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Minority opinion influence: the role of issue-involvement and similarity Venkatasubramaniam, Ramesh

Abstract

Social influence in marketing has generally been conceptualized in terms of conformity, where the individual's attitudes and behaviour are influenced by real or imagined group pressure. This is a one-way influence process where the group (majority) influences the individual. This research extends this conceptualization of social influence to include the influence of minority or deviant opinions. A simultaneous social influence paradigm is adopted, in which individuals may not only experience conformity pressure from the majority, but may also be subject to persuasion by minority opinions in the group. Such situations may arise in consumer groups as such organizational buying committees or families. Several conditions that may determine the extent of conformity or minority influence were delineated. It was hypothesized that the extent of social identification with a minority or majority source, i.e., source-similarity, would determine the extent of its influence. It was proposed that issue-involvement would play an important role in determining conformity versus minority influence effects, as well as interact significantly with source-similarity. The role of other mediating variables in this social influence process, such as source credibility and source feelings, were also explicated. An empirical test of the theory was undertaken through a 2 (high/low similarity) X 2 (high/low involvement) factorial design. Subject were exposed to persuasive communication from both a majority and a minority source, who advocated contrary positions. The two sources always assumed opposite social identities, and thus when one source was similar to the subject, the other was dissimilar. As anticipated, the minority opinion was more persuasive when the minority was similar, rather than dissimilar. However, this effect was dependent on the level of involvement. The results were generally consistent with the proposed model, with both similarity and involvement playing a crucial role in determining the extent of minority influence. Source credibility and feelings towards the source were both significant mediators in the social influence process. This research indicates a further need to explore the role of involvement in such simultaneous influence contexts using other consumer contexts, and it opens several avenues for future research.

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