Ambivalent about who to vote for? You're more likely to be persuaded by a disreputable source
(13 February 2007: VIDYYA MEDICAL NEWS SERVICE) -- In the first study to propose a model for how information is processed by people with differing levels of ambivalence, researchers from Columbia University and Austral University in Argentina find that ambivalent people are more likely to be persuaded by disreputable sources. Those who are strong in their opinions are more likely to evaluate the reliability of the message’s source before deciding whether to accept it.
"In recent years, the widespread use of the Internet has made other people’s opinions readily available to consumers. People surfing the web can access third party evaluations about almost anything, from products and services to political issues or candidates," write Martin R. Zemborain (Austral University, Buenos Aires) and Gita Johar (Columbia University) in the March issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.
"However, little research has examined the conditions under which others’ opinions affect a consumer’s attitudes," they continue. "Given the ubiquity of others’ opinions, this is an important issue."
The researchers performed three experiments on more than 250 undergraduates. The first asked the test subjects to rate their opinions of Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich. The test subjects were then exposed to an additional message about the Congressman – either a positive one lauding him for winning a Gandhi Peace Prize, or a negative one accusing him of flip-flopping to court voters. The subjects were told that the source of these statements was either a friend or a radio program.
People who did not have strong feelings about the candidate were swayed by the message they were exposed to, regardless of the source – and even if they claimed that a friend’s opinion should not be the basis for one’s own opinions. However, those with strongly held views of Kucinich tended to be influenced by the message only if it came from the radio, an ostensibly more authoritative source.
In another experiment, participants were asked to rate their impressions of a new shower gel. They were then exposed to a negative message: "The new shower gel does not foam easily. Because of this you end up using more gel per bath than you do with other gels," delivered either by a student from the same University or by a student from another University. Once again, ambivalent participants accepted the new information as true, regardless of the source, while low ambivalence participants were more persuaded when the message came from a student at their own school.
"While we focus on the influence of others, we believe that our findings also add to the literature suggesting that highly ambivalent people are most susceptible to persuasion because they absorb and reflect information without much discrimination," the authors conclude.
Zemborain, Martin R. and Gita Venkataramani Johar. "Attitudinal Ambivalence and Openness to Persuasion: A Framework for Interpersonal Influence," Journal of Consumer Research: March 2007.
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