In 1993, a crowd of 1,000,000 people marched on Washington to make a stand against unequal rights for gay people. Urvashi Vaid, an Indian-American LGBT rights activist, was asked to make a speech. This speech aimed to draw the attention of the crowd to the injustice suffered by the gay community in America. It was a very persuasive message that helped rally spectators in a stand against inequality. This was due, in part, to the high personal involvement of the crowd members. (Petty & Cacioppo, 1979).
An experiment by Petty, Cacioppo, and Goldman (1981) examined the effect of levels of personal involvement, source expertise and argument quality on persuasion. Subjects (145 students) listened to tapes of speeches that they were told were policy statements from various sources of varying credibility made for the vice chancellor. The tapes with high personal involvement stated that there would be a policy change next year, and the tapes with low personal involvement that there would be a policy change in 10 years time. The subject’s attitude to the argument presented after listening to the speech was then measured. They found that messages with high involvement and strong arguments produced the most favourable responses. They also found that the quality of the arguments in the message primarily influenced attitudes when there was high personal involvement. When there was low personal involvement, expertise of the source primarily influenced attitudes.
So why was Urvashi Vaid’s speech so persuasive? Because of the high personal involvement. The need for gay rights throughout America is huge, and the people at the march would have a high stake in the outcome.
Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1979). Effects of forewarning of persuasive intent and involvement on cognitive responses and persuasion. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 5, 173-176.
Petty, R. E., Cacioppo, J. T., & Goldman, R. (1981). Personal involvement as a determinant of argument-based persuasion. Journal of personality and social psychology, 41(5), 847.