Perceptions of social influence when messages favour ‘us’ versus ‘them’: A closer look at the social distance effect



The third-person effect (TPE) is the tendency for individuals to assume that persuasive communications have a stronger effect on other people than on themselves. In turn the social distance effect (SDE) is the tendency for this TPE to increase with the psychological distance between self and comparator. Two experiments showed that the SDE is moderated by whether the message favours the ingroup or the outgroup, holding all other content constant. In Study 1, male and female participants read a message arguing that either women were better drivers than men or vice versa, and then indicated how much they thought themselves, ingroup members, outgroup members and society would be influenced. The results indicate that for the pro-outgroup message the SDE was found. However, for the pro-ingroup message the SDE was reversed with ingroup members perceived as more influenced than all other targets, including the self. Study 2 replicated this finding using minimal groups, which eliminated the effects of prior stereotypes about male and female drivers. Across both studies the self was perceived as relatively invulnerable to influence regardless of message bias. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.