The Role Of Attractiveness In Persuasio Essay

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SOCIAL INFLUENCE, 2008, 3 (2), 67–83

Compliance through direct persuasive appeals: The
moderating role of communicator’s attractiveness in
interpersonal persuasion
Matthias Messner and Marc-Andre´ Reinhard
University of Mannheim, Germany

Siegfried Ludwig Sporer
Justus-Liebig-University of Giessen, Germany
It has been argued that the accessibility of persuasion motives elicits distrust in
a communicator’s underlying motives and leads to decreased persuasion
success. However, this research highlights the fact that salient and positive
communicator characteristics (here physical attractiveness) can temper
consumers’ attributions of selfish motives and lead to increased behavioral
compliance when recipients are faced with direct persuasive appeals to get
them to do something. This experiment demonstrates that recipients were
more likely to comply with an attractive communicator’s recommendation
when she was forthright about her desire to change recipients’ behavior than
when she was not. The reverse was true for an unattractive communicator, a
finding which indicates that the salience of persuasion motives is likely to
become a liability when positive peripheral cues are absent. These effects on
recipients’ behavioral compliance were found to be mediated by the degree of
selfish motives attributed to the communicator.
Keywords: Direct persuasion; Physical attractiveness; Inferred motives; Behavioral
compliance.

Address correspondence to: Matthias Messner, Department of Social Psychology, University
of Mannheim, A5, 4th floor, 68131 Mannheim, Germany. E-mail: mmessner@mail.
uni-mannheim.de
This research was supported by a grant from Prof. Dr. Stefan Hormuth, President of the
University of Giessen, to the second author (Project-No: 60000135). We would like to thank
Abuzer Dogan and Sibylle Arhold for their extensive help collecting the data. We are further
indebted to Lucie Jung, Tanja Becker, Fiona Schinzer, Agnieszka Twardowska, Marta
Skrundz, and Adriane Rosmus for their commitment in taking on the role of experimenters in
our study. We are also much obliged to Robert Cialdini and two anonymous reviewers for their
helpful comments on a first draft of this paper.
# 2008 Psychology Press, an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an Informa business

http://www.psypress.com/socinf

DOI: 10.1080/15534510802045261

68

MESSNER, REINHARD, SPORER

Recent research in social psychology and related disciplines has identified
conditions under which persuasion attempts backfire because recipients
become suspicious about a communicator’s true motives (e.g., Campbell &
Kirmani, 2000; DeCarlo, 2005; Friestad & Wright, 1994; Main, Dahl, &
Darke, 2007). In cases when persuasion motives (e.g., to get someone to
change his or her opinions) are salient through a communicator’s behavior
(e.g., flattery or exaggeration), recipients are likely to distrust the
communicator’s recommendations and will adjust their attributions for
plausible situational constraints (e.g., a commission; Campbell & Kirmani,
2000; Fein, 1996; Fein, Hilton, & Miller, 1990). This implies that when
recipients come to believe that the motive behind a persuasion attempt is
insincere or manipulative, they will likely resist and their compliance will
decline (Brehm, 1966; Brehm & Brehm, 1981; Campbell & Kirmani, 2000;
Forehand & Grier, 2003).
This being the case, it might be reasonable to suggest that persuasion agents
should not be overly forthright about their intention—for example, via overt
verbal statements—to get recipients to comply with a recommendation or
adopt a desired attitude so as to avoid serious setbacks in their persuasiveness
(e.g., Hovland, Janis, & Kelley, 1953). In other words, communicators should
avoid using direct persuasive appeals telling recipients that they want them to
comply. For this and other reasons, communicators may be eager to design
their appeals as unobtrusively as possible; a fact apparent, for example, in the
use of two-sided messages