Communicating with the Crowd: Speakers Use Abstract Messages When Addressing Larger Audiences

Audience characteristics often shape communicators’ message framing. Drawing from construal level theory, we suggest that when speaking to many individuals, communicators frame messages in terms of superordinate characteristics that focus attention on the essence of the message. On the other hand, when communicating with a single individual, communicators increasingly describe events and actions in terms of their concrete details. Using different communication tasks and measures of construal, we show that speakers communicating with many individuals, compared with 1 person, describe events more abstractly (Study 1), describe themselves as more trait-like (Study 2), and use more desirability-related persuasive messages (Study 3). Furthermore, speakers’ motivation to communicate with their audience moderates their tendency to frame messages based on audience size (Studies 3 and 4). This audience-size abstraction effect is eliminated when a large audience is described as homogeneous, suggesting that people use abstract construal strategically in order to connect across a disparate group of individuals (Study 5). Finally, we show that participants’ experienced fluency in communication is influenced by the match between message abstraction and audience size (Study 6).

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APA-Format Citation

Joshi, P. D., & Wakslak, C. J. (2014). Communicating with the crowd: Speakers use abstract messages when addressing larger audiences. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(1), 351.