Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

How Do Statistical and Narrative Evidence Affect Persuasion?: The Role of Evidentiary Features

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

How Do Statistical and Narrative Evidence Affect Persuasion?: The Role of Evidentiary Features

Article excerpt

Persuasion has long been a focus for communication scholars, and message variables, such as order of arguments and message sidedness, have been investigated to determine the type of message that is most persuasive. More specifically, the persuasive effect of evidence has been extensively explored (e.g., Kellermann, 1980; McCroskey, 1969; Reinard, 1988; Stiff, 1986).

Persuasive messages typically offer evidence to produce attitude change (McCroskey, 1969). McCroskey (1969) identified two kinds of communication that function as evidence. Evidence consists of "factual statements originating from a source other than the speaker ... and opinions of persons other than the speaker that are offered in support of the speaker's claims" (McCroskey, 1969, p. 170). Evidence generally has been found to increase a message's persuasiveness as compared to no-evidence conditions (e.g., Hample, 1977, 1979; Levasseur & Dean, 1996; McCroskey, 1969; Nadler, 1983; Reinard, 1988; Stiff, 1986). However, most studies have ignored the message features that contribute to the persuasiveness of different evidence types. The current study investigates the specific evidentiary features that differentiate the persuasiveness of statistical and narrative messages.

Statistical evidence refers to evidence provided by quantitative or numerical information, whereas narrative evidence refers to anecdotal or personal evidence such as that provided by interviews, exemplars, stories, testimonials, and opinions (Kahneman & Tversky, 1973). Both statistical and narrative evidence have been found to be more persuasive than no-evidence control messages (e.g., Kazoleas, 1993; Limon & Kazoleas, 2004).

Many studies comparing the persuasiveness of different types of evidence, especially statistical and narrative evidence, have been inconclusive. Some studies have shown that the difference between the persuasiveness of these two types of evidence was not significant (e.g., Fisher as cited in Reinard, 1988; Kazoleas, 1993; Limon & Kazoleas, 2004; Nadler, 1983; Ryland, 1972). However, there have been studies that have shown the persuasive superiority of one type of evidence over the other. A majority of studies comparing the persuasiveness of statistical versus narrative evidence has reported that narrative evidence was more persuasive than statistical evidence (e.g., Borgida & Nisbett, 1977; Kahneman & Tversky, 1973; Taylor & Thompson, 1982). There is also research that has shown the opposite, that statistical evidence was more persuasive than narrative evidence (e.g., Baesler & Burgoon, 1994).

A meta-analysis comparing the persuasiveness of narrative and statistical evidence (Allen & Preiss, 1997) indicated that, in the 15 studies investigated, statistical evidence was more persuasive than narrative evidence, although the effect size for this difference was quite small. Another meta-analysis examining 23 studies (Reinhart, 2006), however, produced no significant differences in persuasiveness between the two message types when all dependent measures were compared together. Reinhart (2006) also found that when an attitude measure was compared independently of other outcome variables, narrative messages were slightly but significantly more persuasive than statistical messages. Allen et al. (2000) tested the persuasiveness of a combination of narrative and statistical evidence and found that a message combining narrative and statistical evidence was more persuasive than a message using statistical evidence alone, which was more persuasive than one with narrative evidence alone, which, in turn, was more persuasive than a message without any evidence. However, they noted that it was unclear why this ordering occurred and how message receivers evaluated these types of evidence.

The inconclusive results regarding the persuasive difference between these two evidence types may reflect a lack of control for some message features (such as message length and readability) or a failure to experimentally investigate evidentiary features that may differentiate one evidence type from another (such as amount of evidence and perceived vividness). …

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