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Attitude Change In Viewing Racist Terms

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Attitude Change in Viewing Racist Terms as Immoral Using Persuasion Tactics and Group Size

Larkin Wood II

University of Georgia


The degree of individual attitudinal change dealing with racial terms among individuals when exposed to different persuasionary group size and tactics was studied. One hundred and twenty University of Georgia students received one of the twelve different conditions, which consisted of one of the three group sizes matched with one of the four persuasion types. Significant differences were found. The participants in larger groups had slightly larger degrees of attitude change than the smaller groups. In comparing the type of persuasion tactics used, rationale had the overall highest degrees of attitude change. The results of this study suggest persuading group size does play a significant role in attitude change, with a positive correlation between, and the rationale tactic is the most effective of the persuasionary tactics. Future research should study these variables in context of sexually offensive language, or use other tactics as they are discovered.

Attitude Change in Viewing Racist Terms as Immoral Due to Persuasion Tactics and Group Size

Persuasion is a topic that has been researched for many decades. At present, persuasion is used in almost every aspect of life, work, and social communication. Many methods and theories have been developed for the use of persuasion (Smith, 1982). Ways of researching the construct have been pursued frequently. The effects of the use of racial language have also been explored, as well as the sources and motivation of the language use (Schaefer, 1996). A topic that has been researched and written about is the area of morality and moral development (Hemming, 1991; Kohlberg, 1964; Rest, Narvaez, & Thoma, 2000). All three of these topics have been studied separately and sometimes together, but as far as can be established, the impact of persuasion on moral attitudes on the use of racially offensive language has not been explored. This is a very complex concept, but its need to be researched will become apparent within this study.

Many families, cultures, and peer groups use racially explicit language and they do not even find the language to be wrong or immoral (Schaefer, 1996). What about the people who find the language immoral and still use this style of racism? Is the reason conformity to social or peer pressures or is the reason something that makes an individual feel superior? Much research could be done around these concepts and questions, but the question being researched in this study is a very specific one: Can an individual who finds racial language immoral be persuaded to use the language in certain situations? Maybe it would benefit to show what started the reasoning for asking such a question.

Jean Latting (1993) wrote, "No one changes another. We cannot force others to abandon voluntarily old attitudes and habits and to act or think as we wish instead. We can only provide the opportunity and space for people to change themselves-if, when, and as they choose." If this statement swayed the listener, they would abandon all hopes of failing to reject the previously stated research question because he concludes that people cannot be persuaded. Latting's study had two purposes:

"(a) to elucidate the interpersonal dynamics of the protagonists in the persuasion effort-those who objected to terminology they experienced as racially or sexually offensive and those who were opposed ideologically to sexism or racism, yet defended the terms; and (b) to offer recommendations for future persuasion efforts based on extant theory on persuasion (Cialdini, 1988; Petty & Cacioppo, 1981) and it's variants-psychological reactance, cognitive dissonance, impression management, and minority influence and on modern racism."

Latting's study is valid and it seems to have been completed with precision. His findings were inconclusive so one must reason that there are different ways to approach the study of such a topic. Latting himself even devotes a section of his article addressing how his persuasion efforts could have been more effective, which suggested a different approach to this study.

Influential tactics have been developed into a large field of study in present research. Schank and Abelson's (1977) Persuade Package is a small standard set of influential tactics with the objective of persuading the target to behave in a particular way. Many researchers have used this package, most notably Aguinis, Nesler, Hosoda, and Tedeschi (1993). Schank and Abelson's package included four tactical methods: rationality, ingratiation, assertiveness, and exchange. Rationality is defined as when the source presents facts in an attempt to obtain cooperation. Ingratiation is defined as when the source attempts to make a target feel wonderful or important in an attempt to obtain cooperation. Assertiveness is defined as when the source uses threats or force to attempt to obtain cooperation. Exchange is defined as when the source offers a highly desired reward, such as money or a favor, in exchange for cooperation (Schank & Abelson). Aguinis et al. found that of these four tactics, rationality was ranked as the most frequently used, followed by ingratiation, assertiveness, and finally exchange. These general tactics are very general but are excellent methods of persuasion, which can be used in a research study. These previous studies on persuasion are very good but lack the integration of some other concepts.

One limitation, which could affect this experiment, is the moral maturity of the subjects. One would have to reason that persuading a person who has low moral maturity is easier than would be a person with high moral maturity, though moral maturity is also a very debatable subject (Kohlberg, 1969; Rest et al., 2000;Hemming, 1991). The impact of subject moral maturity dictates that we should only use persons with high moral maturity. Under these conditions, the acceptance of racial language could suggest that the persuasion is actually making the subject defy their moral judgement. The definition of moral judgement by Lawrence Kohlberg is "the capacity to make decisions and judgments which are moral and to act in accordance


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