The term 'social persuasion' has been defined differently by various researchers and scholars in different fields of study. For purposes of this text, however, Kaptein's (2012) definition and scope will be adopted. Thus, social persuasion is defined as the symbolic ability "to convince other people to change their attitudes or behaviors regarding an issue, through the transmission of a message in an atmosphere of free choice" (Kaptein, 2012, p. 1). In other words, it is the art of getting a target to change their attitude or opinion about something, and to consequently adopt a different viewpoint.
This conceptualization draws from the early works of Cartwright (1959) and Kurt Lewin (1951), both of whom hold the view that an individual's behavior/attitude is the product of a range of forces or tensions within their life space, and their ability/inability to resist the same. Towards this end, an individual's (call him individual A) ability to influence the attitudes or beliefs of another individual (B) is dependent upon the amount of influence A has over B, and the amount of resistance B. puts up against the same (French & Raven, 1959). Mathematically, this could be represented as;
Effective persuasion = f (influence A, B, resistance B)
The Bases of Social Persuasion
Unlike Lewin, however, Cartwright goes further to identify six factors/elements that determine the amount of influence A would have over B. The six include A's information or knowledge base as well as their expertise, legitimacy, reference, coercive power, and reward (French & Raven,1959). The six will be reviewed herein as the bases of social persuasion.
Reward: the amount of influence A has over B. is dependent upon A's ability to decrease negative outcomes and meditate positive outcomes on B's end (French & Raven, 1959). Therefore, the higher the expectation of B. that A would actually do this, the greater the latter's influence. Moreover, the larger the size of the expected outcome, the higher the degree of A's influence. However, as French and Raven (1959) point out, contemporary scholars have added another aspect to this perspective -- that the success/failure of any process of persuasion will also depend upon B's willingness to comply, and to allow A to maintain surveillance over them.
Coercive Power: this base rests upon the concept of punishment -- that A would exert greater control and influence over B. If B. believes that A would punish them for non-compliance (French & Raven, 1959). In this case, the degree of influence would depend primarily on the intensity of the punishment in question.
Reference: this element is based upon the degree of perceived similarity between the influencer and the subject, and the extent to which the latter desires to maintain the same (French & Raven, 1959). According to Schwenk (2009), one is likely to be more receptive to influence if they perceive themselves as being significantly similar to the influencer. This, the authors contend, is based on the simple assumption that people who belong to the same category would understand each other's perspectives, likes, interests, and attitudes better.
Legitimacy: this base draws upon the subject's internalized values, which grant the influencer the right to influence the subject's attitudes, and the subject, the duty to obey (French & Raven, 1959). In this case, the degree of influence is highly dependent upon the source of the subject's values. If the influencer's legitimate power, for instance, is derived from the subject's general values, it can be expected to spread out across many different situations; however, if it is based on limited role characteristics, then it is unlikely to have an effect on situations outside the current one.
Expertise: this element is based on the extent to which the subject perceives the influencer as having superior knowledge or skills in their role (French & Raven, 1959). Towards this end, the degree of influence the persuader has over the subject is dependent upon their perceived amount of knowledge/skills, and how relevant the same are to the situation at hand.
Informational Influence: this base equates an agent's degree of influence to the subject's perception of the significance of, or logic behind, the influencer's viewpoint. Towards this end, a person is likely to be more receptive to influence if they perceive the information being provided by the influencing agent as significant, reasonable, and logical (French & Raven, 1959).
A lot of research has been done on Cartwright's bases of social power, but as French and Raven (1959) point out, there still are huge knowledge gaps in regard to the operationalization of the same. All the same, there is consensus that persuasion plays an immeasurable role in almost all aspects of social interactions -- marketers use it to drive sales, healthcare professionals use it to influence people to lead healthy lifestyles and of course, psychologists use it to get clients to change their evaluations of issues, objects, places, or other people. Well, ours is a profession that relies on others to get things done, and as long as an influencing agent is unable to convince others to do what they ask, then they are deemed to face substantial professional challenges in their practice.
The IRT Rating Method/Scale
One popular method of measuring social persuasion as a psychological attribute is specifying and observing the items of interest as functions of the construct under investigation. Schwenk (2009) employed this rating method in a study seeking to assess the relative significance of three bases -- perceived similarity, coercive power, and authority in the persuasion process. The overall purpose was to identify the strategy that yielded the best outcome. Three scales were developed for the three indices, with agreement ranging from 0 to 4 (4 representing 'I agree' and 0 representing 'I do not agree'). The influencing agent was presented as being either similar/dissimilar to the target, or experienced/inexperienced, and participants were required to rate the same based on such statements as 'this agent has similar habits to me'; 'this agent has invaluable experience; and 'this agent is appreciative of differences in opinion'.
Despite the researcher taking several fundamental steps to ensure that the instrument's validity was maintained, the results still indicated a misfit between the measuring instrument and the models used for the coercion and authority scales. The instrument, however, had a high internal validity, with a cronbach alpha value of 0.05 for all three scales. To optimize the instrument's reliability, the researchers maintained a constant ordinal structure for the items being measured. The coercion scale, however, still yielded a lower level of reliability as it was found to be highly sensitive to change.
One of the greatest strengths of the IRT method is its ability to create a flexible, yet vigorous framework allowing for the placement of multiple items on a single scale and thereby bring about consistency across different assessment forms. Moreover, it is able to specify reliability specific to each item; in this case -- perceived similarity, authority, and coercive power. However, to yield more valid and reliable outcomes, the method has to be used with large samples of data.
Another common instrument of operationalizing social persuasion involves creating a treatment solution that depicts the desired construct, and then testing the effect of the independent variables on the dependent variables. Bearden, Hardesty and Rose (2001) employed this method in a study seeking to measure social persuasion as a construct of self-confidence in marketing contexts. Attention was placed on the expert power base, and agents were assessed on the basis of how well they demonstrated confidence in their persuasion skills. The operationalization appears reasonable at face value, but the results showed very minimal differences in expert power between low-confidence cases and high-confidence cases. The manipulation check measure for the expert power index was a single-item, 7-point scale: the competence and knowledge of the influencing agent is 'definitely above average' to 'slightly below average'. The instrument yielded a high validity at a cronbach alpha of 0.04.
However, questions have been raised on the validity of single-item scales as alternatives to the conventional multi-item scales. In fact, as Fuchs (2009) points out, "editors and reviewers of academic journals are reluctant to accept manuscripts using single-item measures to operationalize some of their constructs" (p. 196). Such instruments' reliability is often questioned on grounds that they do not allow for the smoothing out of errors in individual items -- simply because they lack an element for summing up item scores into one total score (Fuchs, 2009). The validity concerns surrounding such instruments are based on the fact that "they do not tap into a construct from different angles" (Fuchs, 2009, p. 202). Their main strength, however, draws from the fact that they are not affected by additional items that tend to inflate error-term correlation (Fuchs, 2009).
Semantic Differential Scale: in the case of this instrument, a construct is rated on a seven-point rating scale, with each extreme comprising of two bi-polar adjectives. However, unlike the rating scale, this scale lacks a neutral option. Such a…