Social consensus

Multiple sources

On the whole, Social Consensus is a persuasive lever hinged upon the tendency of people to follow the herd, as it harnesses the drive to imitate or conform to the social behaviors of those around us. One aspect of this psychological phenomenon is the common inclination to give more weight to ideas that are stated by multiple sources. In fact, studies have denoted that hearing the same or similar messages from more than one source increases the processing of communications by audiences, and it can also serve as a peripheral cue in low-elaboration likelihood contexts.16 Though it is not understood exactly why listening to matching statements from several different sources influences persuasion, Petty and Cacioppo have contended that when elaboration likelihood is low, audiences “may use the number of people who support the issue as a simple cue as to the worth of the proposal.”17 That is, people seem more likely to agree with a message stated by several different voices because it appears to reflect a social consensus. This study specifically demarcates this message variable as the presence of three or more sources associated with an analogous message in any single communication.18

Social proof

It is evident that individuals are inclined to “use the opinions apparently held in their immediate social context to form judgments,” and most people “tend to align their beliefs with the opinions of those around them.”19 Accordingly, persuasive communicators do not, by necessity, have to convince audiences that an idea merits reception, but simply that many other people believe that it does. Such appeals to social context can generate long-lasting opinions and serve as peripheral cues, especially when individuals are unfamiliar with information and unsure about how to act.20 Advertising testimonials from satisfied customers function in this manner, as do public opinion polls associated with the use of statistics, which can cause audiences to shift personal attitudes to coincide with majority positions.21 Additionally, if message recipients exhibiting low-elaboration likelihood simply hear a positive audience reaction to a communication, it tends to cause the message to be perceived as being more persuasive.22 Social Proof also does not necessarily need to appeal to the largest population groups in a society, but can refer to a majority of individuals in the specific community whom a communicator is attempting to influence. For instance, a Christian leader may state that the greatest number of Christians adhere to certain principles or actions to convince a predominantly Christian audience, who may constitute a minority of citizens in a particular society.

Underdog effects

In distinction from the persuasion effects of Social Proof are the intriguing results that may ensue when a communicator purposefully stresses the seemingly underdog nature of an idea, action, or group. An underdog can be described as anything or any persons expected to lose a contest due to a lack of ability or popularity, and/or if they are the victim of some form of injustice. For persuasion purposes, such an underdog group may be characterized as an ensemble of righteous dissenters or victims, contesting against a domineering and even perfidious majority or group of elites that is conspiring against them. Accordingly, instead of being asked to join the majority, an audience is generally rallied to enlist with a seemingly noble minority social consensus. Underdog Effects are often less predictable than the persuasive influence of Social Proof, though appealing to the underdog can still prove influential. In particular, influence outcomes appear most effective when elaboration likelihood can be described as being low due to a lack of information available to an audience, or when listeners are somewhat indifferent to the ideas being presented in a communication.23

If individuals become persuaded to support an ostensible underdog-like individual, group, or product, they are generally more liable to come to the underdog’s defense. For instance, during political elections voter turnouts are often appreciably higher among supporters of less popular candidates perceived to be in underdog positions.24 Furthermore, purposefully narrating biographical underdog stories, known as the “marketing of disadvantage,” has proven effective in fostering consumer purchasing and brand loyalty.25 This involves referring to the apparent “humble origins, lack of resources, and determined struggle against the odds” that may have been faced by a particular group in the quest for success.26 In relation to product marketing, this underdog biography causes individuals to “react positively when they see underdog aspects of their own lives reflected in branded products.”27 Researchers have demonstrated the ways in which numerous corporations and political candidates, such as Apple and Barrack Obama, strategically enlisted this technique for a mass media advantage.28 These underdog narratives may also include the use of statistics. Such statistics can include those to which we now turn by first looking at the ways in which prominent Darwin-skeptic communicators are invoking numerical data and technical jargon. Such stats and complex language demonstrate not only Social Consensus, but also the apparent weight of scientific facts or theological nuances seemingly underpinning antievolutionist presumptions. The rates of recurrence of Social Consensus cases in both Darwin-skeptic and proevolutionist media are presented in Figure 6.2.

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