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II. Tactics That Rely on Social Relationships: Source Credibility and Social Roles

As early as the 4th century BCE, Aristotle argued that an essential ingredient of influence is that the communicator must be of good character. For Aristotle, a good character (or ethos) meant someone who possesses good sense, good morals, and goodwill. Much research has found support for Aristotle’s observations but has also found that in some circumstances a communicator of weak character or possessing irrelevant characteristics can still persuade and prevail. Additional research finds that the mere presence of others, even when the nature of their character is unclear, can influence a target through conformity or what Cialdini (2001) terms social proof. In contrast to Aristotle’s “good character,” research has shown that what is important for influence is the establishment of a social relationship that facilitates influence between the source and target of influence. The following tactics describe how this can be accomplished and in the process explores the nature of relationships that promote and deter persuasion.


Be a Credible Source

 One of the most prominent demonstrations of Aristotle’s “good character” rule of influence was conducted by Hovland and Weiss (1951; Hovland, Janis, & Kelley, 1953). In this experiment, expert and trustworthy sources (e.g., Robert J. Oppenheimer, New England Journal of Biology and Medicine) were more effective in securing persuasion to various issues (e.g., future of atomic submarines, sale of antihistamine drugs) compared to communicators lacking in expertise and trust (e.g., Pravda, a pictorial magazine). The explanation for this effect given by Hovland et al. (1953) assumed that people desire to hold a correct attitude (see also Petty & Cacioppo, 1986) and that relying on an expert and trustworthy source is rewarding in terms of meeting this goal. In addition to communicators who are expert and trustworthy, researchers have identified a number of other attributes of credible (or effective) communicators. These include sources that are physically attractive (Chaiken, 1979), similar to the target (Brock, 1965), likeable (Cialdini, 2001), an authority (Bickman, 1974), and of high social status (Lefkowitz, Blake, & Mouton, 1955), and members of ingroups (Abrams, Wetherell, Cochrane, Hogg, & Turner, 1990). Some divide the nature of credibility into two general types: the hard (expert, authority, high social status) and the soft (attractive, likeable, similar) sell. For example, Cialdini (2001) describes the two influence principles of liking (the friendly thief) and authority (directed deference). Additional source-related principles might be added, such as a warm or benefic sell (taking the role of someone who is dependent and needs help to induce compliance with a request for aid). Nevertheless, some of these attributes strain the Hovland et al. (1953) explanation of source credibility. For example, the desire to hold a correct attitude toward shaving would suggest that the independent assessment of a barber or dermatologist would be a more effective source than a high-status pro football player paid for his endorsement. An alternative explanation of credibility is that the credible communicator is one that holds a prominent, positive status in the web of relationships in a social system – the prestige hypothesis of research conducted in the 1930s and 1940s (Lorge, 1936; Wegrocki, 1934).

 Much research has been devoted to identifying techniques for manufacturing source credibility. Some of these techniques are: (a) put on the trappings (ornamentation) of authority and attractiveness (make-up, clothing, symbols, stories and narratives, etc.; Cialdini, 2001; Pratkanis & Aronson, 2001); (b) do a favor for the target (Lott & Lott, 1960); (c) get the target to do a favor for you (Jecker & Landy, 1969); (d) agree (attitude similarity) with the target (Byrne, 1971); (e) show or demonstrate liking for the target (Curtis & Miller, 1986); (f) personalize or individuate the source (Garrity & Degelman, 1990); (g) be critical and then praise the target (Sigall & Aronson, 1967); (h) commit a blunder or pratfall (to appear human) if you are a competent source (Aronson, Willerman, & Floyd, 1966); (i) be confident in tone and manner (Leippe, Manion, & Romanczyk, 1992); (j) create a sense that future anticipated interaction is inevitable or a fait accompli (Darley & Berscheid, 1967); (k) increase familiarity and proximity (Segal, 1974); (l) admit a small flaw to establish overall credibility (Settle & Golden, 1974); (m) surround yourself with beautiful people (Sigall & Landy, 1973); (n) punish a tar- get’s enemy or reward a target’s friend (Aronson & Cope, 1968); (o) imitate the target (Thelen & Kirkland, 1976); (p) share a secret (Wegner, Lane, & Dimitri, 1994); (q) reciprocate self-disclosures (Derlega, Harris, & Chaikin, 1973); and (r) be perceived as empathetic, warm, and genuine (Girard, 1977; Rogers, 1942).

In general, the advice to “be credible” should be heeded by all who seek to persuade. However, there are cases when low-credible sources are more effective. For example, Walster, Aronson, and Abrahams (1966) found that a low- credible source (a hardened criminal) was more effective than a high-credible source (a judge) when arguing for tougher judicial sentencing. Aronson and Golden (1962) found that an outgroup member (an African-American for whites) was more effective under certain conditions in arguing for the value of arithmetic than a more prestigious ingroup member (see also White & Harkins, 1994). In addition, there are a number of cases where sources with differing basis of credibility (say, expert versus attractiveness) produce differential persuasion under varying treatments (see Pratkanis, 2000).

To account for these cases, I have proposed an altercasting theory of source credibility as an extension of the hypothesis (from prestige research) that  cipient (Pratkanis, 2000; Weinstein & Deutschberger, 1963). According to an altercasting theory, source credibility (effectiveness) is a function of the roles taken by the source and recipient of a message. Altercasting describes a social interaction in which an ego (e.g., source of the message) adopts certain lines of action (e.g., self-descriptions, mannerisms, impression management) to place alter (e.g., message recipient) into a social role that specifies an interpersonal task (e.g., message acceptance or rejection). A role is “a set of mutual (but not necessarily harmonious) expectations of behavior between two or more actors, with reference to a particular type of situation” (Goode, 1968, p. 249). In other words, a set of roles provides the occupants of those roles with certain responsibilities and privileges that then structure and shape future interaction. Once a person accepts a role, a number of social pressures are brought to bear to insure the role is enacted, including the expectations of self and others, the possibility of sanctions for role violations, selective exposure and processing of information consistent with role constraints, and the formation of an identity that provides the actors with a stake in a given social system. Any influence attempt is more or less effective depending on what roles are invoked and how it makes use of the responsibilities and privileges inherent in each role. The next seventeen tactics illustrate some of the more common uses of altercasting to secure influence.


Tact Altercast:

 In tact altercasting, alter (the target of an influence attempt) is placed in a role through mere contact with others in the social world. (The term is based on the Skinnerian term “tact,” which is derived from contact.) In other words, the agent of influence takes a social role to place the target in a complementary role. Pratkanis and Gliner (2004–2005) conducted simple experiments to illustrate tact altercasting. In one of their experiments, a child or an expert argued in favor of either nuclear disarmament or the presence of a tenth planet in the solar system. Traditional theories of source credibility (Hovland et al., 1953; Petty & Cacioppo, 1986) would predict that the expert should always be more effective than the child in terms of holding a correct belief. However, Pratkanis and Gliner found differential persuasion based on the social roles invoked. Specifically, a child was more effective than the expert when arguing for nuclear disarmament whereas the expert was more effective than the child when arguing for a tenth planet. A child places the message recipient in the role of “protector” and thus gains an advantage when arguing for protection-themed messages such as nuclear disarmament. An expert places the message recipient in the role of “unknowing public” and thus is most effective when advocating for technical issues such as a tenth planet. Pratkanis (2000) lists a number of role-pairs and role sets frequently used in influence attempts. The next ten tactics describe common tact altercasts.


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