Choosing persuasion targets: How expectations of qualitative change increase advocacy intentions

Choosing persuasion targets: How expectations of qualitative change increase advocacy intentions

By
Christopher Bechler, Zakary Tormala, Derek Rucker
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
2020

Advocacy is a topic of increasing import in the attitudes literature, but researchers know little to nothing about how people (i.e., persuaders) choose their targets (i.e., the recipients of their advocacy). Four main experiments and six supplemental studies (total N = 3,684) demonstrate that people prefer to direct persuasion efforts toward individuals who seem poised to shift their attitudes qualitatively (e.g., from negative to positive) rather than non-qualitatively (e.g., from positive to more positive). This preference stems from the fact that qualitative attitude change is perceived as greater in magnitude and expected to have a larger impact on behavior. These findings provide initial insight into the factors that drive persuasion target selection, and are inconsistent with what past persuasion research, conventional marketing wisdom, and our empirical evidence suggests persuaders should do. People tend to select persuasion targets they believe they can change qualitatively, but at least sometimes can have greater persuasive impact by targeting individuals who are already leaning in their direction.