I was on my computer and ran across a news article that features Dr. Oz on my home page. He is a cardiothoracic surgeon and a television personality made famous by Oprah. In the article, he was asked to speak before the Senate for potentially deceptive advertising for weight loss supplements (Firger, 2014). I was curious about this so I watched the video that accompanies the article. I won’t comment on whether he did or did not use deceptive advertising but something caught my attention. In the video, Sen. Claire McCaskill tells Dr. Mehmet Oz, “with great power, comes great responsibility” (Firger, 2014). I asked myself, where does this power come from? Lots of people try to sell weight loss supplements and the Senate does not see them as a threat. What makes him so special? I think the principles of applied social psychology can help explain why.
In my opinion, Dr. Oz exerts a large amount of social influence. Social influence being defined as the interactions with others that leads to changes in our attitudes, beliefs, values, or behavior (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012, pg 171). So in other words, when Dr. Oz interacts with others, it can lead to changes in their attitudes, beliefs, values, and behavior. When he is trying to interact in this way through his television show, it is called persuasion (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012, 171). So the question became, what makes him so persuasive.
First, we need to understand the kind of message he is giving. I would define it as an informational message. An informational message provides facts and arguments for why people should be engaging in certain health behaviors (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012, 171). Now, the Senate has called into question whether his advice is actually healthy (meaning they might not be facts) but that is not my question. His persuasive technique is built around an informational message and that is what matters. With this as my assumption, there are certain criteria that applied social psychology can use to predict how persuasive this informational message will be. Using these criteria as measurements of his persuasiveness, I intend to show why Dr. Oz is so powerful.
So lets begin with the criteria that make an informational message persuade. In order for an informational message to be effective, it should come from a credible source. Dr. Oz is a heart surgeon, which gives him substantial credibility. Also, the person should be attractive and similar to the audience (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012, pg 171) because attractive faces tend to be thought of as more sociable, extroverted, and popular (Aronson, Wilson, &Akert, pg 275). Furthermore, people tend to prefer faces similar to their own and it may come from a feeling of “familiar is safe” and “unfamiliar is potentially dangerous” (Aronson, Wilson, & Akert, pg 274). Dr. Oz can be thought of as “good looking” and is like the target audience. Even though attractiveness seemingly has nothing to do with anything, there seems to be an “attractive is good” stereotype (Aronson, Wilson, & Akert, pg 275). So these qualities combine to make him trustworthy and thus help him be persuasive.
Another important aspect of an informational message is whether people take the message to heart (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012, pg 171). Dr. Oz does a great job of this by grabbing attention with “fear appeals” (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012, pg 171). Using headlines and phrases like, “Dangers of walk-in medical procedures” and “Could a common fibroid procedure cause cancer?” (www.doctoroz.com). He also combines this fear appeal with specific recommendations (to lose weight, use this pill for example), which increases effectiveness of the fear appeal (pg 172). This seems to be because you cannot just scare someone, you have to give him or her a way to ease his or her fears in order for the message to be effective and Dr. Oz appears to be a master at this.
With all this in mind lets review and see how Dr. Oz measures up on the criteria shown to increase his persuasive ability. Dr. Oz is credible, attractive, and familiar. He uses fear appeals to grab attention so people attend to his informational message. He then follows these fear appeals with specific instructions on how to reduce the fear. Dr. Oz scores extremely high on all of these criteria and applied social psychology principles would predict that he would be persuasive. This is inline with Sen. McCaskill’s comments. Applied social psychology therefore, provides a good theory (based on research and not opinion) as to why Dr. Oz is such a powerful influence on the substantial number of people who watch his show and the Senate has good reason to be watchful of him.
Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., & Akert, R. M. (2013). Social Psychology (8th ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Firger, J. (2014, June 17) Dr. Oz Defends Weight Loss Advice at Senate Hearing on Diet Scams. CBSNews. Retrieved from:
Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., and Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.