Persuasion, Elements of Persuasion and Resisting Persuasion: Attitude inoculation

Persuasion, Elements of Persuasion and Resisting Persuasion: Attitude inoculation

What is persuasion? What are the essential elements of Persuasion? Give summary of the case study “Resisting Persuasion: Attitude inoculation”.

 Persuasion :

Persuasion refers to the process by which a person’s attitudes or behaviour are, without duress, influenced by communication. Persuasion pervades over almost all human activities and it is geared to information transmission in such a way as to get people to revise old pictures (Predisposition) in their minds, or form new ones, and thus change their behaviour. To some others persuasion is seen as “Communication to influence choices”. Still to others it is “a process that changes attitude, belief, opinion or behaviour”.

Actually, we try to sell ideas, concepts, products etc. through the art of persuasion. Persuasion may be carried out in offices, workplaces, homes, etc. by fellow workers or neighbours.

Persuasion has been treated as an art, a craft and a science since ancient times and classical thinkers like Aristotle and Cicero devoted whole the topic. In the middle ages, it was one of the basic liberal arts which was mastered practically by all the educated men. Even the religious preachers used the spoken word to move the men to virtue. In the form of advertising, persuasion is supporting a major industry these days.

Components of Persuasion:

The components or factors involved in the communication process are source, message, channel, receiver and destination. Source factors include the perceived sender of the communication. The “message” refers to what he says and includes style, content and organization, while “Channel” designates the medium (e.g. press, radio, television) through which the message is communicated. As regards the “receiver” factors, it refers to the persons (e.g. age, sex, etc.) to whom the communication is directed and the “destination” indicates the behaviour (e.g. voting) the communication is designed to influence.

The process of persuasion involves a series of successive steps: The communication is presented; the person pays attention to it; he comprehends the contents of the message and also the basic conclusion being urged. However, for persuasion to be effected the individual must agree with or yield to the point being urged and then finally act on it or in other words carry out the behaviour implied due to the new change in his attitude. For example, he enlists in the army, starts contributing to a charity etc.

A group of social psychologists at Yale University have developed a communication model of persuasion that identifies the following major components: the source; the message itself; the context of the message; and the audience.

1. The Source

The source of a persuasive message is the communicator who is presenting it. A source is more persuasive if he or she is seen as credible(believable) and attractive. There are two ways to be credible: claiming to be an expert, and appearing to be trustworthy. When a tennis star endorses a particular brand of athletic shoe, she is persuasive because she is an expert. When an actor who always plays heroes endorses a product, he is persuasive because his career as a “good guy” makes him appear trustworthy.

There are also two ways for a source to be attractive: physical appeal and similarity to the audience. When automobile commericals feature beautiful men and women at the wheel, advertisers hope that the models’ physical appeal will make the commerical persuasive. When a beer commerical portrays a group of blue-collar men enjoying a particular brand of beer, the commerical is persuasive to audience members who consider themselves similar to the characters depicted.

2. The Message

Persuasive messages can involve emotional appeals or rational arguments. When time is limited, short emotional appeals may be more effective than rational arguments. For example, anti-smoking campaigns with slogans like “Smokers Stink!” may be more persuasive than lists of recent statistical findings about the health of smokers versus nonsmokers.

Should a message be one-sided or should it present both sides of an issue? Research shows that when the audeience is highly involved and already sympathetic, a one-sided message is more persuasive. In contrast, when an audeince is undecided or uninvolved, a two-sided message seems more fair and persuasive. There is also evidence that more intelligent audiences are persuaded better by two-sided messages, probably because they more readily recognize that there are two sides to the issue.

3. The Context :

Advertisers often have difficulty overcoming the internal arguments that compete with their persuasive messages. When we listen to or read a persuasive message, we are usually free to limit our attention or silently counter argue with its arguments. For this reason, many salespeople will try to prevent internal counterarguing by distracting a customer. For example, if a customer is urged to “try out” a new appliance while the salesperson talks about its features, the cusotmer will already be paying attention to two things- using the appliance and listening to the salesperson – and will have difficulty rehearsing counterarguments. Laboratory research has shown that when subjects are distracted, they are more likely to accept a persuasive message than when they have been allowed to concentrate on their counterarguments.

4. The Audience:

Numerous research efforts have focused on the recipients of persuasive messages, the audience, to discover when some people are more persuadable than others. Many audience characteristics interact with message variables, like involvement or intelligence. Intelligent recipents are more persuaded by complex messages, while unintelligent recipients are more persuaded by simple emotional messages.

Other audience reasearch has identified characteristics like age or lifestyle as relevant to persuasiveness. For example, young people may be more likely to accept a message that promised popularity, while older people would find security or health amore appealing promise.


This exposure to persuasive influences has perhaps made you wonder if it is possible to resist unwanted persuasion. Of course it is. If, because of an aura of credibility, the repairperson’s uniform and doctor’s title have intimidated us into unquestioning agreement, we can rethink our habitual responses to authority. We can seek more information before committing time or money. We can question- what we don’t understand.


Before encountering others’ judgments, make a public commitment to your position. Having stood up for your convictions, you become less susceptible (or should we say less “open”?) to what others have to say.

Challenging Beliefs

How might we stimulate people to commit themselves? From his experiments, Charles Kiesler (1971) offers one possible way: Mildly attack their position. Kiesler found that when committed people were attacked strongly enough to cause them to react, but not so strongly as to overwhelm them, they became even more committed. Kiesler explains:

When you attack a committed person and your attack is of inadequate strength, you drive him to even more extreme behaviors in defense of his previous commitment His commitment escalates, in a sense, because the number of acts consistent with his belief increases, (p. 88)

Perhaps you can recall a time when this happened in an argument, as those involved escalated their rhetoric, committing themselves to increasingly extreme positions.

Developing Counterarguments

There is a second reason a mild attack might build resistance. Like inoculations against disease, weak arguments prompt counterarguments, which are then available for a stronger attack. William McGuire (1964) documented this in a series of experiments. McGuire wondered: Could we inoculate people against persuasion much as we inoculate them against a virus? Is there such a thing as attitude inoculation? Could we take people raised in a “germ-free ideological environment”—people who hold some unquestioned belief—-and stimulate their mental defenses? And would subjecting them to a small “dose” of belief-threatening material inoculate them against later persuasion?

That is what McGuire did. First, he found some cultural truisms, such as ‘It’s a good idea to brush your teeth after every meal if at all possible.” He then showed that people were vulnerable to a massive, credible assault upon these truisms (for example, prestigious authorities were said to have discovered that too much tooth brushing can damage one’s gums). If, however, before having their belief attacked, they were “immunized” by first receiving a small challenge to their belief, and if they read or wrote an essay- in refutation of this mild attack, then they were better able to resist the powerful attack.

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