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Changing Attitudes through Persuasion

15 January, 2016 - 09:17

Learning Objectives

  1. Outline how persuasion is determined by the choice of effective communicators and effective messages.
  2. Review the conditions under which attitudes are best changed using spontaneous versus thoughtful strategies.
  3. Summarize the variables that make us more or less resistant to persuasive appeals.
  4. Every day we are bombarded by advertisements of every sort. The goal of these ads is to sell us cars, computers, video games, clothes, and even political candidates. The ads appear on billboards, website popup ads, buses, TV infomercials, and…well, you name it! It’s been estimated that over $500 billion is spent annually on advertising worldwide (Johnson, 2013).

There is substantial evidence that advertising is effective in changing attitudes. After the R. J. Reynolds Company started airing its Joe Camel ads for cigarettes on TV in the 1980s, Camel’s share of cigarette sales to children increased dramatically. But persuasion can also have more positive outcomes. For instance, a review of the research literature indicates that mass-media anti-smoking campaigns are associated with reduced smoking rates among both adults and youth (Friend & Levy, 2001). Persuasion is also used to encourage people to donate to charitable causes, to volunteer to give blood, and to engage in healthy behaviors.

If you think that advertisers and marketers have too much influence, then this section will help you understand how to resist such attempts at persuasion. Following the approach used by some of the earliest social psychologists and that still forms the basis of thinking about the power of communication, we will consider which communicators can deliver the most effective messages to which types of message recipients (Hovland, Lumsdaine, & Sheffield (1949).