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change your opinion. In the current abortion debate, for example, an extreme position on
Chapter 6 Persuasion and Attitude Change 205

either side is based on fundamental values relating to privacy, coercion, and the nature
of life. The issue is certainly relevant to individuals with extreme views, but they are
unlikely to be persuaded to change their opinions by any argument.
If, however, an issue is highly relevant because of a particular outcome, rather than
a value, then a strong, persuasive argument might work (Johnson & Eagly, 1989). If
you are strongly opposed to taking a senior comprehensive exam, a persuasive message
about the outcome, such as the possibility that passing the exam would increase your
chances of getting into graduate school, might well convince you to take it.
Finally, the impact of a personally relevant message on central route processing
also relates to a process called self-af¬rmation (which we shall discuss in more detail
later in this chapter). In short, self-af¬rmation means con¬rming and maintaining oneʼs
self-image (Steele, 1988). Self-af¬rmation may be especially important when person-
ally relevant information is threatening (Harris & Napper, 2005). According to Harris
and Napper, self-af¬rmation promotes processing of threatening information along the
central route. Harris and Napper demonstrated this in an experiment in which college-
age women were exposed to a “health promotion lea¬‚et” in which a link was made
between alcohol consumption and the risk of breast cancer. Some of the participants
wrote an essay describing the values that were most important to them and how they
affected their daily lives (self-af¬rmation condition), whereas other participants wrote
about their least important values. Based on their answers on a pre-experimental ques-
tionnaire concerning alcohol consumption, the participants were divided into two groups:
high-risk women and low-risk women. The results showed that high-risk women who
self-af¬rmed were more likely to accept the content of the message contained in the
health lea¬‚et compared to those who did not self-af¬rm. Further, women in this group
reported a perception of higher risk of developing breast cancer, experienced more
negative affect while reading the lea¬‚et, and indicated a greater intention to reduce
their alcohol consumption. Interestingly, these effects endured over a period of weeks.
Thus, self-af¬rmation can enhance central processing of a threatening, personally rel-
evant message (Harris & Napper, 2005) and better judge the merits of the threatening
message (Correll, Spencer, & Zanna, 2004).

The Impact of Attitude Accessibility on Elaboration
In addition to the relevance of a persuasive message to an individual, processing of a
persuasive message is also in¬‚uenced by attitude accessibility. Attitude accessibility
refers to the ease with which an attitude can be automatically activated when the cor-
respondent attitude object is encountered (Fabrigar, Priester, Petty, & Wegener, 1998).
Attitude accessibility is one dimension along which the strength of an attitude can be
measured. Highly accessible attitudes tend to be stronger than less accessible attitudes.
Fabrigar and colleagues reasoned that highly accessible attitudes may enhance message
elaboration because attitude-relevant information is more readily available than with
less accessible attitudes.
Fabrigar and colleagues (1998) conducted two experiments to investigate the
role of attitude accessibility in persuasion. In the ¬rst experiment, attitude accessi-
bility was measured, and participantsʼ attitudes were classi¬ed as low, moderate, or
high in accessibility. The researchers manipulated the quality of the arguments made
within a persuasive message on nuclear power (high or low quality). The results of
experiment 1 con¬rmed that individuals with high-accessibility attitudes were more
likely to elaborate the persuasive message than those with low accessibility attitudes.
Speci¬cally, argument quality enhanced attitudes among moderately and highly
Social Psychology
206

accessible attitudes but not for low-accessibility attitudes. This effect was strongest
for the individuals with highly accessible attitudes. Data from the second experiment
con¬rmed the ¬rst.
The bottom line is that attitude accessibility mediates the amount of elaboration
that an individual will display when exposed to a persuasive message. High accessi-
bility (high attitude strength) is associated with increased examination of the content
of the message (central route processing). When attitude accessibility is low (a weak
attitude), an individual is less likely to scrutinize the content of the persuasive message
carefully.

Do Vivid Messages Persuade Better Than Nonvivid Messages?
What about the effect of vividness on persuasion? Does it make a difference in our
attitudes or behavior? Advertisers and other persuaders certainly believe that vivid
messages, presented in eye- or ear-catching terms, are persuasive. Social psychologists
interested in this issue stated, “Everybody knows that vividly presented information is
impactful and persuasive” (Taylor & Thompson, 1982, p. 155). However, when these
researchers surveyed the literature on vividness, they found very weak support for the
persuasive power of vivid materials.
In one study of the vividness effect, people were given vivid and nonvivid versions
of crime stories in the news (Collins, Taylor, Wood, & Thompson, 1988). The vivid ver-
sions used colorful language and provided bizarre details. People listened to a vivid or
nonvivid story and then rated its quality in terms of emotion, imagery, interest, and so
forth as well as its persuasiveness. In a second study, people also had to predict how
others would respond to the stories.
The studies found no evidence of a vividness effect; vivid messages had about
the same persuasive effect as nonvivid messages. However, people believed that vivid
messages affected other people. What in¬‚uenced the participants if vividness did not?
Interest: If the message involved a topic that interested them, people felt the message
was more effective. Remember the effects of personal relevance in the elaboration like-
lihood model of persuasion.
On the other hand, some messages, such as political ads, appear to bene¬t from
vividness”perhaps they work because they interest people and force them to pay more
attention than they normally might. One study examined the effects of vivid language
in a trial concerning a dispute between a contractor and a subcontractor on a building
project (Wilson, Northcraft, & Neale, 1989). People playing the role of jurors watched
different videotapes of the trial. One version had vivid phrasing; the other, nonvivid
language (p. 135):

1. There was a spiderweb of cracks through the slab. (vivid)
There was a network of cracks through the slab. (nonvivid)
2. The slab was jagged and had to be sanded. (vivid)
The slab was rough and had to be sanded. (nonvivid)
The jurors tended to award the plaintiff more money when they heard vivid phrases.
So, is there a vividness effect or not? Based on the evidence, it seems that vivid mes-
sages have an initial effect, especially if there is little else to compete with them. In
the trial situation, vivid information had a strong impact when the jurors were pre-
sented with a lot of evidence that was not directly important for their decision, such as
Chapter 6 Persuasion and Attitude Change 207

a history of the building project and pictures of the construction site. Then the jurors
heard the vivid language (“a spiderweb of cracks through the slab”). Given the back-
ground of irrelevant information, they were in¬‚uenced by the one or two vivid mes-
sages they heard.
How can we reconcile the seemingly con¬‚icting results concerning the impact of
vividness? One approach suggests that the impact of vividness depends on the number of
cognitive resources that are devoted to processing a persuasive message (Meyers-Levy
& Peracchio, 1995). According to Meyers-Levy and Peracchio, the impact of vivid
information depends on the degree of correspondence between the resources a person
has available to process a message and the resources required to adequately process
information. Vivid language or illustrations, according to Myers-Levy and Peracchio,
should have the greatest impact when a persuasive message requires relatively few
resources, and a person is highly motivated to process the message. Conversely, for
a highly motivated individual and a persuasive message that requires high levels of
resources, vivid content should not have a strong impact. If an individual is not highly
motivated to process a message, then vividness will serve as a peripheral cue and have
a signi¬cant impact on persuasion.
Myers-Levy and Peracchio (1995) conducted two experiments to con¬rm these
predicted relationships. In their ¬rst experiment, they found that for highly motivated
individuals, a demanding persuasive message (an advertisement of a bicycle) was most
effective when vividness was low (a black-and-white photo of the bicycle and model
was used). For a less demanding message, a vivid message (a color advertisement) was
more effective. In the second experiment, low-motivation and highly motivated indi-
viduals were included. They found that for low-motivation individuals, a vivid message
was more effective than a less vivid message. For highly motivated individuals, the
impact of vividness (color) depended on the level of resources needed to process the
message (as described earlier). These results were supported by three experiments by
Keller Punam and Block (1997).
Thus, in a situation in which much information already has been made available
(low demand), or when the audience is particularly interested in the issue, one vivid
message may not have a signi¬cant impact. However, when people are not particularly
interested, a vivid message may have signi¬cant impact. In other words, vividness is a
peripheral cue. When individuals ¬nd the message interesting and personally relevant,
they process centrally, and vividness has little effect. But when the cognitive miser is
at work, a vivid message may have a de¬nite in¬‚uence on attitudes.

Need for Cognition: Some Like to Do It the Hard Way
Some people prefer central route processing no matter what the situation or how complex
need for cognition (NC)
the evidence. These people have a high need for cognition (NC). According to Cacioppo,
An individual difference
Petty, and Morris (1983), high-NC people like to deal with dif¬cult and effortful prob-
dimension in persuasion
lems. On a scale assessing this cognitive characteristic, they agree with such statements
concerning the degree to
as, “I really enjoy a task that invokes coming up with new solutions to problems,” and which individuals prefer
they disagree with such statements as, “I only think as hard as I have to.” effortful processing of
High-NC people are concerned with the validity of the messages they receive, information.
which suggests that they rely mainly on central route processing (Cacioppo et al., 1983).
High-NC individuals also organize information in a way that allows them to remember
messages and use them later (Lassiter, Briggs, & Bowman, 1991). Those low in need
for cognition tend to pay more attention to the physical characteristics of the speaker,
indicating peripheral processing (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986).
Social Psychology
208

High-NC individuals are also better able to distinguish the authenticity on persua-
sive information than low-NC individuals (Engleberg & Sjöberg, 2005). Engleberg and
Sjöberg showed high- and low-NC individuals ¬lms about the risks of nuclear energy.
One of the ¬lms was the ¬ctional movie The China Syndrome, whereas the other was the
¬lm Chernobyl: The Final Warning based on a book written by a bone marrow special-
ist. Engleberg and Sjöberg found that high-NC individuals were more likely to identify
Chernobyl as an event that actually happened than low-NC individuals. Interestingly,
however, both high- and low-NC individuals assessed the risks of nuclear energy at the
same levels, regardless of the ¬lm they had seen.
Research also shows that high-NC individuals are less likely to switch away from a
course of action that has a disappointing outcome than are low-NC individuals (Ratner
& Herbst, 2005). Ratner and Herbst report that people tend to shift away from a disap-
pointing strategy because of emotional reactions, rather than focusing on more cog-
nitively based beliefs. Those high in the need for cognition can apparently stay better
focused on the cognitive aspects and not be ruled by emotional reactions.
Elaboration likelihood model research shows that people who have a need to process
information centrally”high-NC people”accept and resist persuasive arguments in a
different way than those low in need for cognition. Because they are processing cen-
trally, they elaborate on the messages they hear. They are in¬‚uenced by the qualities
of the argument or the product advertised rather than by peripheral cues (Haugtvedt,
Petty, & Cacioppo, 1992). Conversely, low-NC people are more likely to focus on the
peripheral aspects of information or an advertisement (Sicilia, Ruiz, & Munuera, 2005).
Finally, high-NC individuals hold newly formed attitudes longer and are more resistant
to counterpersuasion (Haugtvedt & Petty, 1992).

The Heuristic Model of Persuasion
A second cognitive model of persuasion is the heuristic and systematic information-
heuristic and systematic
information-processing processing model (HSM). Proposed by Chaiken (1987), the HSM has much in common
model (HSM) A cognitive with the ELM. As in the ELM, there are two routes for information processing: the
model of persuasion
systematic and the heuristic. Systematic processing in the HSM is essentially the same
suggesting that of the
as central processing in the ELM, and heuristic processing is the same as peripheral
two routes to persuasion,
processing. Heuristics, as you recall from Chapter 3, are simple guides or shortcuts that
systematic and heuristic,
people use to make decisions when something gets too complicated or when they are
people choose to use
heuristics or peripheral cues just too lazy to process systematically.
more often. The main difference between the two theories lies in the claim of the HSM that
reliance on heuristics is more common than is usually thought (Chaiken, Liberman, &
Eagly, 1989). If motivation and ability to comprehend are not high, individuals rely on
heuristics most of the time. Some of these heuristics might be: “Experts can be trusted.”
“The majority must be right.” “Sheʼs from the Midwest; she must be trustworthy.” “If
it was on the evening news, it must be true.”
Heuristic processing can be compared to scanning newspaper headlines. The
information you receive is minimal, and the truth or relevance of the headline will be
determined by those simple rules. “Congress Cannot Agree on a Budget,” reads the
headline. Your response would be to quickly check the available heuristics that might
explain the headline. Here it is: “Politicians are incompetent.” Next headline, please.
The HSM suggests that people are more likely to agree with communicators who are
expert and with messages with which most people agree. Again we see the cognitive
miser at work.
Chapter 6 Persuasion and Attitude Change 209


Cognitive Dissonance Theory: A Model
of Self-Persuasion
Direct persuasion by a communicator is not the only route to attitude or behavior
change. Attitude change may also occur if we ¬nd our existing attitudes in con¬‚ict with
new information, or if our behavior is inconsistent with our beliefs. Festinger (1957)
observed that people try to appear consistent. When we act counter to what we believe
or think, we must justify the inconsistency. In other words, if we say one thing and do
something else, we need a good reason. Usually, we persuade ourselves that we have
a good reason, even if it means changing our previous attitudes. Inconsistency is thus
one of the principal motivations for attitude change.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory
Festingerʼs cognitive dissonance theory proposed that if inconsistency exists among
our attitudes, or between our attitudes and our behavior, we experience an unpleasant
state of arousal called cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957). The arousal of dissonance
motivates us to change something, our attitudes or our behavior, to reduce or eliminate
the unpleasant arousal. Reducing the tension helps us achieve consonance, a state of
psychological balance.
Cognitive dissonance theory is like homeostatic theory in biology. Consider what
happens when you are hungry: Your brain detects an imbalance in your blood sugar
levels, causing a physiological state of hunger. You are motivated to reduce this unpleas-
ant state of arousal by ¬nding and consuming food. Similarly, when cognitive conso-
nance is disrupted, you feel tension and are motivated to reduce it.
cognitive dissonance
The ¬ve key assumptions of cognitive dissonance theory can be summarized as
theory A theory of attitude
follows:
change proposing that if
inconsistency exists among
1. Attitudes and behavior can stand in a consonant (consistent) or a dissonant our attitudes, or between our
(inconsistent) relationship with one another. attitudes and our behavior,
we experience an unpleasant
2. Inconsistency between attitudes and behavior gives rise to a negative
state of arousal called cognitive
motivational state known as cognitive dissonance. dissonance, which we will
be motivated to reduce or
3. Because cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable state, people are motivated to
eliminate.
reduce the dissonance.
4. The greater the amount of dissonance, the stronger the motivation to reduce it.
5. Dissonance may be reduced by rationalizing away the inconsistency or by
changing an attitude or a behavior.

How Does Cognitive Dissonance Lead to Attitude Change?
Exactly how does cognitive dissonance change attitudes? To ¬nd out, imagine that
you have volunteered to be a participant in a social psychological experiment. You are
instructed to sit in front of a tray of objects and repeatedly empty and re¬ll the tray for
the next hour. Then, to add more excitement to your day, you are asked to turn pegs in
holes a little at a time. When your tasks are over, you are asked to tell the next partici-
pant how interesting and delightful your tasks were. For doing this, you are paid the
grand sum of $1. Unbeknownst to you, other participants go through the same experi-
ence and also are asked to tell an incoming participant how interesting the tasks are,
but each is paid $20.

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