Forewarnings of Influence Appeals: Inducing Resistance and Acceptance

Authors: Jeffrey M. Quinn & Wendy Wood (Texas A&M University)

Publication: Resistance and Persuasion. Ed. Eric S. Knowles & Jay A. Linn. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers

Year: 2004

Focus Area: Persuasion, Resistance, Prevention

Relevance: Fraud prevention interventions frequently depend on forewarning individuals of persuasive dangers.  This chapter details how those warnings can influence a person either towards increased vigilance or towards increased susceptibility, depending on the context and manner of delivery.

Summary: Warnings may or may not create greater resistance, depending on the context and the information provided.

In order to maximize a person’s resistance, practitioners’ warnings should:

  1. Point out the possible threat to the person’s attitude.
  2. Not jeopardize the person’s self-image.
  3. Encourage thinking about specific aspects of the issue, including the potential repercussions of the threatening message.
  4. Be delivered free of distractions.

On the other hand, a forewarning may increase susceptibility if emphasis is placed on a person’s gullibility.  If recipients are concerned about losing face, they may preemptively agree with the persuasive appeal in order to minimize the later change (e.g., “It’s not persuasion if I agreed already!”).

Author Abstract: According to conventional wisdom, “forewarned is forearmed.” That is, warning of an impending request allows people to prepare for it and ultimately to resist it. For instance, advance knowledge that a telemarketer is about to call and deliver an unwanted sales pitch or that a friend is about to ask a burdensome favor should allow the target of such appeals to mount a successful defense. The idea that warnings generate resistance also is evident in reviews of persuasion research, which typically discuss forewarning effects along with other resistance techniques (e.g., Eagly & Chaiken, 1993). The assumption that warnings yield resistance can also explain a common practice in psychology experiments on attitude change. Experimenters often avoid warning participants of an impending persuasive communication, presumably to maximize participants’ susceptibility to persuasion (Papageorgis, 1967, 1968).

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