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

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.

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.

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.