A field experiment in interpersonal persuasion using authoritative influence



Thinking that they were simply being interviewed as participants in a public opinion survey, a portion of a cross-sectional adult sample of 1,275 persons were unwitting subjects of an experiment in interpersonal persuasion After committing themselves on the question how the legal machinery should deal with a specific case of a juvenile lawbreaker, subjects were given an argument presented as the view of an expert and contrary to their own It was hypothesized that subjects scoring higher on a scale measuring authoritarianism would more commonly change their opinion in the advocated direction than would those scoring lower The hypothesis received substantial confirmation Two secondary hypotheses also were sustained. These were (a) that persons assigning the locus of causality of juvenile delinquency to the individual himself rather than to circumstances beyond his control would have higher scores on authoritarianism than persons assigning causality to these latter conditions, and (b) that persons scoring higher in authoritarianism would initially more commonly recommend a harsher treatment of the delinquent than would those scoring lower in this trait