Two Routes to Persuasion
When you listen to a persuasive communication, what determines whether it changes your mind? Is it factors related to who is speaking (the source), the content of the communication (the message), your knowledge about the topic (the audience), the place where you first heard it (the context), or the manner in which you received it (e.g., audio versus print; the channel)? The answer is that all of these variables can play a role in changing your attitudes and beliefs, but how each variable exerts its influence depends on the favorability of your response to it. If the variable elicits favorable thoughts, your attitude is likely to be positive after the message. If the variable elicits unfavorable thoughts, then your final attitude is likely to be negative toward the message.
There are two general modes of thinking that determine when source, message, audience, content, and channel variables influence your responses to a message. On the one hand, when you are motivated and have the ability to think carefully about what someone is saying to you, the content of the message has a greater impact on your final attitude than the source of the message. This route to persuasion is called the "central route" because it is relatively effortful and leads to long-lasting attitude change. Central route persuasion occurs because as you think carefully about the message, your thoughts are favorable, and this leads you to conclude that the message's content is accurate and should be permanently adopted into your view of the topic.
On the other hand, when you are not motivated to think about the message, or do not have the ability to think about it, then factors like the source of the message have greater impact than the content. This route to persuasion is called the "peripheral route" because it is less effortful and leads to short-term attitude change. Peripheral route persuasion occurs because even though you are not thinking about the content of the message, you are thinking about the expert source, or about how the message makes you feel great, and as a result, your responses are favorable. You wind up adopting the new point of view, but since it is not based on much consideration, the new attitude does not last. This week's Learning Resources consider several factors that determine when and how each route to persuasion influences you.
To prepare for this Discussion:
• Read Chapter 5 in the course text, Persuasion: Psychological Insights and Perspectives.
• Reflect on the assumption that you are motivated to hold "correct" attitudes and beliefs. Are there other reasons why you might come to hold a "reasonable" attitude?
• Consider the concept of elaboration and why it is the "hallmark" of central route persuasion. Think about the relationship between elaboration and a "cognitive response." Also consider the difference between objective and biased elaboration.
• Think about the difference between heuristic and systematic processing. Consider the text explanation for why you are a "cognitive miser" and rely on heuristic processing most of the time.
• Carefully reflect on the conditions under which you are likely to engage in systematic processing of a persuasive message (i.e., the central route). How might you explain the path in Figure 5.2 that leads from a persuasive message to central positive attitude change.
• Now work through the conditions under which you are likely to engage in heuristic processing of a persuasive message (i.e., the peripheral route) and think about how you would explain the multiple paths in Figure 5.2 that lead from a persuasive message to peripheral attitude shift.
• Consider how motivation and ability impact thinking about a persuasive message.
• Next, think about how personal relevance, need for cognition, forewarning of persuasive intent, and open-mindedness influence your motivation to think about a message.
• Reflect on how distraction, head movements, intelligence, and knowledge about the issue impact your ability to think about a message.
• Think of someone in your life whose words and ideas have had a profound effect on you, like a friend, a teacher, an employer, a member of the clergy, or a member of your immediate family; someone to use for this Discussion. This person may have said something once that really changed your thinking and attitudes about an issue, or perhaps this person influenced you after several conversations or lectures about the issue.
With these thoughts in mind:
Post by Day 4 a brief description of the person you chose and your relationship to him or her. Next, describe how he or she strongly influences you and discuss whether this person's influence travels primarily through the central or peripheral route to persuasion. If central, how does this person motivate and allow you the ability to process the message? What is the strongest and weakest argument this person presents to you? If the route is mostly peripheral, explain why your motivation and/or ability to process the message are low. What positive source cue, heuristic, or other variable accounts for this person's influence on you? Finally, explain whether this person's influence on you is/was temporary or long lasting and why.