Communication ETDs


Miwa Kimura

Publication Date



Studies regarding persuasion in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) have addressed what potentially increases newcomers early engagement with AA. This research regarding what seems persuasive to newcomers, however, reports researchers' rather than newcomers' perspective and standpoints. AA-related research from various fields suggests that AA is an effectiveness path for treating alcoholism, which untreated can have deadly outcomes. Understanding how early interactions and initial messages in AA persuade newly sober people to continue attending meetings may provide life-saving information to counseling staff, allied professionals, and members of AA. Given the importance of new-member persuasion to long-term recovery, this thesis explores newcomers' early experience in AA, focusing on which features of AA they reported persuading and encouraging them to 'keep coming back' (an AA idiom). The persuasive process in AA is one of 'attraction' rather than the direct, strategic persuasion found in advertising. That is, AA members refrain from recruiting newcomers or convincing newcomers that they are alcoholics. Instead, established AA members show (instead of tell) new members how AA has changed their lives through their narratives and genuinely offer them to help if they are ready to change. Through interpersonal communicative engagement with established members and newcomers' peripheral, rather than elaborated, message processing, newcomers decide to maintain sobriety through the AA program. The types of peripheral message processing most often used by newcomers are liking via social support, liking via similarity, and social proof among others. I employed ethnographic methods to explore newcomers' standpoints regarding the persuasive features of AA. To examine the types of messages newcomers perceive as persuasive—communication that is used in AA that attracts or persuades newcomers— I attended 60 hours of AA meetings and spoke to 27 AA members. I framed the analysis of collected data using Cialdini's (2007) theoretical types (i.e., cues) that trigger newcomers' peripheral message processing during the persuasion process: reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity. Findings suggest that newcomers feel motivated to come back to AA because they felt cared for, felt similar to other alcoholics, and found hope in others' recounted experiences with the program. Findings also argue for an extension of Cialdini's theory by augmenting the 'liking' peripheral cue to include social support and similarity, two themes repeatedly stressed in my interactions with AA members and my observations of AA meetings. The theoretical extension considers newcomers' unique situations, which present special needs and include contextual life-history factors that appeared quite persuasive for the study's sample. Findings suggest a number of practical implications at organizational (e.g., within AA) and professional levels (e.g., treatment counselors). I conclude the thesis by reflecting on study limitations and making suggestions for future research.




Alcoholics Anonymous, Encouraging Newcomers, Ethnography, Peripheral Persuasion

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Communication and Journalism

First Advisor

Lutgen-Sandvik, Pamela

First Committee Member (Chair)

White, Judith

Second Committee Member

Ginossar, Tamar