Two routes to persuasion
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Two Routes to Persuasion. October 24, 2006. Outline for the rest of the semester. Getting people to do what we want: This week: How do we persuade people to change their attitudes? Next week: How do we persuade people to change their behaviors? Last week:

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Two Routes to Persuasion

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Two routes to persuasion

Two Routes to Persuasion

October 24, 2006

Outline for the rest of the semester

Outline for the rest of the semester

  • Getting people to do what we want:

    This week:

    • How do we persuade people to change their attitudes?

      Next week:

    • How do we persuade people to change their behaviors?

      Last week:

    • Do attitudes predict behavior or are they actually unrelated?

Importance of persuasion

Importance of Persuasion

  • Some consequences of publicizing research on marijuana use.

    • U.S. high school seniors who believe that there is a “great risk” to regular marijuana use has doubled from 35% in 1978 to 73% in 1993.

    • Reported marijuana use also dropped from 37% to 16%

  • Similar pattern for cigarette smoking.

    • Current rate of cigarette smoking around 26% less than ½ rate of 30 years ago.

But attempts at persuasion do not always work

But, attempts at persuasion do not always work

  • Government campaign to encourage use of seatbelts flopped.

    • 7 cable TV messages broadcast 943 times a day during prime time to 6400 households.

    • Studies showed that the campaign had no effect.

  • Nevertheless, advertisers spend about $500 per year attempting to persuade you.

  • Question: What factors influence the persuasiveness of a message?

Some basic assumptions

Some Basic Assumptions

  • People want to have “correct” attitudes and beliefs.

    • However, the potential number of issues on which to have an opinion are potentially infinite.

    • Therefore, people cannot carefully scrutinize every message, nor can they evaluate all of the evidence to arrive at a well thought out opinion.

  • People must compromise by paying more attention to some things than others.

    • This “compromise” forms the basis of the ELM model.

Two routes to persuasion1

Two Routes to Persuasion

  • Elaboration Likelihood Model

  • Two routes reflect the tension between wanting to be right and wanting to be efficient.

    • Central Route: Persuasion occurs when interested people focus on the arguments and respond with favorable thoughts.

    • Peripheral Route: Persuasion that results when people are influence by incidental cues such as the speaker’s attractiveness.

Central route

Central Route

  • People who follow the central route carefully scrutinize the information contained in a message and answer two types of questions:

    • Does the message fit well with what I already know?

    • How does this information affect me?

  • This process of thinking about the message is called “Elaboration.”

Why do people take the central route

Why Do People Take the Central Route?

  • Whether people process a message carefully depends on two main factors

  • (1) The motivation to process the message carefully.

    • People are more motivated to think about messages with high personal relevance.

    • Should they build that highway on the other side of town? Should they build that highway next to my house?

  • (2) The ability to process the information carefully.

    • Some people are more motivated to think than others.

    • Stable personality trait (need for cognition).

Example computer ad

Example: Computer Ad

  • Buying a computer is a major purchase and one about which people are probably motivated to think carefully.

  • Target customers tend to be analytical & presumably high in motivation to think.

    • More likely to see ads take the central route to persuasion.

Computer ad from 1989

Computer Ad from 1989

Attitude resulting from the central route

Attitude Resulting from the Central Route

  • Attitudes formed by the central route are distinct because they are:

    • Accessible: Easily recalled.

    • Persistent and Stable: Attitudes last a long time.

    • Resistant: Are not easily challenged by competing messages.

    • Predict behavior: Attitude will actually influence subsequent behavior.

Peripheral route

Peripheral Route

  • People are not always going to think carefully about your message.

    • Sometimes the arguments in favor of your message are also weak.

    • What happens when elaboration likelihood is low? How do we change people’s attitudes in the absence of much thought?

  • Persuasion then results from peripheral cues in the social context.

Cigarette ad low on substance high on image

Cigarette Ad: Low on Substance High on Image

Comparing the two ads

Comparing the two Ads

  • Can you imagine an ad for a cigarette that would look like the ad for the computer? Is that a ludicrous idea?

  • Which “peripheral” cues are being used in the cigarette ad?

  • Can you imagine such peripheral cues in the computer ad?

Sources of peripheral cues

Sources of Peripheral Cues

  • Peripheral cues may come from 4 main sources.

  • (1) The Communicator

  • (2) The Message

  • (3) How the Message is Communicated

  • (4) The Audience

  • Who says what, how and to whom?

The communicator

The Communicator

  • Perceived credibility of the speaker increases persuasion.

  • Example for jury study:

    • Speak Confidently. Speech style influences persuasion.

      • Question: Approximately how long did you stay before the ambulance arrived?

      • (Confident) Twenty minutes. Long enough to help get Mrs. Davis straightened out.

      • (Hesitating) Oh, it seems like it was about uh, twenty minutes. Just long enough to help my friend Mrs. Davis, you know get straightened out.

    • Straightforward witnesses rated as more competent and credible even when saying the same thing.



  • We like people who are like ourselves.

    • Example: Study gave African-American junior high students a taped appeal for proper dental care.

      • When cleanliness of teeth assessed the next day, those who heard the appeal from an African American dentist had cleaner teeth.

    • Messages from a member of our own group are generally more appealing.

Exceptions depend on the topic

Exceptions Depend on the Topic

  • Preference for similar or dissimilar communicator?

    • People prefer to hear from others who are similar to them on topics of subjective preference (should I drink Coke or Pepsi?)

    • But prefer to hear from people dissimilar to them on judgments of fact (How many inches of rain fell in Sydney, Australia last year?). A dissimilar person provides a more independent judgment.

The message

The Message

  • Positive emotions may act as a peripheral cue.

    • Yale students more convinced by persuasive messages if they were allowed to eat peanuts and drink soda while reading them.

    • Persuasive messages more convincing while listening to pleasant music.

  • People associate their positive emotions with the message and therefore accept the message without thinking.

What about fear

What about Fear?

  • Fear can also be used to make a message more persuasive.

    • Example: Study in which doctors sent letters to their patients who smoked.

    • 8% of patients who received positively framed messages (if you quit now you will live longer) attempted to quit.

    • 30% of patients who received negatively framed messages (if you continue to smoke you will die sooner) attempted to quit.

  • Fear messages will only overwhelm if you don’t tell people how to avoid danger.

When are these types of appeals appropriate

When are these types of appeals appropriate?

  • Are there certain arena’s in which fear tactics are used more often? Why?

  • What are the norms that govern the appropriateness of using fear to be persuasive? Can you use fear to get someone to go on a date with you?

  • When do people label these tactics as being “propaganda.”

How the message is communicated

How the Message is Communicated

  • Passive versus active appeals.

    • Some passive appeals can be very effective.

    • Advertised brand of Aspirin outsells the generic brand at 3 times the price even though they are identical.

    • General rule: Persuasion increases as the significance and familiarity of the issue decreases.

Power of personal appeals

Power of Personal Appeals

  • On issues that are more significant than which brand of Aspirin to buy, passive appeals are less effective.

    • Example: Study of people about to vote on a revision to their city’s charter.

    • 19% who only heard about the issue in the media voted in favor of the charter.

    • 45% who received four mailings in favor of the revision actually voted for it.

    • 75% who were visited personally and given the appeal face to face actually voted in favor.

The audience

The Audience

  • When the audience is forewarned they will have time to generate counter-arguments.

    • When people know that they are going to be the object of a persuasion attempt they will pay careful attention to the message.

    • Thinking tends to be biased toward confirming their initial view.

    • Use forewarning when you know the audience is likely to agree with you.

Advantage of distraction

Advantage of Distraction

  • Persuasion is enhanced by distracting people just long enough to prevent them from generating counter-arguments.

    • Example: Political ads use vivid images to distract our attention just enough so that we do not scrutinize the message too carefully.



  • People cannot possibly develop a well thought out opinion on every single issue.

    • Instead, they scrutinize a message when they are motivated and able to do so.

  • The central route will result in increased persuasion only when arguments are strong.

    • When you know that your arguments are weak, you should give people cues that will allow them to form an attitude without thinking too much.

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