Theories of persuasion

Critically compare any two theories of persuasion.

Persuasion is the use of messages to influence an audience. There are three factors affecting persuasion communication, these are the source, the message and the audience. The source has to be credible; this can be shown by competence or by being trustworthy. The attractiveness and likeability of the source is also important in persuasion, likeability can be gained through being similar to the audience. The audience is whom the source, or persuader, is trying to persuade. The message is the arguments that the source is using to persuade the audience. For example, a famous sportsman presents an advertisement for a male aftershave, he is found attractive by women and liked by men, and the message he puts across is that he uses the product; the audience are then persuaded to purchase this product. This is an important area to study, as persuasion is a change in attitudes and therefore a change in behaviour too. Persuasion is used in everyday life, whether it is a company persuading an audience to buy their product by advertising or using persuasion in road safety campaigns. In this essay two theories of persuasion will be discussed and compared, these are the Elaboration Likelihood Model (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986) and the Heuristic Systematic Model (Chaiken, 1980).

The Elaboration Likelihood Model was proposed by Petty and Cacioppo (1986), it suggests that there are two routes used to process the information given to persuade the audience. The route used depends upon how much cognitive effort the audience is willing to use. The central route is taken if a large amount of cognitive effort is used, the audience will look at the arguments used by the source, and use the points, which fit their needs (Hogg & Vaughan, 2005). This is using a high level of elaboration upon the message. The audience will then counter-argue the points made that they do not agree with. For the central route to be used the message needs to be convincing with good quality and quantity of arguments given, otherwise the audience will not spend as much cognitive effort on it. The audience needs the motivation and ability to receive the message, as the audience is active in the persuasion process via the central route. Another route that can be taken is the peripheral route. The peripheral route doesn't require cognitive effort, as it is based on more superficial cues. Therefore using low-level elaboration on the arguments given, and these arguments are not carefully processed. For example, the audience may be persuaded to buy a product because the advertiser presenting the product is attractive. The result of an attitude change depends on whether persuasion cues are present.

Chaiken's (1980) Heuristic-Systematic Model suggests that the audience use either a heuristic or systematic way of processing the information given by the source. The systematic process involves carefully considering the arguments given (Hogg & Vaughan, 2005). Otherwise the audience will use heuristics, which are also known as mental short cuts. Heuristics are simple decision rules, such as safety in numbers, which help to make a decision as they simplify the handling of information (Hogg & Vaughan, 2005). For example, an advertisement for a new toothpaste may use an expert to explain why the toothpaste should be brought, the audience may think, "experts know best", therefore using the heuristic process to make a decision upon whether they would buy the product. If the audience does not feel confident with this attitude, then they will use systematic processing, where they will consider the points made about the toothpaste. Therefore the Heuristic Systematic Model uses both processes simultaneously.

Research around the Heuristic Systematic Model has found factors that may influence persuasion, such as Mackie and Worth (1989) who found that participants who were in a happy mood thought less about the message compared to participants who were in a neutral or sad mood. Therefore showing that people who are in a good mood will use heuristic processing, because it's more difficult to use a systematical process when feeling in a good mood. Bohner, Chaiken and Hunyadi (1994) induced happy or sad moods, and then they gave participants either a strong, weak or ambiguous argument, all using a high credibility source. They found that unambiguous arguments and sad mood participants were more easily influenced when they used heuristic processing. Gorn (1982) found that participants were more likely to choose a product if they liked the background music on the advertisement. This was found to be because, according to Belch and Belch (2004, as cited in Hogg & Vaughan, 2005), good music puts people in a good mood. They also found that a repeated association through classical conditioning with the product and a good mood lead to a positive evaluation of the product.

Another factor influencing which type of process we use is the emotional content within the message. Research into the type of processing used when levels of fear within a message are varied was carried out by Hale, Lemieux and Mongeau (1995), who found participants used peripheral processing for high-fear content and central processing for low-fear content.

The Elaboration Likelihood Model (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986) and the Heuristic Systematic Model (Chaiken, 1980) are both dual-process models, which means both models suggest that there are two ways used to process the information given to persuade the audience. They both believe that information processing is through systematic and non-systematic, this is whether there is thought or not much thought involved in the process. The Elaboration Likelihood Model shows that the audience can be active, through the central route, or passive, through the peripheral route, in the process of persuasion. Both models are easy to understand and provide good descriptions, as well as proposing ways in which the persuasive messages information is processed.

The term "route" in the Elaboration Likelihood Model suggests that it is either the central or peripheral used only, whereas the Heuristic Systematic Model states that both heuristic and systematic processes can be used together, for example, as the audience needs to realise the expert in the advertisement to conclude that the "expert knows best". Therefore the process is not completely passive.

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