Literature Review



Statement of Problem 

Literature Review 

Rationale and  
Research Questions 




     One of the most important goals of language and communication is persuasion.  A great deal of communication seeks to change one’s minds about issues and objects, feelings about people or things, and the ways people behave.  Persuasion is done through a variety of means, consciously or unconsciously.  Classical rhetorical scholars and contemporary communication theorists have sought to explain persuasive communication for more than 2,500 years (Infante, Rancer & Womack, 1997). According to scientific research findings, Brigance (1961) found that these early thinkers, Aristotle, Cicero, Quintilian and the medieval and renaissance rhetoricians, were right in their interpretations of the basic principles of persuasion.   
     Persuasion is at least one of the ways in which a person attempts to get something fixed or changed (Hamilton, 1999).  From that perspective, Wiener (1994) believes a person cannot persuade a mass audience of people until he or she inspires those around him or her.  Redding (1984) feels that a persuader cannot get others to accept a new proposal or idea until he or she perceives it to be a good idea.  Furthermore, O’Keefe (1990) added humor in a persuasive message could have an effect on perceptions of the communicator.  According to Cartwright (1949), it is easier to get people to do something they want to do than something they do not want to do.  Swindle (1983) states that persuading someone to do what a person wants done is not always easy.  
Elaboration Likelihood Theory 
     The elaboration likelihood theory focuses on the aspects of persuasive situations leading to persuasion (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986).  The theory infers that persuasion occurs as a result of the content of the message itself or as a result of the characteristics of the persuasion situation.  The theory breaks these areas into two persuasion routes: the central route and the peripheral route.   
     In the central route to persuasion, there is a good deal of issue-related thinking in which the receiver takes the time to carefully consider the content of the message causing a favorable attitude to form (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986).  When attempting to use this route, the persuader is anticipating the receiver will cognitively consider the information in the message. 
     In the peripheral route to persuasion, the receiver does not rely on the content of the message, but rather the situation in which the persuasion is presented.  Things such as trustworthiness of the source, expertise of the source, and physical attractiveness of the source are examples of things guiding decisions during peripheral persuasion (Infante et al., 1997).  This route is seen as an easy route because not much thinking is involved. 
     There are two factors effecting the likelihood of a person elaborating about a persuasive message.  One factor of elaboration is the factors influencing motivation to elaborate.  The second factor is the factors influencing ability to motivate (Infante et al., 1997). Motivation deals with the receiver’s involvement in the persuasive message.  The receiver’s ability to elaborate is influenced by things such as distractions, topic knowledge, and how comprehensible the message is.   
Source credibility: A peripheral route  
     Littlejohn (1978) concentrated his study of communication and persuasion on Aristotle, a fourth century Greek philosopher, scientist and social interpreter, who produced many classical works affiliated with the nature of things and the nature of people.  Aristotle and other theorists were concerned with source credibility as the most powerful means of persuasion, and were able to group it into three headings: good sense, good moral character, and good will toward an audience.  
     Likewise, in the 1950s, Hovland and his associates popularized the term “source credibility” and used it to describe a communicator’s characteristics associated with the degree of acceptance of a message (Kertz, Consuelo, Ohanian, & Roobino, 1992).  According to Bettinghaus (1968), some of these characteristics encompass sex, race, education, and occupation, as well as other variables like the attitude held by a receiver, knowledge of the subject, emotional qualities, importance placed on certain topics, and the ways in which a person perceives the social situation.   
     According to Infante et al. (1997), if people have our best interests in mind, we perceive them as having good character.  Puddifoot’s (1996) study revealed an audience’s responses would be strongly affected by the definite characteristics of a speaker.  Roskow-Ewoldson (1997) states, “The characteristics of an audience and the perceiver also influence the subjects' implicit theories of persuasion” (p. 31).  Infante et al. (1997) state, if we think a speaker is trying to mislead us, we assess his or her character as inferior.  Persuasion is often difficult, if not impossible, because most people are averse to change.  Nevertheless, if someone has affection for a subject, persuasion can carry the mark of integrity 
(Reid, 1956).  
     Nevertheless, O’Keefe (1990) goes on to discuss liking as another possible source credibility issue.  O’Keefe (1990) refers to liking as having similar attitudes as opposed to having similar traits, abilities, occupations, or backgrounds.  Furthermore, research indicated liking for a communicator could influence judgments of a communicator’s trustworthiness, but not competence.  “Thus, one should not assume that with greater perceived attitudinal similarity comes greater persuasive effectiveness.  Rather, with greater perceived attitudinal similarity comes greater liking, which may or may not mean greater persuasive effectiveness” (O’Keefe, 1990, p. 149).  Oskamp’s (1977) research on liking revealed that sometimes praise from a stranger has more effect than praise from a family member or friend, because it is unexpected and different.   
Expertise and Trust 
     Barnlund and Haiman’s (1960) findings revealed credibility in delivering a persuasive message depended on a source’s expertise and trustworthiness.  According to Hart and Applbaum (1984), credibility is highly correlated with competence and trust.  These two aspects play key roles in determining whether an audience accepts the messages from the source or is skeptical of the messages.  Competence is noted to be the ability to know and do something well, and trust is what is known as predictable and nonthreatening.  They are separable, but strongly influence each other.  A person could be carefully thought about as competent, but not trusted.  Or, a person can be perceived as very trustworthy, but of questionable competence.  Trust rises and falls more quickly, but competence is slower to develop and must be earned.   
Expertise and Relationships 
      On the other hand, Conger's (1998) investigation established two sources: expertise and relationships.  If people have a history of proving themselves knowledgeable and well informed, other people will see them as experts and very credible.  In fact, Conger’s (1998) findings showed that when colleagues trusted the persuader more, they listened more attentively.  
     Of course, personality can play an important factor too in a person’s ability to persuade (Reid, 1956).  Littlejohn (1978) noted a relationship between personality and persuadability, and that it cannot be understood without taking into account the ways in which various personality factors affect intelligence, age, self-esteem and anxiety.  Fluharty (1981) contended that not only personality, but character, reputation, and appearance accounted for effects of source credibility. 
     In addition, O’Keefe (1990) stated that a source’s speaking rate was another factor that could influence credibility.  Furthermore, O'Keefe (1990) stated that in past investigations, other researchers found that increasing speaking rates led to a large extent in greater perceived knowledgeability, intelligence, and objectivity.   
     Nevertheless, Montgomery (1979) stated, a person speaking in a pleasant, modulated voice, with conviction and sincerity, could easily influence others.  Another researcher, Janis (1973) believed that the use of colorful and lively words heightened an audience’s interest and desire.  According to Wells (1968), “purr words” make people respond warmly and “snarl words” make people angry.  Advertisers, politicians and propagandists have been noted to use these words to win people’s dollars, votes, and minds.   
Verbal and nonverbal signs 
     Fletcher (1998) maintained that nonverbal signs played a vital role in persuasive communication.  “In face-to-face communication, nonverbal messages are used to support verbal messages” (Goss, 1982, p. 58).   A person’s voice and body could explain or augment verbal messages.  Taking that one step further, Littlejohn (1978) documents that persuasive messages can be verbal, nonverbal, or mixed.  The criterion is that the message is what largely determines the effects of persuasion.   
     Fletcher (1998) also investigated how strong or weak verbal and nonverbal contents of a message affected a source’s credibility.  Findings proved if a person avoided eye contact, did not smile, or shifted posture, that person was less credible as an expert, but had no effect on attitude.  No matter how persuasive a person’s arguments are, if that person comes across as uncertain, unknowledgeable, or unlikable, their message will have few positive effects on listeners.   
Beliefs, attitudes, and behavior 
     Blair (1996) wrote that people find themselves more comfortable identifying persuasion as those cases of belief/attitude/behavior influence in which speech is involved, even if it can be other factors than the speaker's arguments, such as ethos or the figures used, which are persuasive.  Many researchers have different definitions though of attitudes and beliefs.  Littlejohn (1978) defined beliefs as probability statements of existence; evaluation or judgment.  According to Fishbein (1967), there are two kinds of belief, both of which are probability statements.  First, belief in a thing and second, belief about a thing.  Littlejohn (1978) suggested attitudes were learned and could change as new learning occurs throughout life.  McGuire (1969) pointed out that attitudes are ambiguous, and have an affective or emotional component.  Another approach from Katz (1954) specified four functions of attitudes: utilitarian or adaptive; knowledge economy; expressing the self and the ego-defensive role.  Oskamp (1977) believed that attitude change could result if people receive new data that is incompatible with their pervious viewpoints, or if existing inconsistencies in their beliefs and attitudes are pointed out to them.  Lastly, Katz (1954) stated behavior enables a person to act upon and affect the environment.   
     Finally, Littlejohn (1978) states, “Persuasion supports power, and power supports persuasion.  In practice, the coin cannot be split” (p. 251). 
Message: A central route 
     Cosby (1994) states that the effectiveness of a message depends in large measure on the kind of information the persuader provides.  Hence, Martel (1984) ascertained that the first thing a good persuader should do is to analyze how his or her ideas or arguments can render greater satisfaction of an audience’s needs than the current circumstances, or a proposal favored by the opposition.  To establish credibility, a person needs to get to the problem early.  One of the goals is to keep the audience awake, and that can be done through attention-getting devices.  The more interesting a persuader makes the message, the more likely the audience will pay attention to it, and be influenced by it (McCroskey, 1968).  However, Oskamp (1977) perceives that according to consistency principles, if a person likes the other person, perception of the message will be positive.  Nevertheless, Janis (1973) points out that if an audience develops opposition to a particular kind of message, attracting attention becomes more difficult.   
     So rather than providing only vague documentation or no documentation at all, persuaders are known to frequently include evidence in their persuasive messages (O’Keefe, 1990).  Evidence, according to Janis (1973) is considered as facts and opinions.  For a speaker to be credible and convincing, the facts have to come from reliable sources, be verifiable, relevant, and clearly stated.  On the other hand, opinions come from a personal belief or judgment, and do not rest alone on knowledge.  The ideal conditions for use of opinions as evidence means coming from a qualified expert, relating to a specific area where the expert practiced, and the opinion is unbiased.       However, to be persuasive and credible, it is not necessary for opinions to meet all or any of these conditions.  For instance, many times an actor or public figure is chosen to give an endorsement, and he or she is neither an authority nor free of bias, but has the audience’s confidence.   
Theory application 
     Working with the concept that the two routes of elaboration likelihood theory are not mutually exclusive, this study will emphasize using a combination of both.  By creating a strong persuasive message and a credible source to deliver it, the hope is to persuade the audience.