Steve Oswald et al.: Relevance for Persuasion

Abstract

As a cognitive theory of human communication, relevance theory (henceforth RT, Sperber & Wilson, 1986, 1995; Wilson & Sperber, 2012) has been used to account for many aspects of human comprehension. More recently, related considerations on epistemic vigilance (Sperber et al., 2010) have been brought to bear on comprehension mechanisms as well, and the argumentative theory of reasoning (Mercier, 2011; Mercier & Sperber, 2009, 2017) has allowed to construe reasoning and argumentation in terms that are consonant with RT’s main tenets. This has opened up the scope of communicative phenomena RT is likely to have something to say about. In this talk, we explore this direction by reporting on experimental work which investigates whether RT’s architecture can also be used to account for the perceived persuasiveness of argumentation.

Through the two extent conditions of relevance, which define relevance in terms of processing effort and effect (see Sperber &Wilson, 1995, p. 125) , RT provides a model of information selection that predicts that cost-effective assumptions are likely to be included in the set of assumptions that are considered during comprehension. In line with Oswald (2016) , we assume that the two extent conditions of relevance can also be brought to bear on the persuasiveness of arguments. Specifically, we defend the claim that sets of information that are easy to process (in terms of their accessibility) and that are epistemically strong (i.e., they trigger positive cognitive effects) are likely to positively affect the perceived persuasiveness of arguments – and that costly and epistemically weak sets of information are likely to negatively affect the perceived persuasiveness of arguments. To this end, we report on experimental work in which we manipulate the two extent conditions of relevance in argumentative scenarios to assess whether these impact the perceived persuasiveness of argumentation.

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Mercier, H., & Sperber, D. (2009). Intuitive and reflective inferences. In J. Evans & K. Frankish (Eds.), In Two Minds: Dual Processes and Beyond (pp. 149–170). Oxford University Press.

Mercier, H., & Sperber, D. (2017). The Enigma of Reason. Harvard University Press.

Oswald, S. (2016). Rhetoric and cognition: Pragmatic constraints on argument processing. In M. Padilla Cruz (Ed.), Relevance Theory: Recent developments, current challenges and future directions (Vol. 268, pp. 261–285). John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Sperber, D., Clément, F., Heintz, C., Mascaro, O., Mercier, H., Origgi, G., & Wilson, D. (2010). Epistemic Vigilance. Mind & Language, 25(4), 359–393. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0017.2010.01394.x

Sperber, D.,  Wilson, D. (1986). Relevance: Communication and Cognition. Blackwell.

Sperber, D.,  Wilson, D. (1995). Relevance: Communication and Cognition. Blackwell.

Wilson, D., Sperber, D. (2012). Meaning and Relevance. Cambridge University Press.

Recording

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