Persuasion Theory - Explained
What is Persuasion Theory?
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Table of ContentsWhat is Persuasion Theory?What is the Persuasion Formula?What are the Four Psychological Factors of Audiences?Longer Messages are more Persuasive? What Factors Reinforce Persuasion? When are Messages Successful at Persuasion?What are the Purposes of Persuasion?Where is Persuasion Theory Applied? What is the History of Persuasion Theory?
What is Persuasion Theory?
Persuasion Theory is a mass communication theory that deals with messages aimed at subtly changing the attitudes of receivers.
According to this theory, the communication process consists of a three phase model:
The concept underlying persuasion is that information is provided to influence receivers’ behaviors.
The psychological characteristics of an individual are the filters for a message.
In this context, , persuasive messages are able to stimulate changes in attitude that, in turn, modify behaviors of recipients.
Note: This theory considered audiences to be passive recipients of messages, rather than active participants in the consumption of communications.
Back to: Negotiations & Communications
What is the Persuasion Formula?
Following a rational approach to persuasion a scientific formula has been identified.
Values, Beliefs, and Motivation are key generators of people’s attitudes. Attitudes then influence behaviors.
Value + Beliefs + Motives = Attitudes → Behavior
What are the Four Psychological Factors of Audiences?
4 psychological factors of audiences have been identified:
- Interest —Attention: An audience is interested in getting information. The message has to be designed to capture people’s attention.
- Selective Exposure. People are more interested in a message if it supports the same opinions and ideas that they already have.
Selective Perception.Audiences select information that is right for them, and a message can be voluntarily misunderstood or simply not caught if audiences haven’t chosen to receive that piece of information. A receiver perceives opinions embedded in a message according to variable assimilation effects depending upon:
- Lack of big difference between the opinion delivered by a message and the receiver’s one.
- Level of involvement of a receiver in the communication process.
- A receiver’s attitude towards the message producer.
- Selective memorization. Opinions transmitted by a message will be better memorized if they are coherent with those of receivers’. There is also a link between the message length and its memorization in a receiver's mind: the longer a message is, the more effective the persuasion on the receiver will be.
Longer Messages are more Persuasive?
This statement, in media literature, is supported by 2 thesis:
- Bartlett’s Effect: a longer message requires more time for a receiver to research and select opinions coherent with his mindset.
- Latent Effect: as time goes by from the reception of a message, receivers tend to forget the source and remember only the content of the message. Latent effect is exploited in case of communicators with low credibility.
What Factors Reinforce Persuasion?
Regarding the message, Persuasion Theory identified 4 factors that facilitate and reinforce the persuasion process:
- The credibility and reputation of the communicator. It implies the acceptance of the message by a receiver: the level of persuasion is low if the producer of the message is considered not credible or reliable.
- The order of statements. In this respect there are two different schools of thought: some consider it more effective to put opinions supporting a defined position at the beginning of the message transmitted (primacy effect); others sustain the opposite (regency effect).
- Completeness of statements. If receivers are not in favor of a certain opinion, the persuasion increases when a message contains both supporting and contrasting statements regarding the opinion. If receivers agree on a certain opinion or are not knowledgeable or educated, it is better a message includes only pros of the opinion supported. In any case, it has negative effect in terms of persuasion if any relevant topic about an opinion is omitted in the content of the message.
- Announcement of conclusions. If a receiver is interested in a message it is better not to barely state the conclusions of the message, but to leave them implicit.
When are Messages Successful at Persuasion?
Messages are successful only if they embed the same opinions of their receivers.
Therefore, the focus of any campaign has to be on individual psychological factors.
Carol S. Lilly, in “Power and Persuasion: Ideology and Rhetoric in Communist Yugoslavia: 1944-1953”, concluded:
- Persuasion is most effective when a communicator builds on existing values and beliefs. Attempting to change people's values or create new ones (thus changing culture) has proven to be highly ineffective.
- Those who don’t take in media communications are less likely to be persuaded.
What are the Purposes of Persuasion?
It has been proven that persuasion works well only if its purposes are realistic, taking into account an audience values, beliefs, motives and attitudes. Persuasion can be effective to achieve the following 5 main purposes.
- Creating Uncertainty. In case a communicator is faced with an audience who is strongly opposed to her view, the most viable way is to destroy some certainties in the audience mind. This scenario is typical of audience with closed mentality. What is achievable in such situation is a decrease of comfort with a defined audience attitude.
- Reducing Resistance. When an audience opposition to the communicator’s view is moderate it is possible to move an audience from a negative position to a neutral one. This is often achieved by asking only to accept the validity of the communicator’s opinion, even if audience doesn’t endorse it.
- Change Attitude. If a communicator is faced with a neutral and open-minded audience, not strongly committed to any attitude, this goal is accomplishable.
- Amplify Attitude. This applies in situations where an audience is already moderately favorable to the persuader's view. It would be adequate to design a message aimed at reinforcing the validity of an opinion to sustain the current attitude and prevent competitor persuaders to influence an audience already conquered.
- Gain Behavior. In the presence of an audience strongly favorable to a persuader's position, the goal is to get those people to take actions in line with the shared attitude. Typical examples are brainwash to militaries and sales people: even though they already are convinced on an attitude, it is needed to reinforce their commitment in order to make them act. It is can be expected from such audiences that they will persuade less convinced or weaker individuals via word of mouth.
Where is Persuasion Theory Applied?
Persuasion Theory can be applied in:
- Conflicts and negotiations.
What is the History of Persuasion Theory?
The concept of Persuasion originated with studies in the 1940s and 1950s aimed at defining the optimal persuasive effectiveness of Propaganda.
Researches on Persuasion Theory turned their focus to the audiences and the content of messages.