Communication and Social Influence Processes

By Charles R. Berger; Michael Burgoon | Go to book overview

Conceptualizing Deception as a Persuasive Activity

James B. Stiff

My first exposure to the study of deceptive communication occurred in a graduate seminar with Gerry Miller in the fall of 1982. In the early weeks of the seminar we read a paper that G.R. was preparing for an upcoming conference. The paper, entitled, "Telling It Like It Isn't And Not Telling It Like It Is: Some Thoughts On Deceptive Communication," outlined a framework for studying deceptive communication that conceptualized deception as a persuasive process. The foundation of this conceptual framework was a definition of deceptive communication as "message distortion resulting from deliberate falsification or omission of information by a communicator with the intent of stimulating in another, or others, a belief that the communicator himself or herself does not believe" ( Miller, 1983, pp. 92-93). Miller's explication of this definition clarified the conceptual connection between deception and persuasive communication. Miller argued that "deceptive communication strives for persuasive ends; or, stated more precisely, deceptive communication is a general persuasive strategy that aims at influencing the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of others by means of deliberate message distortions" ( 1983, p. 99).

This conceptualization marked a departure from traditional approaches to deception that emphasized situational contexts -- interpersonal deception, deceptive advertising, polygraph exams -- toward an approach that emphasized the influence of these messages on targets of deception. This conceptualization also responded to Miller and M. Burgoon's ( 1978) call for studies of persuasion that moved beyond traditional message- or issue

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