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Literature Review Paper

Dogmatism and Social Influence

      For some time scholars have recognized that both message and receiver elements affect persuasive communication (Steinfatt, 1987;  Bostrom, 1983, ch. 11).  Since different individuals may react to identical messages in quite different ways, it is reasonable to suppose that attention to key personality characteristics may yield meaningful results.  This paper will examine one major personality construct, dogmatism, and will explain its impact on persuasion.  In particular, this paper will suggest a problem statement related to dogmatism and social influence, will review the theoretic expectations for this variable, will report on the status of research literature on the subject, and will suggest the heuristic merit of dogmatism research.

Problem Statement

      Dogmatism is an important variable in persuasive communication (Bettinghaus & Cody, 1994, pp. 160-162).  Milton Rokeach (1960) defined dogmatism as "the extent to which the total mind is an open or closed one" (p. 397).  Thus, dogmatism is a broad disposition that may affect many sorts of reactions to persuasive communication.  Hence, the chief question isolated for research in this paper is:  In a field setting, what is the relationship between receiver dogmatism on attitude change in response to a persuasive message when need for cognition levels are held constant?

Theoretic Expectations

      Though some view dogmatism as a theory (see Infante, Rancer, & Womack, 1990. p. 141), the concept actually is a personality element.  Hence, the role of this personality characteristic might be explored by examining its predicted functions as a concept and as an element of a broad theory of persuasion.

      Conceptually, among highly dogmatic individuals, there is little differentiation between central and peripheral beliefs.  Thus, for these individuals, requests for attitude change involve appeals that are likely to be perceived as challenges to central beliefs.  As a result, persuasive appeals are likely to be received negatively by highly dogmatic subjects.  Critical to the dogmatism notion are the perceptions people have of the message source and the message content.  Highly dogmatic individuals tend to mix perceptions of the source with perceptions of message content.  Rokeach explained,

The more closed the belief system, the more difficult should it be to distinguish between information received about the world and information received about the source.  (1960, pp. 57-58)

Hence, highly dogmatic people tend not to distinguish between the content of the message and the source of the message.  Thus, if the message comes from a highly credible source, the message should be increasingly persuasive (Powell, 1962).  If the source is lowly credible, the message should not be persuasive.  Thus, the effects of dogmatism are intertwined with the notion of source credibility.  Infante, Rancer, and Womack (1990) explained:

When the source is viewed as credible, dogmatism is associated with persuasion. . . .  open-minded persons are not necessarily easy to persuade.  When the source is credible and the topic rather unimportant, open-minded people are more difficult to persuade than dogmatic individuals.  (p. 141)

Hence, the relationship between dogmatism and persuasion is wrapped up with source credibility effects.

      Given this interaction pattern, dogmatism effects seem to invite explanation from the perspective of the Elaboration Likelihood Model developed by Petty and Cacioppo (1986).  Though not intentionally designed to guide dogmatism research, this theory may be used to predict dogmatism effects.  The Elaboration Likelihood Model posits two routes to persuasion, the central route and the peripheral route.  The central route emphasizes information a person has about the content issue under consideration.  The peripheral route is dominated by non-message factors, such as number of arguments made, expertise of the source, attractiveness of the source, and group pressure.  In the Elaboration Likelihood Model the two paths are followed simultaneously, but one is dominant depending on the motivation of the receiver of persuasive communication.  In particular, when subjects have high levels of "need for cognition" they will place emphasis on the central route to persuasion.

      Dogmatism may explain some individual motivation to process primary message content.  If an individual has high levels of dogmatism, motivation may be directed toward processing message cues on the peripheral route.  That is, an individual who is highly dogmatic is more influenced by peripheral route cues than by central route cues.  Thus, to persuade a highly dogmatic receiver, one would be advised to rely on strong non-message content cues.  These cues include relying on sources who have high credibility, particularly from persons perceived as authority figures.  Since highly dogmatic receivers do not distinguish source credibility cues from message cues, the peripheral route should produce greatest persuasion among highly dogmatic people.

      Though the Elaboration Likelihood Model has been the object of some criticism (Mongeau & Stiff, 1993;  Allen & Reynolds, 1993), the application made here does not appear to advance into the most controversial features of this theory.  Instead, including dogmatism provides increasingly clear predictions of when the peripheral route to persuasion will be dominant.  The predictions made from this application are not equivocal.

Survey of Literature

      This discussion of literature focuses on chief examples of research in an effort to trace key issues on the subject.  Studies dealing with outcome variables other than persuasion have been excluded (such as studies of ratings of humor from "popular" and "unpopular" comedians [Becker, 1967], ratings of movies [Rosenman, 1967], and improvement in completing tasks [Mouw, 1969]).  Dogmatism research may be organized according to studies examining persuasive effects and studies exploring source credibility interactions.

      Persuasive Effects Studies.  Simple studies of persuasive effects have produced contradictory findings (see summaries by Miller, 1977; Goldstein & Blackman, 1978, pp. 87-90).  Jones and Dieker (1966) reported that lowly dogmatic people were persuaded more than highly dogmatic subjects.  Such a finding was consistent with the common sense expectation that open-minded people should be more persuaded than closed minded people.  But this pattern has not been consistently found.  Other research has observed that greatest persuasion occurs among highly dogmatic subjects (Bostrom, 1964;  Mertz, Miller, and Ballance, 1966).  Hunt and Miller (1967) found no differences at all.  Since none of these laboratory studies controlled for receiver levels of "need for cognition," it is difficult to determine whether persuasive effects were mediated by such elements.  Similarly, no differences were noticed when highly and lowly credible sources were given "inoculation" against the persuasion to follow (Adams & Beatty, 1977).  Thus, the search for simple persuasive effects has proven illusory.  Instead, the impact of dogmatism may be most meaningful in combination with other variables.

      Source Credibility Interactions.  A host of studies has examined the interaction of dogmatism with source credibility in producing persuasive effects.  Powell (1962) exposed students to the 1960 presidential debates between Kennedy and Nixon.  These students were matched on education, political party, sex, age, and socioeconomic status.  Lowly dogmatic subjects were more likely than highly dogmatic subjects to focus on message content.  Among highly dogmatic subjects, influence occurred as a direct result of source credibility effects.  When subjects were highly dogmatic, persuasion occurred when the source was highly credible, but not when the source was lowly credible.  This pattern seems irresistible across settings.  Similar effects have been found in studies of visual perception tasks involving highly and lowly credible confederates (Vidulich & Kaiman, 1961), public speaking examples (Cronkhite & Goetz, 1971;  Harvey & Hays, 1972), experiences in intensity training (Vacchiano, Schiffman & Crowell, 1966), studies of race of communication sources (Miller & Roberts, 1965), and perceptions of expertise for individuals providing helpful or unhelpful advice on ways to complete a task (Schultz & DiVesta, 1972).

      Interaction with Ancillary Variables.  Other sorts of interactions have been explored between dogmatism and persuasion.  In particular, the potential moderating roles of evidence, credibility proneness, message topic, and cognitive processing have been most popularly explored.  Each of these alternatives will be reviewed.

      The moderating role of evidence on dogmatism effects has been the object of study.  One inquiry found that highly dogmatic people tend to cite much evidence when making their own persuasive arguments (Kline, 1971).  Such a finding led to the speculation that since highly dogmatic people tend toward active use of evidence themselves, they might react positively to messages that use evidence extensively.  Bostrom and Tucker (1969) explored whether the amount of evidence used in a persuasive message interacted with dogmatism and persuasion.  Though evidence effects were found, no dogmatism effects were observed.  Though the authors interpreted their results as incompatible with past research on dogmatism, another interpretation is possible.  The prominent use of evidence may have produced a suppression of dogmatism effects in persuasive argument.

      As a partial explanation of the credibility-dogmatism interaction, the concept of "credibility-proneness" has been enlisted (Siegel, Miller & Wotring, 1969).  The concept involves a person's predisposition to react to differences in credibility of sources.  By personal disposition, some people have a desire--or perhaps a need--to conform with highly credible sources.  Thus, some of the impact of dogmatism may have been confounded with credibility proneness.  Since this tendency to conform to authority was not teased out in past research, it might seem desirable to undertake additional research to examine the unique contributions of dogmatism, conformity to authority, and credibility-proneness as sources of influence.

      Dogmatism effects appear to be message-bound.  Though most experimental messages have involved public policy questions, not all topics have produced consistent findings (Norris, 1965).  The impact of dogmatism may be very different when dealing with issues in the public forum and when dealing with personal questions.

      The role of cognitive processing has raised some potential interactions with dogmatism.  Bettinghaus, Miller, and Steinfatt (1970) exposed highly and lowly dogmatic students to eight valid and eight invalid arguments in formal logical structures (using syllogisms).  The arguments took positions with which the students agreed or disagreed.  The messages were attributed to sources that had been rated positively or negatively.  For highly dogmatic people, credibility effects overshadowed the impact of logical appeals, across the board.  In fact, when they viewed the source negatively, highly dogmatic students identified even valid arguments with which they agreed as "invalid."  Among other findings, argument logic produced potent effects on beliefs among lowly dogmatic subjects.  Thus, highly dogmatic people seem likely to use distorted methods of thinking when confronted with information from a source they hold in low regard.  Even so, individuals who have high levels of "need for cognition" may be most influenced by message content, regardless of dogmatism levels.  Such an expectation remains to be explored in research.

      In sum, the research indicates that highly dogmatic people are relatively unpersuaded by information from others, unless the message comes from a highly credible source.  This finding is moderated by the use of evidence in persuasive messages, any confounding from credibility proneness, selection of message topics away from "public forum" issues, and differences in cognitive processing ability.

Future Research

      The status of research indicates that the interaction between dogmatism and credibility is quite strong.  This consistent pattern cannot be ignored.  There is little doubt that dogmatism research has added substantially to the store of knowledge on persuasion.  Even so, opportunities remain for future research that cannot be ignored.

      First, most research has examined dogmatism in laboratory settings.  Though such work is valuable, there may be additional sources of influence found in field settings that have not been captured in the laboratory.  Thus, the future inquiry might be profitably directed toward field work.

      Second, research is absent that separates the impact of "need for cognition" from dogmatism effects.  Studies are invited to isolate the contribution of each of these sources of variation.  If it is found that "need for cognition" effects are at least as great as dogmatism, the role of dogmatism in explaining persuasive effects may be limited accordingly.  Since dogmatism is a relationship among beliefs arranged in a hierarchy, it may be that "need for cognition" may explain much of the impact of dogmatism.  Furthermore, by including examination of "need for cognition" effects it may be possible to test the true suitability of the Elaboration Likelihood Model for explaining related dogmatism effects on persuasion.  It seems clear that future work should inquire into this research area.


      This paper examined dogmatism and its influence on persuasion.  In particular, a problem statement was isolated suggesting field study of the dogmatism-persuasion relationship controlling for "need for cognition" effects.  Theoretic expectations related to the dogmatism concept were reviewed.  Subject to limitations, the Elaboration Likelihood Model was suggested to predict the dogmatism-credibility-influence interaction effect.  The literature was explored by looking at simple persuasive effects, the credibility-dogmatism interaction effect, and the potential for other variables to moderate the impact of dogmatism on persuasion.  Finally, suggestions for future research were advanced.


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