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The semantics of social influence: threats vs. persuasion

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Abstract:

This study investigates how language is used to make sense of influence attempts. More specifically, the perceived potency and evaluation of both influence agents and targets and the influence tactic used are examined for their effect on the actors' perceived power and influence success. The two influence tactics examined are threats and attempts to persuade. A pilot study (N=145) and main experiment (N=189) were conducted to create 84 simple sentences, the units of analysis for this investigation. Agents are perceived as more powerful than targets of influence. The tactic used to secure compliance (threaten versus attempt to persuade) does not affect the perceived power of either the agent or the target. A bad agent is seen as more powerful than a good agent, and a bad target is considered more powerful than a good target. Furthermore, good agents have more success in gaining compliance by using persuasion than by using threats, and they have more success when influencing a good target than a bad target. Implications of these findings are discussed.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/0363775032000179115

Publication date: 2003-12-01

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