Ask in person: You're less persuasive than you think over email

Article (PDF Available)inJournal of Experimental Social Psychology 66:223-226 · March 2017with 1,456 Reads
DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2016.10.002
Abstract
Research has found people underestimate the likelihood strangers will comply with their direct requests (Bohns, 2016; Flynn & Lake (Bohns), 2008). Here we argue this “underestimation-of-compliance effect” may be limited to requests made face-to-face. We find when making direct requests over email, requesters instead overestimate compliance. In two studies, participants asked strangers to comply with requests either face-to-face or over email. Before making these requests, requesters estimated the number of people they expected to say “yes”. While requesters underestimated compliance in face-to-face contexts, replicating previous research, they overestimated compliance in email contexts. Analyses of several theorized mechanisms for this finding suggest that requesters, anchored on their own perspectives, fail to appreciate the suspicion, and resulting lack of empathy, with which targets view email requests from strangers. Given the prevalence of email and text-based communication, this is an extremely important moderator of the underestimation-of-compliance effect.
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Ask in person: You're less persuasive than you think over email
M. Mahdi Roghanizad
a,
, Vanessa K. Bohns
b
a
University of Waterloo, Canada
b
Cornell University, United States
HIGHLIGHTS
People underestimate compliance when making requests of strangers in person.
In two studies, we found the opposite pattern of results for emailed requests.
Requesters overestimated compliance when making requests over email.
This error was driven by a perspective-taking failure.
Requesters failed to appreciate how untrustworthy their emails would seem to others.
abstractarticle info
Article history:
Received 12 May 2016
Revised 7 September 2016
Accepted 4 October 2016
Available online xxxx
Research has found people underestimate thelikelihood strangers will comply with theirdirect requests (Bohns,
2016; Flynn& Lake (Bohns), 2008). Here we argue this underestimation-of-complianceeffectmay be limitedto
requests made face-to-face. We nd when making direct requests over email, requesters instead overestimate
compliance. In two studies, participants asked strangers to comply with requests either face-to-face or over
email. Before making these requests, requesters estimated the number of people they expected to say yes.
While requesters underestimated compliance in face-to-face contexts, replicating previous research, they
overestimated compliance in email contexts. Analyses of several theorized mechanisms for this nding suggest
that requesters, anchored on their own perspectives, fail to appreciate the suspicion, and resulting lack of empa-
thy, with which targets view email requests from strangers. Given the prevalence of email and text-based com-
munication, this is an extremely important moderator of the underestimation-of-compliance effect.
© 2016 Published by Elsevier Inc.
Keywords:
Compliance
Egocentrism
Email
Help-seeking
Perspective-taking
Social inuence
Trust
1. Introduction
A growing body of research nds people are undercondent in their
ability to persuade others to comply with their requests (Bohns et al.,
2011; Bohns, Roghanizad, & Xu, 2014; Bohns, Newark, & Xu, 2016;
Flynn & Lake (Bohns), 2008; Newark, Flynn, & Bohns, 2014). Across at
least 12 studies in which participants collectively have asked over
14,000 strangers to comply with requests such as completing a ques-
tionnaire and borrowing a phone, participants appear consistently to
underestimateby a large marginthe likelihood people they approach
will say yes(Bohns, 2016).
This phenomenon results from requesters' inability to appreciate the
perspective of targets of their requests. Targets feel awkward and un-
comfortable saying no,both because of what it might insinuate
about the requester (Bohns, 2016; Sah, 2012), and because it feels bad
to let someone down (Newark, Bohns, & Flynn, 2016). However, re-
questers are anchored on their own perspectives and fail to recognize
the pressure targets feel to comply (Epley, Keysar, Van Boven, &
Gilovich, 2004). Consequently, requesters wrongly assume it is
easyand therefore likelyfor targets to say no.
Here we propose a moderator of the underestimation-of-compli-
ance effect. We theorize the tendency to underestimate compliance is
limited to face-to-face interactions. Specically, we hypothesize when
making direct requests over email, requesters will overestimate,notun-
derestimate, compliance. Given the prevalence of email and text-based
communication, this would be an extremely important moderator of
the original effect.
The hypothesis that requesters will overestimate compliance when
making requests over email follows from a theorized perspective-taking
failure similar to that underlying the original effect. However, dueto the
considerable differences between email and face-to-face communica-
tion, the specic mechanisms involvedand resulting predictionare
notably different.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology xxx (2016) xxxxxx
Corresponding author at: University of Waterloo, 200 University Avenue, Waterloo,
ON, Canada.
E-mail address: mmroghan@uwaterloo.ca (M.M. Roghanizad).
YJESP-03478; No. of pages: 4; 4C:
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2016.10.002
0022-1031/© 2016 Published by Elsevier Inc.
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/jesp
Please cite this article as: Roghanizad, M.M., & Bohns, V.K., Ask in person: You're less persuasive than you think over email, Journal of Experimental
Social Psychology (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2016.10.002
Most relevant to the current research of the many ways in which
email differs from face-to-face communication is its restriction of non-
verbal cues that generate trust and empathy. Essentially, it is easier for
an unfamiliar requester to appear well-meaning and sympathetic
face-to-face than over email (Berry & McArthur, 1986; Brownlow,
1992; Burgoon, 1990; McGinley, LeFevre, & McGinley, 1975;
Scharlemann, Eckel, Kacelnik, & Wilson, 2001; Sproull & Kiesler, 1986;
Willis & Todorov, 2006). Indeed, requests made face-to-face are far
more effective than those made otherwise (Constant, Sproull, &
Kiesler, 1996; Dabbish, Kraut, Fussell & Kiesler, 2005; Gerber & Green,
2000; Ling et al., 2005; Zhu et al., 2016).
Yet requesters likely do not recognize the effect of these limitations
of email. Anchored on the intimate knowledge they have of their own
trustworthiness and circumstances, we theorize requesters will struggle
to envision what their targets see: a suspicious email from a stranger
that generates little empathy. This error should lead requesters to over-
estimate compliance over email.
We tested this hypothesis in two studies in which participants made
actual requests of strangers face-to-face or over email after predicting
the likelihood targets would comply. For both studies, we report all
measures, conditions, data exclusions, and how we determined sample
sizes.
2. Study 1
506 university students participated (49 requesters, 457 targets).
Four requesters in the face-to-face condition did not complete the
study, leaving 495 participants (45 requesters [31 female], 450 targets).
Requesters received $10; targets receivedno compensation. Sample size
was determined by the sample size used by Flynn and Lake (Bohns)
(2008);Study 1;N= 23 requesters) who originally identied the un-
derestimation-of-compliance effect and whose paradigm we adapted.
The original effect was large (d= 1.096), so this sample size ensured
N80% power.
Requesters were randomly assigned to face-to-faceor emailcon-
ditions and instructed to ask 10 strangersto complete a questionnaire (a
44-item personality inventory; John, Donahue, & Kentle, 1991). First, re-
questers were provided with complete information about their task; no
information was withheld. They then predicted how many of the 10
people they approached/emailed would comply with their requests. Be-
cause of the role of discomfort in previous research, we also adminis-
tered a measure of predicted discomfort (Appendix A).
Next, requesters in the face-to-face condition went onto the univer-
sity campus with a stackof questionnairesand a tally sheet to recordthe
responses of the 10 strangers they approached. In the email condition,
requesters were given 10 email addresses from the university directory
and asked if they recognized any addresses. They then sent emails with
the request to complete an online questionnaire one at a time using
their own university email accounts.
1
We recorded actual compliance
in this condition through the online questionnaire.
To ensure the face-to-face and email conditions were comparable in
all respects aside from communication medium, thescripts participants
used when making their requests were written to be as similar as possi-
ble, while also conveying the same information in the email that would
be implicitly conveyed in a face-to-face interaction on campusnamely,
that the requester was a student asking a fellow student (Appendix A).
To determine whether participants in the face-to-face condition
were strategically approaching participants in ways that would be im-
possible in the email condition, we analyzed targets' gender composi-
tion. Requesters may have approached slightly more female targets
(54%) than would be expected had they been approaching targets ran-
domly compared to the general campus population (45% female),
t(25) = 3.52, p= 0.002, but not compared to the population of the
social sciences campus where the study took place (60% female),
t(25) = 1.73, p= 0.095 (CUDO, 2015). Importantly, female targets
were no more likely to comply (71.1%) than male targets (72.9%),
χ
2
(N= 260) = 0.098, p= 0.75, so any employed strategy was
misguided.
2.1. Results
A 2 × 2 mixed-model ANOVA with repeated measures on the second
factor revealed an interaction between Request Medium (face-to-face,
email) and compliance (predicted, actual), F(1,43) = 121.10,
pb0.001, η
p
2
=0.73(Fig. 1).
2
Requesters underestimated the likelihood
targets would comply with their requests face-to-face (Predicted: M=
5.08, SD = 2.23; Actual: M=7.15,SD = 1.81), F(1,25) = 17.45,
pb0.001, d= 1.00), replicating previous research. However, requesters
overestimated the likelihood targets would comply with their emailed
requests (Predicted: M=5.53,SD = 1.71; Actual: M=0.21,SD =
0.54), F(1,18) = 185.47, pb0.001, d= 4.20). Although targets asked
to complete a questionnaire face-to-face were 34 times more likely to
comply than those asked over email, F(1,44) = 260.78, pb0.001, d=
5.20, requesters' predictions of compliance did not differ between the
conditions, F(1,44) = 0.53, pN0.250, d= 0.21.
Notably, requesters recognized it would be more difcult for targets
to say noface-to-face M= 3.14 (SD = 1.08) than over email (M=
1.75, SD =0.87),F(1,44) = 21.47, pb0.001, d= 1.42, suggesting that
inaccurate assumptions about the discomfort of saying nowere not
driving our main nding.
2.2. Discussion
Despite nding a large effect of Request Medium on the direction of
requesters' prediction error, we were unable to identify the mechanism
underlying this reversal of the original effect. Further, the paradigm we
used only allowed us to capture requesters', not targets', responses to
our mechanism questions. Notably, collecting the latter measures
would require questionnaire data bothfrom targets who agreed to com-
plete a questionnaire and those who refused to complete a question-
naire. In Study 2, we used a unique study design to collect this data.
We also rened our procedure to address the possibility that partici-
pants in the face-to-face condition approached targets strategically. Fi-
nally, we included items to test the mechanism proposed
earliernamely, that requesters fail to appreciate the implicit trust
granted in face-to-face interactions, but not over email, which leads to
1
Towards the end of Study 1, our university ethics board became concerned that uni-
versity students were spamming other students. We were asked to stop collecting data
and reassess the email condition of the study. Thus, there is a smaller number of partici-
pants in the email condition than the face-to-face condition, and some changes to our
method were imposed in Study 2.
5.08
7.15
0.21
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
FtF email
Compliance
Predicted
Actual
5.53
Fig. 1. Actual vs. predictedcompliance in the face-to-faceand email conditionsin Study 1.
2
Fluctuations in degrees of freedomwithin a studyoccur when a participant did notan-
swer a question, thus reducing the sample size for that question.
2M.M. Roghanizad, V.K. Bohns / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology xxx (2016) xxxxxx
Please cite this article as: Roghanizad, M.M., & Bohns, V.K., Ask in person: You're less persuasive than you think over email, Journal of Experimental
Social Psychology (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2016.10.002
increased empathy towards the requester, and ultimately higher rates
of compliance.
3. Study 2
480 university students participated (60 requesters [36 female] and
420 targets). Requesters received $10; targets received $1. Sample size
was determined by the sample size of Flynn and Lake (Bohns) (2008),
again ensuring N80% power.
Requesters were randomly assigned to face-to-faceor emailcon-
ditions. In order to collect mechanism data both from targets that said
yesand those that said noto completing a questionnaire, requesters
were instructed to ask strangers who had already agreed to ll out a
one-page questionnaire for $1 to complete an additional task (editing
a document for grammatical mistakes) for free. Before making these re-
quests, requesters predicted the number of people (out of 7) who would
agree to complete thefree task and answered our mechanism questions.
Requesters were again provided with complete taskdetails before com-
pleting these measures.
In the face-to-face condition, requesters approached as many
strangers as necessary to recruit 7 people to ll out a questionnaire for
$1. When someone agreed to complete the paid questionnaire, re-
questers immediately asked the target to complete the additional task
for no additional pay. To ensure requesters were approaching targets
randomly, requesters were instructed to count six strangers and ap-
proach the sixth.
In the email condition, emails were sent to 7 university students
who had previously registered to complete a questionnaire for $1. The
email text mirrored the face-to-face script. Email recipients who agreed
to complete a questionnaire for $1 were asked if they would complete
the extra task for free. As requested by our university ethics board, to
protect participants' privacy requesters no longer sent emails individu-
ally to targets after completing the initial materials. Instead, a university
technician sent a batch of 210 emails (7 for each of the30 participants in
the email condition) from a ctitious university email address. Howev-
er, to increase perceptions of the authenticity of their requests, re-
questers were provided with 7 bogus email addresses ostensibly from
our pre-registered list of targets and were asked if they recognized
any addresses.
Targets in both conditions who agreed to complete the paid ques-
tionnaire said either yesor noto completing the unpaid task. They
then completed the paid questionnaire, which comprised a series of
questions about why they had said yesor noto completing the un-
paid task. Thus, we have mechanism data from (a) requesters, (b) tar-
gets who said yesto the unpaid task, and (c) targets who said no
to the unpaid task. This data includes how uncomfortable targets felt/
would feel saying noto the unpaid task, how much targets trusted/
would trust requesters, and how much targets empathized/would em-
pathize with requesters (Appendix A).
3.1. Results
3.1.1. Overview
Although 210 pre-registered targets received emails, only 44 com-
pleted the paid questionnaire. For presentation clarity, we created a
simulated sample of 210 targets for the email condition by drawing 30
samples of 7 respondents with replacement from the 44 targets who
completed the paid questionnaire. The conclusions drawn from this
simulated sample match those of the raw sample (see Appendix B for
raw data analyses).
To be consistent with the analyses in Study 1, we modeled the data
at the requester level (N= 60). We assigned to each requester an actu-
al compliancevalue comprising the total number of targets (out of 7)
who completed the free task, as well as actualtrust, empathy, and dis-
comfort values comprising averages of those 7 targets' responses to the
mechanism items. We did not conduct multi-level analyses because
requesters' predictions of compliance are continuous and the compli-
ance measure for each individual target is necessarily binary (i.e.,
yesor no).
3.1.2. ANOVAs
A 2 × 2 mixed-model ANOVA with repeated measures on the second
factor revealed a signicant interaction between Request Medium
(face-to-face, email) and compliance with thefree task (predicted, actu-
al), F(1,58) = 16.78, pb0.001, η
p
2
=0.22(Fig. 2). Requesters in the face-
to-face condition underestimated the likelihood targets would comply
(Predicted: M=4.43,SD = 1.70; Actual: M= 5.43, SD =1.81;
F(1,29) = 4.49, p= 0.043, d= 0.57), while requesters in the email con-
dition overestimated the likelihood targets would comply (Predicted:
M= 4.10, SD = 2.01; Actual: M= 2.43, SD = 1.31; F(1,29) = 18.84,
pb0.001, d= 0.98). Targets were again much more likely to comply
in the face-to-face condition, F(1,58) = 54.10, pb0.001, d= 1.90, but
there was no difference between requesters' predictions of compliance
between the two conditions, F(1,58) = 0.48, pN0.250, d=0.18.
Additional mixed-model ANOVAs on our mechanism indices re-
vealed a signicant interaction on discomfort, F(1,58) = 5.79, p=
0.019, η
p
2
= 0.09. Requesters recognized targets would feel more un-
comfortable saying noface-to-face (M= 3.59, SD = 1.11) than over
email (M= 2.49, SD = 1.15), F(1,58) = 14.38, p=b0.001, d= 0.97.
Targets conrmed this intuition, reporting they would feel more un-
comfortable saying noface-to-face (M= 3.35, SD = 0.43) than over
email (M= 2.98, SD =0.47),F(1,58) = 10.07, p= 0.002, d=0.82.
Thus, this mechanism again failed to explain our main nding.
However, there was a signicant interaction on trust, F(1,58) =
8.997, p= 0.004, η
p
2
= 0.134, which mirrored our compliance results.
Targets trusted requesters more in the face-to-face condition (M=
5.66, SD = 0.43) than the email condition (M=4.37,SD = 0.47),
F(1,58) = 120.98, pb0.001, d= 2.86, although requesters predicted
no difference between the two conditions, F(1,58) = 2.36, p= 0.130,
d= 0.397.
A similar (though non-signicant) interaction to that for trust
emerged for empathy, F(1,58) = 2.35, p= 0.131, η
p
2
= 0.039. Targets
felt more empathy towards requesters in the face-to-face condition
(M=4.63,SD = 0.56) than the email condition (M=3.96,SD =
0.46), F(1,58) = 25.899, pb0.001, d= 1.31. However, requesters pre-
dicted no difference between the two conditions, F(1,58) = 0.17,
pN0.250, d=0.106.
3.1.3. Mediation
Mediation analysis conrmed that the error in requesters' predic-
tions of the amount of trust and empathy targets would feel in response
to emailed versus in-person requests explained the error in requesters'
predictions of compliance between the two conditions. That is, the the-
orized path of request medium predicted minus actual trust predicted
4.43
4.1
5.43
2.43
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
FtF email
Compliance
Predicted
Actual
Fig. 2. Actual vs. predictedcompliance in the face-to-faceand email conditionsin Study 2.
3M.M. Roghanizad, V.K. Bohns / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology xxx (2016) xxxxxx
Please cite this article as: Roghanizad, M.M., & Bohns, V.K., Ask in person: You're less persuasive than you think over email, Journal of Experimental
Social Psychology (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2016.10.002
minus actual empathy compliance prediction error was signicant [CI:
0.0378, 0.0035] (see Appendix C for complete details).
4. Discussion
Overall, we nd people are less inuential than they think over
email. Although requesters underestimated the likelihood people
would comply with their requests in person, they overestimated the
likelihood people would comply with their requests over email. These
ndings appear to result from requesters' failure to appreciate the im-
plicit trust conveyed in face-to-face interactions and lost over email,
which activates targets' empathy towards requesters.
These ndings contribute to a burgeoning area of research on
people's perceptions of their inuence over others (Bohns, 2016).
While much research on social inuence aims to identify effective inu-
ence techniques, we examine people's assumptions about how effective
various inuence tactics are likely to be.
This work also contributes a new perspective to a growing body of
literature on trust in computer-mediated interactions (John, Acquisti,
& Loewenstein, 2011; Roghanizad & Neufeld, 2015). Rather than focus-
ing on users' willingness to trust computer-mediated content, our re-
search has implications for how the creators of such content are likely
to view its trustworthiness.
Practically, as computer-mediated communication becomes the
dominant means of interacting with others (Dimmick, Kline, &
Stafford, 2000), these ndings suggest that users may not realize its lim-
itations (cf., Kruger, Epley, Parker, & Ng, 2005). It is often more conve-
nient and comfortable to make requests over email. If people also
overestimate email's effectiveness, they may choose inferior means of
inuence without recognizing the downsides. Reecting on the experi-
ence of receiving an email from a stranger before making a request in
this manner may facilitate the practice of asking in person when
possible.
Strengths of these ndings include the fact that participants made
actual requests of other people in these studies, and the large effects,
ranging from d= 0.98 to d= 4.20 for the overestimation-of-compli-
ance effect over email and d= 0.57 to d= 1.01 for the underestima-
tion-of-compliance effect face-to-face. However, there are noteworthy
limitations. For one, the mechanism identied here differs from previ-
ous research on the underestimation-of-compliance effect. Thus,our ex-
planation for these ndings is still somewhat exploratory, necessitating
replication by future studies. However, it is certainly possible that errors
related to predicting compliance are multiply determined. Further, our
ndings arelimited to the specic university population and types of re-
quests we used in the current studies, as well as a paradigm in which re-
questers evaluated the effectiveness of email and face-to-face requests
separately, rather than comparing them directly. Future research should
explore the generalizability of these ndings.
Supplementary data to this article can be found online at http://dx.
doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2016.10.002.
Acknowledgements
The studies reported in this article are from the rst author's disser-
tation. This research was supported by funding from the Social Sciences
and Humanities Research Council of Canada (435-0012-2014) to the
second author.
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4M.M. Roghanizad, V.K. Bohns / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology xxx (2016) xxxxxx
Please cite this article as: Roghanizad, M.M., & Bohns, V.K., Ask in person: You're less persuasive than you think over email, Journal of Experimental
Social Psychology (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2016.10.002
  • ... Some examples of compliance problems include decisions related to buying a product, donating to a charity, or, generally, complying with a request. The literature in psychology, communications, and political science has noted the face effect, i.e., face-to-face interactions are more effective in inducing compliance than other forms of interactions, such as direct mail, telephone calls, and emails (e.g., Milgram, 1965b;Gerber and Green, 2000;Roghanizad and Bohns, 2017). ...
    ... More recent research has noted the face effect (e.g., Milgram, 1965b;Gerber and Green, 2000;Roghanizad and Bohns, 2017). For example, Gerber and Green (2000) found that personal canvassing increases voter turnout more than direct mail and telephone calls in a field experiment. ...
    ... For example, Gerber and Green (2000) found that personal canvassing increases voter turnout more than direct mail and telephone calls in a field experiment. Roghanizad and Bohns (2017) suggest that people often underestimate compliance rate in face-to-face interactions while overestimating compliance rate of emails due to varied trust and empathy levels of the two channels. Yet the underlying mechanism of the face effect has rarely been explicitly explored (Gerber and Green, 2000). ...
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  • ... In these studies, participants consistently and substantially under- estimated the likelihood that others would comply with their direct, face-to-face requests, because they underestimated the power of the strong social forces that drive people to say "yes" (by making it awkward and uncomfortable to say "no") in these situations. These findings have since been replicated and extended in numerous follow-up studies (Bohns et al., 2011(Bohns et al., , 2016Newark, Bohns, & Flynn, 2017;Newark, Flynn, & Bohns, 2014;Roghanizad & Bohns, 2017). This underestimation-of-compliance effect, like the invisibility cloak, would predict an overall tendency to underestimate one's influence over others. ...
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  • ... This occurred because more Calgary patients received completion re- quests in person during subsequent follow-up visits; whereas more Edmonton patients were followed-up over email. This finding is consistent with previous studies that found face-to-face requests to be more successful than email requests [48]. A future sensitivity analysis could be performed to further examine the impact of this difference; however, bias resulting from non-response in surveys is difficult to assess since information about non-responders is rarely available. ...
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  • ... Communicators tend to overestimate the degree to which recipients will comply with email (vs. face-to-face) requests, as well as the degree to which email requests will seem trustworthy ( Roghanizad & Bohns, 2017). Relatedly, the potential for misunderstanding is higher in mediated communication ( Waterworth & Waterworth, 2006). ...
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  • ... A similar parallel can be drawn with the optimization of dislocated work processes, where communication between individuals is key for the realization of a set goal. Here we must emphasize, that direct graphically conditioned communication is significantly more effective than the exchange of written messages using email or chatrooms [11]. Virtual reality thus presents itself as an effective alternative, mostly due to the cognitive perception of messages, which is similar to real relationships [12]. ...
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  • ... Podobno vzporednico bi lahko potegnili z optimizacijo dislociranih delovnih procesov, kjer je komunikacija med posamezniki ključna za realizacijo izbranega cilja. Ob tem poudarimo, da je neposredna grafično pogojena komunikacija bistveno učinkovitejša od pisne izmenjave sporočil s pomočjo spletne pošte ali klepetalnice[11]. Navidezna resničnost se tako kaže kot učinkovita alternativa predvsem zaradi kognitivne percepcije prejetih sporočil, ki je podobna stvarnim odnosom[12]. ...
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