Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Do Superdiffusers Argue Differently? an Analysis of Argumentation Style as a Function of Diffusion Ability

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Do Superdiffusers Argue Differently? an Analysis of Argumentation Style as a Function of Diffusion Ability

Article excerpt

Scholars in the field of communication have long been interested in the diffusion of ideas, products, and behavior through a network (Dearing et al., 1996; DeFleur, 1987; Greenberg, 1964; LaRose & Hoag, 1997; Rogers, 2003). Recent meta-analytic work of opinion leader-based diffusion research suggests that the heterogeneous effect sizes found in opinion leader-based interventions might be due to the varying ways in which opinion leaders influence people (Doumit, Gattellari, Grimshaw, & O'Brien, 2007). An extensive review of the diffusion literature found that little attention has been paid to the methods influential members of a network use to persuade others (Greenhalgh, Robert, MacFarlane, Bate, & Kyriakidou, 2004). Doumit et al. (2007) argued that future efforts to use influential network members to change the behavior of others require that research uncover the ways that these influentials persuade others. Alternatively, research on the argumentation practices of influential people might enable the development of training methods to teach people to become influential. Although the great Roman orator Cicero (55 BCE, 1970) noted "that nature and genius in the first place contribute most aid to speaking," (p. 34) he also stated that, "I do not make these observations for the purpose of altogether deterring young men from the study of oratory, even if they be deficient in some natural endowments" (p. 35). Perhaps influential people can be made as well as born.

In addition to the practical need to examine the methods of influentials, due to a dearth of research in the area there is value in advancing argumentation research by examining how different persuasive situations and individual differences combine to affect how it is that influentials convince others (Hample, 2005, p. 183). The recent development of an extensively validated and highly reliable measure of three dimensions that assess the extent to which one has the characteristics of an opinion leader facilitates the exploration of what makes persuasive attempts by opinion leaders different from the persuasion attempts of those who are not opinion leaders (Boster, Kotowski, & Andrews, 2006).

SUPERDIFFUSERS

Diffusion scholars have demonstrated that the diffusion of a new practice or product is often dependent on particular, unique people in a network (Bullet, et al., 2001; Kelley et al., 1997; see Rogers, 2005, p. 308-330; Valente & Pumpuang, 2007 for reviews). They are variously known as influentials, opinion leaders, champions, change agents, and peer leaders, and they are able to persuade many people to change their behavior much more quickly than others. Previous research has identified these people in a number of ways including sociometric methods, asking those who are knowledgeable about a network, and by the construction of self-report surveys (Valente & Pumpuang). The self-report survey promises to be a highly reliable and easily implemented method of identifying them, although previous measures have failed to measure all of the important facets of the construct (Boster et al., 2006).

To improve upon the self-report method, Boster et al. (2006) presented evidence consistent with a three-dimensional conceptualization of opinion leaders. They argue that someone who can persuade many people to change their behavior, here termed a superdiffuser, must be high on each of the three dimensions described subsequently.

First, such a person must be a connector. Connectors are people who enjoy meeting new people, maintaining contacts with many others, and who often provide a link between disparate groups. These characteristics give them access to many people in many different groups, greatly increasing their reach and influence.

Boster et al. (2006) argue that the second characteristic required is to be a persuader. Persuaders are highly influential because they are skilled at argument. They enjoy arguing and seek out opportunities to influence others. …

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