, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 89-122

Impersonal influence: Effects of representations of public opinion on political attitudes

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Many phenomena of interest to political scientists involve what may be termed “impersonal influence”; that is, influence that derives from individuals' perceptions of others' attitudes, beliefs, or experiences. “Others” in this case refers not to the close friends and acquaintances that concerned the authors of classics such asThe People's Choice andPersonal Influence, but rather to the anonymous “others” outside an individual's realm of personal contacts. Modern mass media facilitate the influence of anonymous others by devoting considerable time and attention to portraying trends in mass opinion. This study explores the rationale for theories of impersonal influence, synthesizing existing research findings falling under this general theoretical framework, and investigating its psychological underpinnings using experiments embedded in representative surveys.