Mentalizing in Receivers Leads to Increased Likelihood of Social Influence

Receivers of social influence also engage in mentalizing, and consideration of others’ perspectives can increase a receiver’s susceptibility to influence and persuasion. Social belonging and the maintenance of social relationships are fundamental human needs (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). As such, the value of complying with a message is influenced by social norms and by the potential social rewards of compliance (Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004). For instance, agreeing with a message shared by a friend can lead to positive relational outcomes, increasing the value of compliance (Berger, 2014). Likewise, acting to be in compliance with a perceived social norm can lead to a feeling of belongingness (Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004). In order for receivers to find conforming to social influence valuable, it is helpfiil to understand others’ mindsets, perspectives, and values. For instance, receivers may be more likely to find adopting an idea valuable if they are able to understand the perspectives of the communicators. The use of social norms in persuasive communication increases the likelihood of an individual shifting their behavior or attitude toward the norm (Cialdini et al., 2006; Goldstein, Cialdini, & Griskevicius, 2008). For instance, hotel room signs promoting reuse of towels that invoke social norms and group belongingness (e.g., “the majority of guests reuse their towels”) were more successful at gaining compliance from guests compared to signs solely focusing on environmental appeals (e.g., “you can show your respect for nature and help save the environment by reusing your towels during your stay”; Goldstein et ah, 2008). Although not explicitly measured, invoking a social nonn likely activated mentalizing in the receivers of the influence as they considered the behavior of others in calculating the value of complying.

Neural evidence provides additional insights into this theory'. Text-based persuasive messages that invoked higher activity in regions of the brain implicated in mentalizing (DMPFC, posterior STS, temporal pole) were rated to be higher in persuasiveness across two cultural contexts (i.e., American and Korean participants) and message modalities (i.e., text and video messages; Falk et ah, 2010). Thus, messages that elicit thoughts of social implications, even if not explicitly from a social source, may be more likely to lead to successful influence.

The mentalizing system is also associated with successfitl influence dining dyadic interactions. Receivers engage the mentalizing system when considering the opinions of others, and this activity is predictive of whether the message will lead to successful social influence (Cascio et ah, 2015; Welbom et ah, 2015). Increased activity in the mentalizing system while receivers were reading and considering peer recommendations of mobile game apps was associated with increased likelihood that receivers would change their own recommendations toward that of their peers, leading to successful propagation of recommendations (Baek et ah, 2019). Likewise, in adolescents, greater neural activity in regions of the mentalizing system (DMPFC, rTPJ, left temporal pole) was associated with increased likelihood that adolescent participants shifted their preference of art based on social feedback from both their peers and parents (Welbom et ah, 2015). In this way, mentalizing activity may be one signal that contributes to whether receivers are socially influenced.

Given that mentalizing is associated with increased likelihood that a receiver will be successfully influenced, can it also distinguish individual differences in susceptibility' to social influence? Indeed, individuals more susceptible to social influence (i.e., more likely to change their own opinion to match that of their peers) also showed greater recruitment of the brain’s mentalizing system while they were exposed to the opinions of others (Cascio et ah, 2015; Welbom et ah, 2015). Thus, the extent to which a receiver considers the social implications of incorporating a communicator’s opinion may be a key input to an overall value calculation that determines whether the receiver will be socially influenced (for a review, see Falk & Scholz, 2018).

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