| 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
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
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
(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,
(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
(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.
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.