Why People Click

Social interaction and influence online

Email Him but See Her in Person

An Overview of Online Persuasion

I've always been a computer "nerd" (and I use that term in quotes because I am proud to be a nerd and have much respect for my fellow nerds). As a result of this, I've always been fascinated with two things: 1) How people get others to change their minds and behavior; and 2) How this works over computer-mediated communication. So much of my research generally and much of my research you will read about in this blog stems from this curiosity. 

Conventional wisdom suggests that women are more easily influenced than men. Because the Internet is seen as a “boys’” domain, this myth may be myth easily generalized to online behavior. Online spammers and scammers certainly have their opinions, as many are portrayed as women trying to sell untoward products or seeking romantic relationships.

But, what does the research say? According to my research, the answer to the question posed is complicated: it depends. Overall, the research indicates that men are slightly more persuasive than are women because men are generally perceived as higher in credibility and expertise. This will not always be the case. For instance, when a discussion topic is stereotypically feminine (e.g., childcare, pregnancy), the roles reverse and women become more persuasive because they are assumed to have more expertise on the topic.

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The nature of the relationship between the persuader and his or her target (e.g., friend, competitor, stranger) and the communication mode (face-to-face vs. email, for example) through which he or she tries to persuade also impacts persuasiveness. For a woman trying to persuade another woman whom she does not know, face-to-face is a more effective means of persuasion relative to email because a face-to-face interaction allows women to get to know each other quickly. Finding commonalities such and mutual friends is one of the fastest ways for women to bond and chatting in person more quickly facilitates this.

On the other hand, when a man trying to persuade an unknown man, the communication mode does not matter. However, if the persuader is highly dissimilar or a competitor, he is better off using email because the target of persuasion focuses on the text of the persuader and not the persuader himself. This message focus distracts the target of persuasion from the persuader's personal characteristics. 

Finally, across the communication modes that I have examined in my research, people are usually more successful at persuading members of their own sex because they see themselves as more similar to a member of their gender group. This is the case regardless of whether the persuader is another real person or a computer-generated image of a human called an avatar.

This is what we know now. What we don’t know is whether the above results are applicable to online spammers and scammers or whether these results are applicable to Facebook where the audience is more than one person. And that, dear readers, is my next objective: to tackle persuasion on Facebook! Stay turned and welcome to my blog!

 

Rosanna Guadagno, Ph.D., is a social psychologist who studies online behavior at the University of Alabama.

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