Majority versus minority influence: when, not whether, source status instigates heuristic or systematic processing

Robin Martin, Miles Hewstone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Two experiments investigated the extent of message processing of a persuasive communication proposed by either a numerical majority or minority. Both experiments crossed source status (majority versus minority) with message quality (strong versus weak arguments) to determine which source condition is associated with systematic processing. The first experiment showed a reliable difference between strong and weak messages, indicating systematic processing had occurred, for a minority irrespective of message direction (pro- versus counter-attitudinal), but not for a majority. The second experiment showed that message outcome moderates when a majority or a minority leads to systematic processing. When the message argued for a negative personal outcome, there was systematic processing only for the majority source; but when the message did not argue for a negative personal outcome, there was systematic processing only for the minority source. Thus one key moderator of whether a majority or minority source leads to message processing is whether the topic induces defensive processing motivated by self-interest.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-330
Number of pages18
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Psychology
Issue number3
Early online date13 Dec 2002
Publication statusPublished - May 2003



  • message processing
  • persuasive communication
  • numerical majority
  • numerical minority
  • source status
  • message quality
  • systematic processing
  • negative personal outcome
  • defensive processing
  • self-interest

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