Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion
This model was developed by researchers in the field of social psychology to explain the different ways of persuading an audience. The model posits that there is a continuum of approaches to persuasion which is anchored on one end by the Central Route and on the other end by the Peripheral Route. To determine which approach is appropriate, you need to assess the ability, motivation, and opportunity of an audience to "elaborate" on what it hears.
Elaboration is a cognitive process in which a person actively thinks about the information being presented. The likelihood that someone will think about (elaborate on) the ideas depends on three conditions.
- Ability refers to an audience's mental capability to process information. It also refers to whether the audience has the requisite knowledge or experience (even a bright English major is unlikely to be able to process information presented in a graduate physics class).
- Motivation refers to the audience's willingness to put forth the effort to process the information.
- Opportunity refers to the audience's control over the situation (were there any distractions, etc.?).
When the Central Route Is Appropriate
When ability, motivation and opportunity to process information (to elaborate) are high, the central route is the "best" route to persuasion. In this situation, an individual will
- listen to the arguments and reasoning that are presented,
- make the cognitive effort to retrieve information from her/his existing schema,
- evaluate the quality of the arguments which are presented in light of what she/he already knows and believes.
The success of the persuasion is thought to rest on the quality of the arguments that are presented.
When the Peripheral Route Is Appropriate
On the other hand, if ability, and/or motivation, and/or opportunity to process information (to elaborate) are low, then the peripheral route is the "best" route. In this situation, an individual is simply not willing,* or able, to make the cognitive effort necessary to retrieve internally stored information which would allow assessment of the quality of the arguments being presented. Thus, the persuader attempts to use peripheral cues (cues outside the inherent meaning of the object of persuasion) to influence the individual. These cues may be celebrity endorsers, symbols or images which have positive affective associations for the individual (such as babies or puppies), music, humor, etc. Even the sheer number of arguments may become a cue.
* Lack of willingness to elaborate may stem from mental laziness, lack of sufficient knowledge, lack of mental ability, and/or a perception that the issue is of little personal relevance or importance.
Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1986), Communication and Persuasion: Central and Peripheral Routes to Attitude Change, New York: Springer-Verlag.
Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1981), Attitudes and Persuasion: Classic and Contemporary Approaches, Dubuque, IA: W. M. C. Brown.
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