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Power to the Powerless: Interpersonal Influence through Sympathy Appeals


In this dissertation I examine the elicitation of sympathy as an influence strategy to overcome weak positioning in mixed-motive interactions. I show that by making appeals to sympathy, low power individuals can mitigate their disadvantage, and can claim more value in mixed-motive situations. This dissertation makes two contributions to the literature. First, attempts to elicit emotions in others is as of yet, an underexplored area of the emotions literature. The field has examined how experiencing emotions affect our judgment and behavior, and how our emotional expressions affect others' judgment and behavior, but with a few notable exceptions (e.g. Fulmer & Barry, 2004; Kilduff, Chiaburu & Menges, 2010; Mayer & Salovey, 1997), researchers have barely scratched the surface on the idea that individuals can elicit and manage the emotional experiences of others. Thus, this dissertation explores the idea that individuals can elicit sympathy in others for their own instrumental gain. Sympathy is particularly interesting to examine, because the experience of sympathy can motivate the sympathizer to help the disadvantaged--thus showing potential as a valuable emotion to elicit in others. Second, I explore the connection between the psychology of power, and the effectiveness of appeals to sympathy. Thus far the literature on power has focused primarily on individuals in positions of power, and while notable exceptions exist (e.g. Simpson, Markovsky, & Steketee, 2011; Whitson & Galinsky, 2008), I seek to contribute to the literature on power by examining a heretofore unexplored low power influence strategy. I explore these topics in eight studies which vary in methodology and participant population, and conclude by discussing the theoretical and practical implications of my findings, and by presenting a number of potential avenues for future research.

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