Theoretical and practical concerns
• Attempts to persuade you are everywhere all the
– That is, wherever you go now, someone is trying to
influence you
– The attempts don’t stop—they go on day and night
• Advanced industrial countries rely heavily on
persuasion for social influence
– Less emphasis on brute force
– Mass communication available
• Persuasion is more efficient and may be more effective
• Persuasion is the use of communication to
influence beliefs, attitudes and/or behavior
– If the persuasive communication is meant first and
foremost to advance the interests of the
speaker/author ahead of other considerations, it
is propaganda
• The study of persuasion has been one of the
main foci of media studies
Applied research
• Most persuasion research is meant to test
specific persuasive communications strategies
or tactics rather than to build theory
– Advertising research
• Copytesting
• Campaigns studies
– Propaganda studies
– Educational/persuasive campaigns
• Public health interventions
Theory development
• Theory may be developed and tested using
scientific research methods
– Experimental studies, usually
• More often, the results of advertising,
educational campaigns reviewed and theory is
induced from real-world experience
– Advertising effectiveness monitoring
Hovland and colleagues
• First recruited to study the effectiveness of the
U.S. government’s attempts to educate
soldiers and boost morale during World War II
– The Why We Fight series
• Followed up the American Soldiers studies
with a program of research on persuasion
– Yale School of persuasion research
Hovland et al.
• Applied Lasswell’s paradigm for study:
– Who?
– Says What?
– To Whom?
– In Which Channel?
– With what effect?
• Hovland et al. looked at the effects of
credibility of source on the effectiveness of
attitude change messages.
– Controlled experimental designs
– Presented identical messages but varied the
source of the message
• News stories and editorials supposedly written by
sources of greater or lesser credibility, or from more or
less credible news organizations
Hovland et al.
• The researchers found that credibility of the
source was an important determinant of the
persuasiveness of the message
– However, the impact of message source seemed to
decay over time
• Sleeper effect
– Credibility of the source was tied to a number of
• Expertise
• Trustworthiness
• Likeability
• Does the source appear to be knowledgeable
on the topic?
– A source may be perceived to have expertise even
if he doesn’t
• “I‘m not a doctor, but I play one on TV”
• All sorts of actors dressed up as doctors in early
– FCC restricted representations of sources—cannot be
misleading or false
• If the source seems honest and
straightforward we are more likely to be
convinced by what she says
– The audience has some reason to believe the
source is honest
• Newsperson’s commitment to objectivity
– Walter Cronkite
• A history of openness and honesty (self-disclosure)
– Oprah
• Another source of trustworthiness is situational.
– If the speaker or author is perceived to be
arguing in favor of a position that is in her
self-interest she will be less persuasive
– If you overhear someone talking you are
more likely to be influenced than if they
know you are listening
• An experiment with a supposedly overheard
discussion led to greater attitude change
– When the speaker argues against his own
self-interest, he is more persuasive
• Joe “The Shoulder” Napolitano arguing for
more stringent sentencing
• A group of wealthy people opposed to the
repeal of the inheritance tax
• Personal charm or likeability
– Ronald Reagan
• “Teflon president”
– Celebrity endorsements
• Not really clear why some people are appealing
• Physical attractiveness
– Physically attractive people are liked, trusted
• If the speaker is a lot like the audience member,
he is more likely to be persuasive
– Probably a combination of expertise (she understands
me and my situation) likeability (people like those
who share their view of the world) and
trustworthiness (I can trust someone like me)
• In propaganda studies, this is called “Just Plain Folks”
• Candidates try to portray themselves as resembling the
group they are targeting
– Eating ethnic foods
– Wearing work clothes
• Heavy use of celebrities
– Positive affect prior to advertising, etc.
– Natural on-air presentation
– Physical attractiveness
– Association with certain image, roles
Says what? (content)
• Structure of arguments
– One-sided v. two-sided
– Primacy v. recency
– Conclusive v. non-conclusive
• Rational v. emotional appeals
– Fear
– Humor
• Visual v. semantic appeals
Fear appeals
• Fear appeals have been heavily studied
– Hovland et al. concluded that moderate fear was
the most effective
• Too little fear does not motivate
• Too much fear causes target to avoid message or
– More recent findings have led to conclusion that
high levels of fear work well if a sense of efficacy is
generated and clear means of dealing with the
fear provided
• Emotional content
• Cultural symbolism
– Flags
– Weddings
– Cars
Loss v. gain
Episode v general trend
Examples v. statistics
False comparisons
To whom?
• Personality factors
– Self-esteem
• Curvilinear effect
• Education
– Two-sided messages are more effective with more formally
educated while one-sided are more effective with less
formally educated
– Rational appeals relatively more effective with more
formally educated
• Interest
– Topical interest predicts topical knowledge and preexisting attitudes (varies with demographics)
• Gender
– Women are more persuadable
• May no longer be true
• Social norms/beliefs
• Active participation
• Targeting
– Choice of media based on the ability to reach a
target audience
• Target is usually “low hanging fruit”
• Fish where the fish are
• Fish when the fish are biting
– Messages written for particular audience rather
than for everyone
• “Tailored” messages are now possible—evidence
indicates they are more effective
• Audience feedback is used to improve
messages, further communicate with likely
With what effect?
• Learning
– Most common/easiest change
• Attitude change
– Especially when existing attitudes are not strongly
• Behavior intention
– Most predictive of actual behavior
• Behavior
– Changing behavior is very difficult because of the
multiple influences that determine behavior
• Biological, psychological, situational, cultural influences
With what effect?
• Sleeper effect
• Selectivity
• Interaction with education/demographics
– One-sided v. two-sided
• ‘Boomerang effects’
• Varies across topics/products, audiences,
– Information
– Attitude change
– Positioning/branding
What problems with the experimental
method are there?
• One-time exposure
– Compared with campaigns people experience on a
regular basis
• Forced exposure
– Negates selectivity
• Demand characteristics of experimental method
– Especially when carried out with students
• Overuse of available samples
– “Students may not be people”
What problems with the experimental
method are there?
• Lack of competing messages
• Usually choose topics the audience knows
little about
• Studies of the effectiveness of campaigns
– Advertising
– Political campaigns
– Propaganda campaigns
– Public health campaigns
Campaigns analysis
• The massive use of advertising allows for the
testing of real-world media persuasion across
a wide range of topics
– Meta-analyses of marketing/advertising
– Meta-analyses of copy tests
– Reviews of public health campaigns
– Comparison of political or propaganda campaigns
and public opinion
General findings
• Memory for campaigns is low
– Recognition scores are better
• Attitude change is not often very great
• However, change does occur and can be
significant under certain circumstances
– Topic is relatively unknown
– Media are consonant
– Topic is emotionally charged
• Lodish et al. “Advertising works: A metaanalysis of 389 real world split cable T.V.
advertising experiments”
– TV advertising weight alone is not enough
– The status quo is not enough
– It is unlikely that there is a strong relationship
between standard measures of TV commercial
recall and persuasion for established brands and
the sales impact of the copy
– New brands or line extensions tend to be more
responsive to alternative TV advertising plans than
established products
– These data support the importance of
introductory weight and prime time for new
– Concentration of higher TV advertising weight is
related to increases in brand sales
Dual-processing theory
• Dual-processing theories argue that we
process persuasive messages differently if we
are motivated to attend to them and are
capable of processing them than if we just
monitor them at a very low level or are unable
to process them
– Central v. peripheral processing
Central processing
• If we are motivated and capable of processing
we will carefully review the arguments made
to see if they are convincing according to
rational argument
– Appropriate evidence
– Strength of argument, logic
Peripheral processing
• If we just give slight attention to a persuasive
message, are not motivated enough to dedicate
the effort to evaluate the logic and strength of
argument, then we will tend to process according
to ‘peripheral cues’
– Attractiveness of the source
• May be sexual
– Visual cues/attractiveness of the setting
– Music
– Emotion