Interpersonal Interaction and Persuasion Processes: an Overview

Noel Capon, University of California, Los Angeles
James M. Hulbert, University of California, Los Angeles
[ to cite ]:
Noel Capon and James M. Hulbert (1976) ,"Interpersonal Interaction and Persuasion Processes: an Overview", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 03, eds. Beverlee B. Anderson, Cincinnati, OH : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 405-406.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, 1976      Pages 405-406


Noel Capon, University of California, Los Angeles

James M. Hulbert, University of California, Los Angeles

[Noel Capon is assistant professor, Graduate School of Management, UCLA and James M. Hulbert is associate professor, Graduate School of Business, Columbia University. They wish to express their gratitude to the authors participating in the session, to Professors John Howard and Hal Kassarjian for their contribution as discussants and to those who generously gave of their time to review papers for the session.]


Interpersonal persuasion is a pervasive component of human behavior. However, its ubiquity has not been matched by corresponding research interest on the part of social psychologists. In the field of consumer-behavior, at both the individual and organizational level, interpersonal persuasion in the form of personal selling is an activity of great significance to the national economy. Yet, even here, the volume of research on personal selling is exceedingly small. (Silk & Davis, 1972; Capon, Holbrook and Hulbert, 1975).

A number of factors may account for this state of affairs. First, conceptually and methodologically, the study of such processes poses formidable challenges. Second, the relatively small number of researchers currently active in the area have been dispersed geographically, and have not possessed a vehicle to facilitate the exchange of experience and viewpoint. Third, some have viewed the subject as an unfashionable and even unpalatable research topic which lacks legitimacy.

The purpose of this session was to reduce these barriers. By having seven papers presented with a theme of Models and Methodologies for the Study of Interpersonal Interaction and Persuasion Processes, it was hoped that some of the conceptual and methodological issues could be explored and steps taken in the direction of increased understanding. In addition, both participants and audience might be stimulated by the papers and discussion to develop their own thinking and move into the area as researchers. Finally, the very existence of the session in this conference could help provide legitimacy for study in the area.


Five of the papers were concerned with the development of models and theories which attempted to describe and explain the interpersonal persuasion process.

The most all-embracing view was provided by Sheth, whose comprehensive model of buyer-seller interaction developed the concept of buyer-seller compatibility with respect to both content and style of communication. Employing a multiple interaction persuasion paradigm, Wilson developed a process model which employed the concepts of exchange theory (Homans, 1961) in a multiattribute utility model format. The pervasiveness of multiattribute theory in the consumer behavior literature was further reflected in the paper by Lutz and Kakkar, who, while using a situational paradigm, nevertheless cast their model in the form of the extended Fishbein model. (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975).

Olshavsky advocated viewing the salesman-buyer interaction in terms of information processing theory (Newall & Simon, 1972). Perhaps reflecting his previous work

with buyer-seller interaction data (Olshavsky, 1973), he argued for the development of process models based on individual interactions, an approach analogous to that of Bettman's work in individual consumer choice. (Bettman, 1970).

Finally, Holbrook & O'Shaughnessy, drawing upon the existing body of research on interpersonal persuasion, sought to model the influence process by using Kelman's influence typology (Kelman, 1961) and Etzioni's (1964) means to power.

The theoretical approaches were clearly quite different, although some convergence was evident. Thus most authors were concerned with the content or process of interaction, while the employment of the multi-attribute framework was a feature of some of the papers. Most papers drew heavily on concepts and constructs drawn from the existing literature, while Sheth, attempted a fresh approach at conceptualizing buyer-seller interaction.


Just as various approaches to theory building were observed, so a number of methodological directions for gaining understanding of interpersonal persuasion were presented.

Of the seven papers, two, those of Sternthal, Scott and Dholakia, and Woodside and Pitts, reported empirical results, and methodological convergence was obtained through the use of the experimental paradigm. The utility of the experimental method for study of personal selling has been previously demonstrated (Capon, 1975; Farley and Swinth, 1967; Woodside and Davenport, 1974, and the widespread use of field settings is one of the most encouraging aspects of this work. Woodside and Pitts' study was in the classic tradition of communication research, price and communicator expertise being manipulated as independent variables and purchase observed as criterion. Sternthal, Scott and Dholakia's underlying theoretical perspective was quite different, and they reported the results of two studies which tested the predictions of self perception theory.

Holbrook and O'Shaughnessy argued for theory development before data collection, but approached the problem from an observational perspective via the recording of verbal content of interaction. They advocated the development of verbal content analytic schemes congruent with the researchers' theory of interpersonal influence, although they suggested that the coding of every verbal, act, as in the Bales' (1950) system, might be too cumbersome and that more simplistic schemes related to the rules used by the actors in the buyer-seller interaction may be more practical.

Olshavsky, by contrast, suggested an inductive methodology in which data is collected via a two stage procedure. He was skeptical of the amount of information recovery possible with only an audio record and therefore suggested video, as well as audio, recording so as to retain a complete history, verbal and nonverbal, of the interaction (Hulbert and Capon, 1972). These recordings would then be played back to each participant so that a detailed retrospective analysis could be obtained.

From the individual analyses micro-models are developed of information processing by each participant during the interaction. The development of a series of such models would then allow for generalization and the development of macrotheories.

The other papers were concerned more with theory than methodology, though many of the ideas developed would seem amenable to testing by experimental modes. Such methods do of course have the considerable practical benefit of avoiding the labor-intensiveness associated with analysis of content.


Our review of the papers and of the session itself convinces us that the initial objectives were achieved. Equally evident, however, is the conclusion that the field is still at the very rudimentary stage of development. Definitive theory development is still awaited, and although the ideas presented in these papers suggested directions for future research, many questions remained unresolved.

One such question was raised by one of the discussants, who took the view that the considerable volume of persuasion research in the mass communication literature could be applied without serious alteration to the area of interpersonal persuasion. While few would argue that this literature could serve a very fruitful role in theory development, or that it could provide definite and immediate guidelines for experimental research, (viz. the papers by Woodside and Pitts; Sternthal, Scott and Dholakia), the general thrust of the papers and the session tended to view the interpersonal communications problem as more complex. The dynamic nature of interpersonal communication would suggest that more flexible persuasion strategies than are possible in mass communication might be evident, and that the kind of matching discussed by Sheth, and Holbrook and O'Shaughnessy may well be important. Indeed, this question is one that could well be approached empirically (Capon, 1975) and might well provide insight into persuasion processes in both mass and interpersonal contexts.

A second question was raised for those researchers who wish to focus their efforts on analysis of interaction data, for there are clearly some important ethical considerations to be resolved. Changes in both professional values and the law means that social scientists must, of necessity, be more circumspect in their field research. Appropriate means of reconciling subjects' and researchers' interests are an essential component in any design involving collection of interaction data.

It is our hope that this collection of papers and the interaction involved in their development, presentation and discussion will serve to stimulate further research effort. Interpersonal persuasion and communication research has for too long been the step-child of consumer behavior.


Robert F. Bales, Interaction Process Analysis, Cambridge, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1950.

James R. Bettman, "Information Processing Models of Consumer Behavior," Journal of Marketing Research, 7 (August, 1970), pp. 370-376.

Noel Capon, "Persuasive Effects of Sales Messages Developed from Interaction Process Analysis," Journal of Applied Psychology, 60 (April, 1975), 238-244.

Noel Capon, "The Relative Effectiveness of Interpersonal and Mass Communication: A Field Experiment," Working Paper, Graduate School of Management, UCLA, 1975.

Noel Capon, Morris Holbrook and James Hulbert, "The Selling Process: A Review of Research," Working Paper, Graduate School of Business, Columbia University, 1975.

Amitai Etzioni, Modern Organizations (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1964).

John U. Farley and Robert L. Swinth, "Effects of Choice and Sales Message on Customer-Salesman Interaction," Journal of Applied Psychology, 51 (April, 1967), 107-110.

Martin Fishbein and Icek Ajzen, Belief, Attitude: Intention and Behavior: An Introduction to Theory and Research (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1975).

George C. Homans, Social Behavior: Its Elementary Forms (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1961).

James Hulbert and Noel Capon, "Interpersonal Communication in Marketing: An Overview," Journal of Marketing Research, 9 (February, 1972), 27-34.

Herbert C. Kelman, "Processes of Opinion Change," Public Opinion Quarterly, 25 (Spring, 1961), 57-78.

Allen Newell and Herbert A. Simon, Human Problem Solving (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1972).

Richard W. Olshavsky, "Customer-Salesman Interaction in Appliance Retailing," Journal of Marketing Research, 10 (May, 1973), 208-212.

Alvin J. Silk and Harry L. Davis, "Interaction and Influence Processes in Personal Selling," Sloan Management Review, 13 (Winter, 1972), 59-76.

Arch G. Woodside and J. William Davenport, Jr. "The Effect of Salesman Similarity and Expertise on Consumer Purchasing Behavior," Journal of Marketing Research, 11(May, 1974), 198-202.