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Nonverbal Behavior of Persuasive Sources: A Multiple Process Analysis

Abstract

This article describes the basic mechanisms by which the nonverbal behavior of a communicator can influence recipients’ attitudes and persuasion. We review the literature on classic variables related to persuasive sources (e.g., physical attractiveness, credibility, and power), as well as research on mimicry and facial expressions of emotion, and beyond. Using the elaboration likelihood model (ELM) as a framework, we argue that the overt behavior of source variables can affect attitude change by different psychological processes depending on different circumstances. Specifically, we describe the primary and secondary cognitive processes by which nonverbal behaviors of the source (e.g., smiling, nodding, eye contact, and body orientation) affect attitude change. Furthermore, we illustrate how considering the processes outlined by the ELM can help to predict when and why attractive, credible, and powerful communicators can not only increase persuasion but also be detrimental for persuasion.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In others words, the ELM highlights the fact that changing judgments can be accomplished either with a relatively high degree of thought or a relatively low degree of thought. Specifically, the “elaboration continuum” ranges from low to high. Importantly, the ELM holds that there are numerous specific processes of change that operate along this continuum. For example, automatic encoding/decoding (Ekman, 1999) requires relatively little thought and would operate at the low end of the continuum. In contrast, behavioral changes geared towards achieving stability that involve calibrating one’s requirements, expectancies and desires for a given interaction (Burgoon et al. 1995) tends to require higher degrees of thought and thus would operate along the upper end of the continuum. Because of these differences along the continuum, we speculate that in accord with the ELM, these processes could lead to similar attitudes, but with different long-term outcomes.

  2. 2.

    In the context of the ELM, “amount of thinking” is conceptualized as a continuum that reflects the degree to which an individual has the ability and the motivation to exert mental effort to carefully scrutinize the merits of information presented in a persuasive message. Thus, a variable can push people to be higher or lower on the continuum depending on whether they increase or decrease motivation or ability to think compared to their absence. The term “elaboration” is used to suggest that people add something of their own to the specific information presented in a persuasive message and are not simply rehearsing or learning the information presented in a verbatim manner (as in the classic learning theories of persuasion). As noted throughout the present review, in the ELM, variations in elaboration (e.g., high vs. low thinking) are consequential. For example, when people are relatively unmotivated or unable to think (i.e., low-thinking conditions), they are more likely to rely on the valence of immediately accessible information that originates either internally (one’s attitude) or externally (e.g., the attractiveness of the message source). In contrast, when people are more motivated and able to think (i.e., high-thinking conditions), then their initial reactions and the judgments that follow from their thoughts can be overridden by more complete interpretative analyses. Furthermore, judgments based on high levels of elaboration are more consequential than those based on low levels of elaboration.

  3. 3.

    Persuasive communications using attractive sources can have an especially powerful effect on people’s attitudes when they are not carefully thinking about the content of the message because objects perceived as attractive tend to make people feel good, and people are motivated to maintain positive moods (Wegener and Petty 1995). Moreover, attractive sources can also have a powerful effect on attitudes because people have a need to affiliate with attractive others and maintain a positive view of themselves.

  4. 4.

    When people are carefully processing a message (e.g., high in NC, high-involvement), in some cases they may perceive a nonverbal feature of the source (e.g., attractiveness) as exerting an inappropriate and/or unwanted influence on their thoughts (i.e., a biasing factor), and thus correct for its impact when reporting their attitudes. As previously explained, the underlying psychological processes by which source attractiveness influences attitudes under low-thinking can range from classical conditioning, to direct affect-transfer, to a misattribution of the response generated by the source.

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Guyer, J.J., Briñol, P., Petty, R.E. et al. Nonverbal Behavior of Persuasive Sources: A Multiple Process Analysis. J Nonverbal Behav 43, 203–231 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10919-018-00291-x

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Keywords

  • Nonverbal behavior
  • Body
  • Source
  • Attitudes
  • Persuasion