Effects of Responding or Not Responding to Hecklers on Audience Agreement with a Speaker


  • Richard E. Petty,

    1. Ohio State University
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      Requests for reprints should be sent to Richard E. Petty, Department of Psychology, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43210.

  • Timothy C. Brock

    1. Ohio State University
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      The authors are thankful to Nancy Pierce-Leeth and John Walker for their valuable contributions and are also grateful for the cooperation of Dr. John J. Makay of the Department of Speech Communication. Anthony G. Greenwald, Lloyd R. Sloan, and Robert B. Cialdini made helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.


The hypothesis that responding to hecklers would produce more agreement with a speaker than not responding, stemmed from commodity theory (Brock, 1968). One hundred twenty-one introductory speech students participated in what they were told was a “speech workshop” (not a psychology experiment). Two types of responding to live hecklers were used: In one, the speaker responded in a calm, relevant manner; in the other, she responded in an upset, irrelevant manner. In a third condition, the speaker did not respond to the heckles. There were two additional conditions: One in which the speaker responded to interruptions, and a further control in which there were neither heckles nor interruptions. In these five conditions, the speaker either argued for or against the audience's position. Regardless of whether or not the speaker's position agreed with the audience's, upset-irrelevant responding decreased the speaker's persuasiveness over making no response, while calm-relevant responding tended to enhance persuasiveness. Finally, in agreement with all other empirical studies, it was clearly shown that heckling, whether responded to or not, did not improve the speaker's effectiveness.