively desirable properties when the source addresses everyone and also when the source addresses you (the listener). So, persuasion could be expected to be the same whether the Attractive Source describes the product as something for everyone or something for you (the listener). From the idea that Similar Sources are seen as more expert when the similarity is perceived as relevant to the topic, persuasion was expected to be greater when the Similar Source describes the product as something for you than when the Similar Source describes the product as something for everyone. If the Similar Source says that the message applies specifically to the recipient, similarity will be seen as directly relevant. If the source is addressing everyone, then similarity to the recipient will not be seen as particularly relevant.
Participants signed up for an experiment called “Memory for ads.” They were informed that the purpose was to investigate how much information people can recall from advertisements. They were also told that the procedure involves listening to an advertisement and then answering some questions about that advertisement. The study was conducted in a lab in the psychology department at the University of Maryland, College Park. Upon entering the lab, participants were seated in separate cubicles. In each cubicle there was a walkman type tape recorder that contained a version of the advertisement, a consent form, and a speaker information form (face down on the desk). Participants were reminded that the experimenters were interested in people’s memory for advertisements and that their task was to listen to an advertisement and try to remember the content of the ad.
They were told, “There are two conditions in the experiment, “In one condition participants will be watching the advertisement on a TV screen and in the other condition participants will be listening to the advertisement on headphones. Because we have enough people in the TV condition, you will be in the headphone condition.” Participants were also told that because in the TV condition participants will be able to see the speaker and get some information about that speaker, participants in the headphone condition will be given some information about the speaker on a sheet of paper in an effort to keep both conditions equal. The speaker information form (Appendix A & B) was designed to indicate that the speaker was either attractive or similar to the participants. There was no picture included in the similar source condition because pre-testing using a form containing a picture of a female student revealed that the speaker got low ratings on the check of perceived similarity. As a result, the picture was removed form the similar speaker form and only the description of the speaker was included.
Heider, F. (1958). The psychology of interpersonal relations. New York: Wiley.
Hovland, C. I., Janis, I. L., and Kelley, H H. (1953). Communication and Persuasion.
New Haven: Yale University Press. Kelman, H. C. (1961). Processes of opinion change.
Public Opinion Quarterly, 25, 57- 78. Mills, J. (1966). Opinion change as a function of the communicator’s desire to influence and liking for the audience. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2,152-159.
Dissertation Done by Jarrod D. Hyman, University of Maryland