How Hedges Impact Persuasion

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Communicators often hedge. Salespeople say that a product is probably the best, recommendation engines suggest movies they think you’ll like, and consumers say restaurants might have good service. But how does hedging impact persuasion? We suggest that different types of hedges may have different effects. Six studies support our theorizing, demonstrating that (1) the probabilistic likelihood hedges suggest and (2) whether they take a personal (vs. general) perspective both play an important role in driving persuasion. Further, the studies demonstrate that both effects are driven by a common mechanism: perceived confidence. Using hedges associated with higher likelihood, or that involve personal perspective, increases persuasion because they suggest communicators are more confident about what they are saying. This work contributes to the burgeoning literature on language in marketing, showcases how subtle linguistic features impact perceived confidence, and has clear implications for anyone trying to be more persuasive.

Ryan Watkins