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Social Psychology. Attitude Change and Persuasion October 14, 2008. Prof. Weiser Curry College . Introduction. Persuasion Any instance in which a message induces change in attitude, beliefs, or behavior Persuasion is most often attempted via some kind of persuasive communication

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Social Psychology

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social psychology
Social Psychology

Attitude Change and Persuasion

October 14, 2008

Prof. Weiser

Curry College

  • Persuasion
    • Any instance in which a message induces change in attitude, beliefs, or behavior
  • Persuasion is most often attempted via some kind of persuasive communication
    • Written or spoken messages that advocate a certain product, idea, or point of view
    • Sometimes, however, a nice image of something can do the trick
  • During World War II, Carl Hovland and his colleagues worked for the U.S. armed forces to increase the morale of U.S soldiers. This is really how and when scientific interest in persuasion began.
    • They were interested in examining exactly what makes a message persuasive
      • Communicator
      • Message content
      • Channel of communication
      • Audience

Carl Hovland (1912-1961)

This approach to the study of persuasive communications is known as the Yale Attitude Change Approach

  • Some of the most important research in persuasion was conducted by social psychologists at Ohio State University in the 1970s and 1980s
    • This research emphasized that people’s thoughts in response to persuasive messages matter a great deal in persuasion
    • Called the cognitive response approach
      • If a persuasive message triggers primarily favorable thoughts, then persuasion will likely happen
      • But, if a message triggers primarily unfavorable thoughts, no persuasion will take place
central route and peripheral route
Central Route and Peripheral Route
  • In the 1980s, two social psychologists from Ohio State (Richard Petty and John Cacioppo) also assumed that persuasion is likely to occur via one of two routes

Richard Petty

John Cacioppo

central route and peripheral route11
Central Route and Peripheral Route
  • Central route persuasion
    • Occurs when people are motivated to cognitively focus on the arguments of a persuasion message
      • If those arguments are strong and compelling, favorable thoughts will follow, and persuasion will take place
      • If those arguments are weak, unfavorable thoughts will follow, and no persuasion will take place
  • Peripheral route persuasion
    • Occurs when people are not motivated to think extensively about the arguments of a persuasive message (because, for example, the message is of little importance to them)
    • In such cases, persuasion is triggered by peripheral cues (e.g., incidental things like the speaker’s attractiveness, how fast the speaker talks, etc) that are unrelated to the quality of the arguments in the message
the elements of persuasion
The Elements of Persuasion
  • To understand persuasion, one must consider: who says what to whom, and how is it said?
  • Thus, when studying persuasion, we examine four important factors:
    • The source
      • Who presents the message?
    • The message
      • What is in the message? How does it make people feel?
    • How the message is communicated
      • What is the modality of the message?
    • The audience
      • Who will receive the message?
four factors of persuasion
Four Factors of Persuasion





Are they

trustworthy? Do

they have expertise? Are

they trustworthy?


Does in induce

positive feelings?

negative feelings?

Is it one or two-

sided? How


Is it one to one?

Is it a personal

one? Is it on

radio, TV, or


Who is the

message aimed

at? How old are

they? What are

they thinking?

source factors
Source Factors
  • Credibility
    • Credible speakers (i.e., those who are perceived to have high levels of expertise and trustworthiness) are more persuasive than speakers who lack credibility
      • Bochner & Insko (1965)
        • Speaker claims that only 4 hrs of sleep per night is necessary
        • The message was more persuasive if the speaker was thought to be a renowned scientist (vs. YMCA gym teacher)
      • Walster & Festinger (1962)
        • Students eavesdrop on graduate students’ conversation about campus regulations
        • The eavesdroppers were more influenced by the speakers if they thought the speakers were unaware that they were being listened to
  • Another factor in credibility is if a speaker adopts a position that we do not expect them to (argues against their own self-interest)
    • Eagly, Wood, & Chaiken (1978)
      • Students listen to speaker give pro-environmental speech (i.e., attacking a factory’s pollution of a river)
      • The seaker was more effective if thought to have a pro-business background (in which he would be arguing against his own self-interest) than if thought to have an environmental background
  • It has been found that perceived credibility increases when people talk fast
    • Miller, Maruyama, Beaber, & Vallone (1976)
      • People who listened to tape-recorded message rated fast speakers (190 words-per-minute) as more intelligent, knowledgeable, and persuasive than slower speakers (110 wpm).
source factors19
Source Factors
  • Physical attractiveness
    • Physically attractive communicators are more persuasive than less attractive communicators
      • Chaiken (1979)
        • Students tried to get as many signatures on a “veggie food” petition as they could
        • Physically attractive students tended to get more signatures
        • But, these attractive students tended to have higher GPAs and SAT scores, and thus were more skilled; maybe due to self-fulfilling prophecy?
      • Dion & Stein (1978)
        • Pretty 10-12 year-old girls (compared to less pretty girls of same age) were more persuasive at getting similar-aged boys to eat bitter-tasting crackers
source factors20
Source Factors
  • Similarity
    • Message recipients are more influenced by communicators who are similar to them than by communicators who are dissimilar
      • Brock (1965) The paint store study
        • A paint store salesperson approached customers waiting to in line to buy paint to try to persuade them to buy a different brand
        • In some cases, the salesperson claimed to have purchased 40 gallons of the paint the shopper was buying (thus making the salesperson look like an expert --- dissimilar)
        • In other cases, the salesperson claimed to have tried the paint once and recommended a different brand (thus making him sound like an everyday person like the shopper was ---similar)
        • Shoppers were more likely to switch paints if the salesperson appeared similar to them than if the salesperson appeared dissimilar
source factors21
Source Factors
  • Sometimes, however, the impact of a non-credible communicator may actually increase over time
    • This happens, presumably, because people sometimes remember the message, but forget the fact that it was delivered by a non-credible speaker or why they discounted the message
    • This delayed persuasion, after people forget who communicated a message, is called the sleeper effect.
message factors
Message Factors
  • Positive feelings
    • Messages become more persuasive if they become associated with positive feelings
      • Janis, Kaye, & Kirschner (1965)
        • People who snacked on peanuts and Pepsi were more persuaded by various messages than those who did not snack while reading these messages
      • Hendrick & Galizio (1972)
        • Students more persuaded by messages accompanied by pleasant guitar music than without music
    • Thus, if you can’t make a strong case, put audience in a good mood and hope that they’ll feel good about the message without thinking too much about it.
message factors25
Message Factors
  • Messages that arouse fear (fear appeals)
    • Idea here is that messages that scare people into doing certain things (e.g., exercising) or not doing certain things (e.g., smoking) can be very persuasive.
    • But, the question is, how much fear is enough?
      • Janis & Feshback (1953) The dental hygiene experiments
        • High school students presented with three types of messages designed to get them to brush their teeth more often
        • The messages induced either low, medium, or high fear
        • Strangely, the messages that induced low fear were the most effective at getting the students to improve their tooth-brushing habits!
message factors27
Message Factors
  • Janis & Feshback believed that the high fear messages caused the student to become defensive and thus deny the importance of the threat.
  • Fear-arousing messages are more effective if they not only scare people, but also are presented in a way that allow to perceive a solution and make people feel capable of implementing it.
  • Leventhal, Watts, & Pagano (1967)
    • Three groups of smokers get persuasive message on dangers of smoking
      • Scary film only
      • Informational pamplet
      • Scary film + informational pamphlet
message factors29
Message Factors
  • Message discrepancy
    • Are messages that argue extreme positions (i.e., those that are highly discrepant from someone’s attitude) persuasive?
    • They can be, but generally only if they are delivered by a highly credible source
      • Aronson, Turner, & Carlsmith (1963) The T.S. Elliot study
        • Students read (and disliked) a poorly-written poem
        • Some of the students read a evaluation of the poem by a credible source (T.S. Elliot, a famous writer), and some read an evaluation from a low-credible nobody (“Agnes Stearns”)
        • The evaluation was either slightly, moderately, or strongly favorable (which meant, respectively, that the discrepancy between how the students felt and the evaluation was small, medium, or large)
message factors31
Message Factors
  • One versus two-sided messages
    • A one-sided message only presents one side of an argument (e.g., why you should or should not do something)
    • A two-sided message consists of the argument, plus an opposing counterarguments
      • Werner, Stoll, Birch, & White (2002)
        • Aluminum can study
        • Two-sided message doubled recycling efforts
      • Hovland, Lumsdaine, & Sheffield (1949)
        • One versus two-sided message that the WWII would last 2 more years
        • One-sided message was most persuasive for those who initially agreed with the content of message, whereas two-sided message was more effect for those who were initially skeptical of the content of the message
inoculation theory
Inoculation Theory
  • Later research showed that people given 2-sided messages become more resistant to counter-persuasion. This is called an “inoculation effect” and led to development of Inoculation Theory.
  • Inoculation Theory (McGuire, 1964)
    • Exposure to weak attacks (counterattacks) on our attitudes can actually make them stronger. This is because such weak attacks act like inoculations.
inoculation theory34
Inoculation Theory
  • McGuire & Papageorgis (1961)
    • Present subjects with “cultural truisms”
      • e.g., “It is important to brush your teeth after every meal”
      • “Mental disorders are not contagious”
    • Then, subject either thinks of 2 opposing arguments and refutes them (inoculation condition), or simply lists 2 supporting arguments (supportive defense). Later, the truisms are attacked.

15.00 indicates complete agreement with the truism, whereas 1.00 indicates complete disagreement. Lower scores indicate more attitude change after the attack.

innoculation theory
Innoculation Theory
  • McAlister (1980)
    • High school students inoculated junior high kids against peer pressure to smoke
      • They were taught to refute slogans that extolled the virtues of smoking
      • Also, they role-played refuting peer pressure to smoke
      • Compared to a junior high in which the kids were not inoculated, the inoculated kids had lower smoking rates later one
modality factors
Modality Factors
  • Eldersveld & Dodge (1954)
    • Political persuasion in Ann Arbor Michigan
      • Media only = 19%
      • Four mailings = 45%
      • Visited personally and given face-to-face appeal = 75%
  • Maccoby (1980)
    • Studied the effectiveness of three types of message modalities on reducing heart attacks in 3 California towns
      • Regular media
      • Two year media onslaught (TV, newspapers, radio, mailers)
      • Media onslaught plus personal visits and eduation
media influence
Media Influence
  • Two-step flow of communication (Katz, 1957)
    • Media influences regular people in an indirect way
      • First, it influences many opinion leaders (that is, those who regular folks perceive as experts)
        • These include talk show hosts, editorial writers, doctors, teachers, professors, scientists, newspaper and magazine editors, etc
      • These perceived experts, in turn, influence regular folks
comparing media
Comparing Media
  • Chaiken & Eagly (1976)
    • Examined what modality in which persuasive messages would lead to the most attitude change. It depended on the complexity of the message.
audience factors
Audience Factors
  • Age
    • People tend to have different social and political attitudes depending on their age
      • For example, older people tend to me more conservative than younger people
    • This seems to be mainly because of generational effects
      • People tend to maintain the attitudes they developed when they were young
      • It does not really seem to be the case the attitudes change as we grow older (life-cycle effects)
        • e.g., Newcomb (1943) Bennington College Study
          • Liberal attitudes persisted many decades later
audience factors43
Audience Factors
  • Gender
    • Hundreds of experiments have shown that women are more easily persuaded than are men
      • This could be because women are typically socialized to be more cooperative than men
      • Thus, they likely regard conformity as a positive trait
    • However, some studies suggest that it depends on the subject of the message
      • Eagly & Carli (1983)
        • Men and women are more likely to be persuaded on topics that they know little about, but both are less likely to be persuaded on topics that they know a good deal about
audience factors44
Audience Factors
  • What the audience is thinking
    • The thoughts that are going through the mind of an audience are crucial to understanding persuasion. What we think during or in response to a message is crucial to persuasion.
    • One example of this has to do with forewarning (i.e., knowing that you are about to be subjected to a persuasive message)
      • Freedman & Sears (1965)
        • California students who were forewarned that they would hear a talk about why they should not drive at night were not at all persuaded by this talk (compared to those who had not been forewarned)
    • Forewarned is forearmed!!
  • Why does forewarning prevent attitude change?
    • Petty & Cacioppo (1977)
      • They suggested that the reason is because forewarning causes us to mentally come up with counterarguments to refute the persuasive attempt
      • To test this, college freshman in an experiment were either warned or not warned that, in a few minutes, they were going to hear a talk on “Why college sophomores should be required to live in the dorms”
      • These students were asked (before hearing the talk) to do one of two things:
        • Write down all their general thoughts about anything
        • Write down all their thoughts about the idea of sophomores having to live in the dorms
petty cacioppo 1977
Petty & Cacioppo (1977)



Attitude Change


Subjects who were forewarned mentally came up with more counterarguments. This seems to be the reason for why they exhibited less attitude change. Therefore, it seems that forewarning increases negative counterarguments (sort of like inoculation) and prevents likelihood of attitude change.

  • If we are somehow unable to think about the content of a persuasive message (if we become, for example, distracted), then we will be unable to come up with counterarguments
  • In such situations, we will be more susceptible to persuasion
    • This will occur for messages with weak arguments
  • In addition, messages with strong arguments will be less persuasive
    • Because we are unable to come up with favorable thoughts about the message
  • Petty, Wells, & Brock (1976)
    • Students presented with a persuasive message regarding why a tuition increase is necessary
      • Some of the students were presented with a version of the message in which the arguments were strong
        • e.g., “The money would allow us to hire more and better-quality faculty, thereby reducing class size”
      • Some of the students were presented with a version in which the arguments were weak
        • e.g., “The money would allow us to hire more gardeners to keep the ornamental shrubs looking nice”
      • In addition, some of the students were distracted when they listened to the message (by performing a complex computer task), whereas others were not
petty wells brock 1976
Petty, Wells, & Brock (1976)

Level of Support for Message

Distraction Level

elaboration likelihood model of persuasion petty cacioppo 1981
Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion (Petty & Cacioppo, 1981)
  • Based on the research just reviewed, Petty & Cacioppo developed the Elaboration Likelihood Model(ELM) in the early 1980s
  • The key concepts of the ELM include:
    • Central route
    • Peripheral route
elaboration likelihood model of persuasion
Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion
  • Central route persuasion depends upon being motivatedand able to think about the message content
    • If so, only strong arguments will lead to lasting attitude change; factors that are inconsequential to argument quality (e.g., source credibility) will matter little
    • Argument quality is said to be a central route cue
  • Peripheral route persuasion is more likely to occur when a message recipient is neither able nor motivated to think about the arguments in a message
    • In such cases, argument quality makes no difference at all
    • Only factors that are peripheral to the message (e.g., speaker attractiveness, mood, number of arguments, source credibility, etc), called peripheral cues, will influence whether or not the message recipient is persuaded
prototypical elm study
Prototypical ELM Study
  • Petty, Cacioppo, & Goldman (1981)
    • College students receive a persuasive message regarding mandatory comprehensive exams for graduating seniors
    • Some are told that it could happen next year (high relevance), others told it would not happen for 10 years (low relevance)
    • The message contained either strong or weak arguments
      • Strong arguments: based on statistics, hard data, etc
      • Weak arguments: personal opinions, single examples, etc
    • Also, subjects were told that either:
      • the message was based on a report from a renowned Princeton professor (high expertise), or,
      • The message was based on a report from a local high school class (low expertise)

Petty, Cacioppo, & Goldman (1981)

When subjects were motivated to think about the message (i.e., high relevance), only argument quality had any effect in changing attitudes.Source expertise had little effect.

However, when subjects were not motivated to cognitively scrutinize the message (low relevance), argument quality did not have much of an effect. Source expertise (a peripheral cue) did have an effect.

another prototypical elm study
Another Prototypical ELM Study
  • Petty & Cacioppo (1984)
    • College students get the same “mandatory comprehensive exams for seniors” persuasive message as earlier
    • Some are told that it could happen next year (high relevance), others told it would not happen for 10 years (low relevance)
    • The message again contained either strong or weak arguments
    • Also, the message contained either 9 arguments (some strong, some weak) or only 3 arguments (all strong or weak)
      • The number of argumentsin a message is a peripheral cue, and presumably will have little effect under conditions in which the subject is motivated to cognitive scrutinize the arguments of the message. But, it should have an effect under the low relevance condition.
elaboration likelihood model
Elaboration Likelihood Model
  • When someone is motivated and able to cognitively scrutinize the arguments in a persuasive message (e.g., when the message is highly relevant), peripheral cues can sometimes have an additive or subtractive effect on persuasion
    • This means that peripheral cues can bias the processing of a message in a positive or negative way
    • This is most likely to happen when the arguments in a persuasive message are ambiguous. Under such conditions:
      • “Strong” peripheral cue (e.g., highly credible source) = even more attitude change
      • “Weak” peripheral cue (e.g., low credible source) = even less attitude change
elaboration likelihood model58
Elaboration Likelihood Model
  • Chaiken & Maheswaran (1994)
      • Subjects received a persuasive message about new product, the “XT-100” telephone answering machine
      • Some of the subjects were told that it would soon be marketed in their locale (high relevance), whereas other told that it would be marketed in a distant locale (low relevance)
      • Also, some were told that the product description they would read had either appeared in Consumer Reports (high credibility report) or had been prepared for a Kmart pamphlet (low credibility report)
      • Subjects then read one of three messages (product descriptions) that compared XT-100 to competing brands (argument quality)
        • Unambiguous strong
        • Unambiguous weak
        • Ambiguous

Chaiken & Maheswaran (1994)

In the low relevance condition, source credibility affected attitudes, but argument quality did not.

In the high relevance condition, strong arguments were more effective than weak arguments. However, a peripheral cue (source credibility) biased the processing of ambiguous arguments in a positive or negative way, depending on whether the source was low or high in credibility.