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Interpersonal Influence on Political Behavior: Friendship and Peer Interaction



Interpersonal Influence on Political Behavior: Friendship and Peer Interaction


Charles Stanley Hilliard

Doctor of Philosophy, Graduate Program in Political Science

University of California, Riverside, August 2011

Dr. Martin Johnson, Chairperson

Context and social interaction appear to affect people's political attitudes and behavior, but many of these effects and underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood. I investigate the role played by friendship in social interaction and political influence, with particular attention to the potential moderating influence of gesture and other body language.

My research shows that the study of contextual effects, linked with an analysis of affective intimacy and gestures, provides a more complete understanding of the role of each in political learning and subsequent political behavior. My research suggests that affective intimacy and certain kinds of gestures and other body language serves as important modifiers of other non-affective contextual effects. I find that political discussants who are not affective intimates will measurably influence the political attitudes of each other as well as facilitate political learning to an extent not found in discussants who are also friends. This is especially evident when I analyze gestures and other body language used between friends and non-friends and compare these gestures with the kind of language used within each group. The language used and gestures employed are different between friends and non-friends. Although the statistical results are inconclusive, my examination of the descriptive statistics along with my qualitative analysis of my 60 dyadic interactions suggests an inverse relationship between affective intimacy and the frequency of certain gestures and body language and the degree of political learning. Thus, the degree of friendship matters in political learning. Political learning is much more than just a function of cognitive considerations alone. My analyses in the following chapters strongly suggest that important links do exist among political learning, friendship, and gestures. In a dyadic political communicative exchange, I would posit that we could expect to find that political learning is higher among non-friends than friends. I would argue that although this suggestion is not clearly supported by this research, this is more a function of the low statistical power of my experiment rather than an indication of a lack of any relationship. I would also posit that the use of gestures in political discussion is more deliberate and formal among non- friends than friends and that non-friends are more "attentive" to each other than are friends and that it is precisely this deliberation in the use of gestures coupled with the greater attention paid by non-friends to each other that is, in part, causal of the greater learning between non-friends than with friends.

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