Persuasion and families

Steven R. Wilson, Lisa M. Guntzviller, Elizabeth A. Munz

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The persuasion literature has deep roots including a rhetorical tradition dating to the ancient Greeks (Leff & Procario, 1985) and an attitude change tradition dating to the mid 1900s (Dillard & Pfau, 2002). Both traditions typically focus on persuasion in public and mass communication contexts, such as within social movements or health communication campaigns. Given this focus, finding a chapter on the topic in the Handbook of Family Communication may seem surprising. Yet two studies illustrate how common persuasive attempts are within families. In the first, 60 college students recorded over 3,000 diary entries describing people they tried to influence over a 12-week period (Cody, Canary, & Smith, 1994). Parents were the third most frequent target for the college students’ persuasive attempts even though many students no longer lived in their parents’ household. Common reasons for attempting to persuade a parent included seeking assistance, advocating a shared activity, and offering the parent advice. Earlier in the lifespan, Oldershaw, Walters, & Hall (1989) analyzed persuasive episodes as 43 mothers and their pre-school children engaged in mealtime, free-play, and clean-up activities. Mothers on average made 75 requests of their children per hour, or more than one request per minute. Children did not comply with 35 percent of these requests-a rate of child noncompliance typical for nonclinical samples at this age (Chamberlain & Patterson, 1996). Mothers used a variety of strategies when attempting to persuade their child such as explaining consequences of the child’s actions, expressing disapproval of perceived misbehavior, modeling desired behavior, and offering positive consequences if the child complied. As these studies illustrate, persuasion involves an intentional attempt by a speaker, via reason giving, to influence the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of others who have some measure of choice about how to respond (O’Keefe, 2002). Attempts to persuade are intentional in that a speaker wants to shape, strengthen, or modify another person’s beliefs or behaviors (Miller, 1980), but speakers may not consciously plan how to pursue their goals (Kellermann, 1992). The reasons speakers provide when trying to persuade may include appeals to core values, linkages with important social groups, or explanations of tangible benefits (Kelman, 1958). The boundary between persuasion and coercion can be fuzzy, such as when parents give reasons while also implying that their child ultimately must comply (Wilson, Whipple, & Grau, 1996).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Family Communication
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781136946370
ISBN (Print)9780415881982
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


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