In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Persuasion and Social Influence

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Methods

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Communication Persuasion and Social Influence
Jakob Jensen, Nicholas Carcioppolo
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 September 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 February 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0048


Researchers have long been interested in identifying factors that might explain the success or failure of persuasive attempts. Academic study of persuasion dates back to at least ancient Greece, as Aristotle (among others) wrote about the persuasive power of various message features. This early research evolved into a field of inquiry known as rhetorical studies or rhetoric, which focuses on determining the available methods of persuasion in any situation. Social scientific study of persuasion, the focus of the present bibliography, developed in the early 1900s. This line of inquiry was initiated by experimentalists interested in message effects, a program that received additional financial support from the US military during World War I and World War II. Driven by researchers from a variety of fields, the social scientific study of persuasion is now a foundational component of advertising, marketing, psychology, communication, and public health (just to name a few). Despite the context of study, contemporary research in this domain focuses on both theory building as well as application of that theory.


Textbooks support the teaching of a particular topic or area of study. Persuasion typically manifests as one of two courses: (1) a basic skills course (e.g., persuasive public speaking) or (2) a basic theory course (e.g., theories of persuasion). The former typically utilizes textbooks developed for basic public speaking courses, such as Lucas 2003, whereas the latter requires one or more texts reviewing persuasion theory and research, such as O’Keefe 2002. The current bibliography focuses primarily on persuasion theory textbooks as they are somewhat more challenging to traverse. Most persuasion theory textbooks, including Perloff 2010, begin with a discussion of the structures and functions of attitudes and how they correspond with persuasion. Beyond this initial section, some textbooks, such as O’Keefe 2002, include sections approaching persuasion from a communication perspective, dedicating more time to message features than other texts, while others consider persuasion from a psychological perspective, focusing on cognition and attitude change (see Petty and Cacioppo 1996). Gass and Seiter 2011, and Stiff and Mongeau 2003 are largely intended for undergraduate audiences; however, others are more specialized still, with Wilson 2002 studying compliance-gaining interactions, and Cialdini 2008 focusing on examples of persuasion in applied settings.

  • Cialdini, Robert B. 2008. Influence: Science and practice. 5th ed. Boston,: Allyn & Bacon.

    This textbook is a good fit for undergraduate persuasion classes. It details the processes by which people can be persuaded in real-world settings and the examples will prove helpful to those new to this area. The book includes an introduction to the study of social influence, based largely on Cialdini’s observational studies of compliance professionals.

  • Gass, Robert H., and John S. Seiter. 2011. Persuasion: Social influence and compliance gaining. 4th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

    Geared toward undergraduate students, this text represents an introduction to a wide array of persuasion topics, from the applied to the theoretical. Chapters cover attitudes, commonly used theories, credibility, nonverbal persuasion, message production, compliance gaining, deception, and ethics.

  • Lucas, Stephen E. 2003. The art of public speaking. 9th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    A common text utilized in undergraduate public speaking courses. It is supported by online course material (located on McGraw-Hill’s website), including audio/text of the one hundred greatest speeches, chapter summaries, and speech evaluation forms. Chapter 15 focuses exclusively on speaking to persuade.

  • O’Keefe, Daniel J. 2002. Persuasion: Theory and research. 2d ed. London: SAGE.

    This book begins with an overview of the importance of attitudes in persuasion, including definitions, measurement techniques, and the attitude-behavior relationship. Later chapters address theories that are commonly used in persuasion research, as well as source, message, receiver, and contextual factors that can influence persuasion. One part textbook, one part handbook, this is a resource that can be used in teaching and research.

  • Perloff, Richard M. 2010. The dynamics of persuasion: Communication and attitudes in the 21st century. 4th ed. New York: Routledge.

    This textbook is divided into three broad sections. The first is focused on the role of attitudes in persuasion, the second is on changing attitudes and behavior through the use of persuasion theory, and the third section features examples of various persuasive communication campaigns. Looking at persuasion from several vantage points, including media and interpersonal influence, the examples in the final section are sampled from a variety of topics relevant to communication researchers.

  • Petty, Richard E., and John T. Cacioppo. 1996. Attitudes and persuasion: Classic and contemporary approaches. Boulder, CO: Westview.

    This book provides a survey of theoretical approaches to attitude change. Included in the text are sections covering the evolution of attitude change theory from early theories, such as the message learning model, through contemporary attitude change theories, such as the theory of reasoned action as well as dual-process models.

  • Stiff, James B., and Paul A. Mongeau. 2003. Persuasive communication. 2d ed. New York: Guilford.

    This is a good text for an advanced undergraduate course on persuasion theory and/or persuasion campaigns. The book contains four units, covering input/output features (input/output matrix), common persuasion theories, and sample persuasion campaigns.

  • Wilson, Steven R. 2002. Seeking and resisting compliance: Why people say what they do when trying to influence others. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This book examines the literature on seeking and resisting compliance from a message production perspective. It addresses what people say in compliance-gaining situations, why they say it, and how exchanges in compliance-gaining situations unfold. There are four main sections to this book: approaches to describing influence interactions, metaphors in persuasive messages, a survey of theoretical perspectives, and case study exemplars.

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