9310039 Mutz An important force in contemporary political life involves what may be termed "impersonal influence," that is influence that derives from people's perceptions of others attitudes, beliefs, or experiences. Others in this case refers not to close friends and acquaintances, but rather to the anonymous others outside an individual's realm of personal contacts. For example, when the outcomes of early presidential primaries affect attitudes toward candidates in later primaries, or when the results of national opinion polls influence subsequent political behavior, impersonal influence is taking place. Likewise, when people vote on the basis of their perceptions of how the nation as a whole is faring economically rather than on their own personal economic fortunes, they are also being influenced by perceptions of impersonal others. Influences are deemed impersonal in two respects: they are mediated and do not involve face-to-face interpersonal communication, and they involve information about the attitudes, beliefs and experiences of collectives outside of an individual's personal lifespace. Mass media play a crucial role in constructing people's images of the larger social world outside the realm of personal experiences and contacts. These perceptions, in turn, have important consequences for the political behavior of elites and mass publics. To date, the concern with social influence has been investigated most thoroughly at the level of personal acquaintances and group influence. Nonetheless, a variety of contemporary theories and research findings point to impersonal others as an important influence on political attitudes and behavior. In this investigation, the researchers employ a hybrid methodology involving experiments embedded within national opinion surveys. This project will explore the social psychology of impersonal influence in an attempt to understand when and why people are influenced by their perceptions of mass opinion or expe rience. Findings from this research will shed light on mass media's role in contemporary political processes. Although the potential for impersonal influence is clear in a wide variety of contemporary political situations, the extent of its influence and normative implications are not. In order to understand fully the implications of these processes for American politics, it is essential to understand the actual mechanisms by which impersonal influence occurs. ***

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Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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University of Wisconsin Madison
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