Style Versus Substance: Multiple Roles of Language Power in Persuasion


Style Versus Substance: Multiple Roles of
Language Power in Persuasion

John R. Sparks
University of Dayton

Charles S. Areni
University of Sydney

This research explores how message style influences persuasion in conjunction with
message substance. Using the elaboration likelihood model, the study operational-
izes message style as language power and message substance as argument quality,then
considers the multiple roles language power can assume in persuasion. The authors
investigate whether language power acts as a (a) central argument, (b) peripheral
cue, (c) biasing influence on assessment of arguments, or (d) distraction that inhibits
argument processing. Additionally, they manipulate exposure time to examine how
processing ability influences which persuasive roles language power assumes. The
authors find empirical support for the multiple-roles perspective and conclude that
the role of message style depends partially on the ability to process message details.

Is it what you say or how you say it? Asserting that a speaker’s persuasive
ability arises both from message substance and presentation style would be
axiomatic at best. However, in applications ranging from politics to law,
from religion to marketing, the basic question of how style versus substance
affects persuasion encompasses many complex and interesting issues. For
example, in some contexts, style may actually become substance, rendering
the effects of the two largely indistinguishable. In some contexts, style may be
used to infer source characteristics, which in turn affect perceptions of
message substance. In other contexts, style may inhibit or enhance the accurate processing
of message substance, while in still other contexts, style may
provide a convenient means of simply surmising message substance, even
with little actual knowledge of it. Collectively, these possibilities suggest that,
depending on context, speaking style may assume multiple roles in persuasion. The purpose
of the present research is to investigate multiple persuasive effects of speaking style under conditions of low versus high ability to process message content.

Style Versus Substance: Multiple Roles of Language Power in Persuasion

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