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.
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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