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Am J Community Psychol. 2000 Jun;28(3):303-24.

The role of referent and expert power in mutual help.

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  • 1Michigan State University, Department of Psychology, East Lansing 48824, USA.


This study explored the roles of referent power (i.e., influence based on sense of identification) and expert power (i.e., influence based on knowledge and expertise) in Schizophrenics Anonymous (SA), a mutual-help group for persons experiencing a schizophrenia-related illness. The study describes SA participants' experience of referent and expert power with SA members, SA leaders, and with mental health professionals. It also examines whether or not referent and expert power ascribed to fellow SA participants predicts the perceived helpfulness of the group. One hundred fifty-six SA participants were surveyed. Participants reported experiencing higher levels of referent power with fellow SA members and leaders than with mental health professionals. They reported higher levels of expert power for mental health professionals and SA leaders than for SA members. The respondents' ratings of their SA group's helpfulness was significantly correlated with ratings of referent and expert power. Although expert power was the best independent predictor of helpfulness, a significant interaction between referent and expert power indicated that when members reported high referent power, expert power was not related to helpfulness. These results are interpreted to suggest that there are multiple forms of social influence at work in mutual help.

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