Considering persuasion

This focus on mass media and persuasion has endured as a notable research topic, even when attention to propaganda as a specific investigative category may have lessened following WWII. That is, academic and commercial interest in the nuances of mass persuasion has not faltered. Instead, it has often been associated with analyzing communications associated with advertising, marketing, and public relations, all of which are still typically recognized to be subcategories of propaganda.146 Ergo, Ann R. Carden has maintained that the central intent of public relations is to “persuade an organization’s target publics to adopt a certain attitude, opinion, or behavior,”147 and Taylor has clarified that public relations is simply “a branch of propaganda, albeit a nicer way of labelling it.”148 Likewise, in one introductory textbook on marketing, readers are told that advertisers need to “Ambush the Customer” with marketing messages for the greatest effect.149 Such language differs little from discourse on propaganda suasion techniques, though it is subsumed under the lexis of advertising merchandise and achieving business success.

While marketing and consumer research has often been engaged in deciphering persuasion’s nuances, its analysis has not been limited to a single discipline or theory.150 Along with modern commercial interests andcommunications studies, researchers in law, political science, public health, as well as the social sciences and psychology, among other fields, have directed attention to comprehending the vicissitudes of media persuasion. Their labors to describe and classify various means of persuasion bear some resemblance to a myriad of other ancient works produced throughout history that have sought to inventory social influence tactics and infer what is communicatively convincing. This corpus includes oratory instruction attributed to the sophists,151 Aristotle’s rhetorical theory,152 as well as the treatises of Cicero and Quintilian.153 Contemporary persuasion research also proceeds from early- to mid-20th century catalogues of propaganda techniques that reinforce the influence propaganda analyses have had on modern notions of persuasion.154 One such noted inventory includes the Institute for Propaganda Analysis’ list of seven propaganda devices (Name Calling, Glittering Generalities, Transfer, Testimonial, Plain Folks, Card Stacking, and Bandwagon), which was designed by scholars Alfred and Elizabeth Lee to teach American citizens about persuasion mechanisms, because “the action sought by a propagandist may be beneficial or harmful to millions of people.”155 Many of the techniques identified by Lee and Lee became staples of propaganda and media persuasion analyses, along with several other tactics listed in Table 2.1. While such inventories set the stage for standardizing potential mechanisms of persuasion, it would be psychological analyses led by Yale University’s Carl Hovland from the 1940s through to the 1960s that truly established the field of persuasion and attitude change research.

Hovland’s concern for persuasion stemmed from an interest in propaganda’s effects, and during WWII he studied the influences of persuasive communications while serving with the US War Department in the Army’s Information and Education Division.156 Along with his team, Hovland has been credited with launching a series of original studies that were the first to empirically scrutinize the effects of a considerable number of persuasion variables. The ultimate goal of these initiatives was to develop a comprehensive rubric for predicting “within a very narrow range of error, the degree to which any given person will be influenced by a given communication.”157 This included analyzing the influence of a source’s credibility, the efficacy of emotional appeals, the effects of a one-sided versus two-sided presentation of controversial issues, whether differences in personality traits determine persuadability, and how different communication mediums influence attitude change.158 Across the many insights that Hovland’s team provided was a template for persuasion involving several features that may affect attitude change in response to communications. These factors include the source of the communication, the nature of the message, and the characteristics of the audience receiving it. Put simply, in asking whether attitude change will occur in response to a communication, there are several important factors to consider, including: whether the source of the message is perceived to be credible; if the message content displays both sides of an argument rather



Bandwagon, Herd Instinct, Group Norms

Communicating to audiences that the majority of members of a population accepts a message’s premises. This tactic harnesses people's tendencies to follow the crowd.1

Canalization, Affinity, Creating Resonance

A media message utilizes widely held opinions and worldviews, and purposefully associates these with a communication’s claims.2

Card-Stacking, Distortion

Intentionally “twisting, rearranging, or otherwise ‘fixing up’ of what finally reaches us - deliberately and for a purpose.”’ This can involve the conscientious selection of facts to communicate in order to “give the best or worst possible case for an idea, program, person, or product.”4

Concealment of


Obscuring the true intent behind propaganda



Ensuring that the information in a message is persistently framed in the same ways.6


Preoccupying audiences with topics that distract from potentially unfavourable information.


Using hyperbole for effect.8


The creative manufacture of data to support a propaganda cause.’



Garnering respect and allegiance by associating a cause with “virtue words,” or idioms that have positive and authoritative meanings.10 Such abstractions as “civilization, Christianity, good, proper, right, democracy, patriotism, motherhood, fatherhood, science, medicine, health, and love” can be purposefully affiliated with a communicator’s goals. 11

Kernel of Truth

The purposeful incorporation of accurate data because a “deliberate lie is not likely to command credence for long.”12


The control of as many communication channels as possible for message delivery.13

Name Calling, Color

Conferring a negative label upon a rival cause or competing group.14

Opinion Leaders

Individuals who maintain “credibility in a community” and most often inform group opinions are solicited for the purposes of message transmission.15

Plain Folks

Also known as the man-in-the-street device, the propagandist attempts to “convince his audience that he and his ideas are good because they are ‘of the people,’ the ‘plain folks.’ ”16


Continually reiterating the message’s central arguments.1

Reward and


Symbolic and authentic threats or rewards are used to motivate individuals into adhering to propaganda messages.18


Complex issues are reduced to oversimplified representations “of the problem and the proposed resolution.”19


Messages are built around basic mottos that are easily repeatable.20


The willful neglect and/or repression of information that does not support a communicator’s cause.21


Table 2.1 (Continued)




Personal face-to-face contact through local meetings and discussions that are used to inculcate propaganda messages.22


Providing endorsements from famous individuals to acquire attention and supply proof of a message’s validity.23


Broadcasting a communication at the most opportune times to best suit message reception.24

Transfer and Source


The message appeals to a source that maintains at least an image of credibility by the target audience. The apparent legitimacy of that source then validates the propaganda message.25

Visual Symbols of Power

The use of cultural symbols of power, including images of leaders, flags, and representations of military, political, and/or religious strength.26

' Note: Virtually all propaganda researchers mention provoking audience emotions. This strategy is linked with numerous techniques listed here and is, therefore, not catalogued independently as it is considered by many theorists to be a general by-product or goal of all propaganda efforts.

  • 1 Alfred M. Lee and Elizabeth B. Lee, The Fine Art of Propaganda: A Study of Father Coughlin’s Speeches (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1939), 105; Charles A. Siep-mann, Radio, Television, and Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1950), 187.
  • 2 See: Lindley Fraser, Propaganda (London: Oxford University Press, 1957), 11, 192-93, 95-96; Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, trans. Konrad Kellen and Jean Lerner (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972 [1962]), 38-43; Douglas E. Cowan, “Contested Spaces: Movement, Countermovement, and E-Space Propaganda,” in Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet, ed. Lome L. Dawson and Douglas E. Cowan (New York: Routledge, 2004), 259; Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell, Propaganda and Persuasion, 4th ed. (Thousand Oaks and London: Sage, 2006), 279; David Welch, The Third Reich: Politics and Propaganda, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2007), 5.
  • 3 Frederick E. Lumley, The Propaganda Menace (New York: Century, 1933), 122.
  • 4 Lee and Lee, The Fine, 24.
  • 5 A. J. Mackenzie, Propaganda Boom (London: The Right Book Club, 1938), 64.
  • 6 Cowan, “Contested Spaces,” 259.
  • 7 Lumley, The Propaganda, 128.
  • 8 Siepmann, Radio, Television, 182.
  • 9 Lumley, The Propaganda, 130.
  • 10 Lee and Lee, The Fine, 47.
  • 11 Ibid.
  • 12 Frederick T. Wood, Training in Thought and Expression (London: MacMillan, 1940), 38.
  • 13 Paul Lazarsfeld and Robert Merton, “Mass Communication, Popular Taste and Organized Social Action,” in Communication of Ideas, ed. Lyman Bryson (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1948), 113; Jowett and O’Donnell, Propaganda And, 282.
  • 14 Mackenzie, Propaganda Boom, 52; Alfred M. Lee, “The Analysis of Propaganda: A Clinical Summary,” The American Journal of Sociology 51, no. 2 (1945): 134.
  • 15 Jowett and O’Donnell, Propaganda And, 280.
  • 16 Lee and Lee, The Fine, 92.
  • 17 Mackenzie, Propaganda Boom, 50.
  • 18 Jowett and O’Donnell, Propaganda And, 282.
  • 19 Cowan, “Contested Spaces,” 259.
  • 20 Mackenzie, Propaganda Boom, 61.
  • 21 Lumley, The Propaganda, 117.
  • 22 Lazarsfeld and Merton, “Mass Communication,” 117.
  • 23 Lee and Lee, The Fine, 74.
  • 24 Mackenzie, Propaganda Boom, 68; Ellul, Propaganda, 43-44.
  • 25 Jowett and O’Donnell, Propaganda And, 280; Lee and Lee, The Fine, 70.
  • 26 Jowett and O’Donnell, Propaganda And, 282.

This age of propaganda 41 than only one; does it contain repetition; and, what are the characteristics of the message recipients in terms of age, education, sex, and attention span?

While Hovland’s observations helped shape attitude change theory, in the end his team’s formulae did not attain the predictive power for which Hovland had initially hoped. In the gamut of research following on from Hovland’s work, the most robust and enduring persuasion theories have included dual-process models, such as the influential Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) established by Richard E. Petty and John T. Cacioppo. The ELM postulates that there are two major avenues of persuasion resulting from any exposure to communications: the central and peripheral routes.1” The first route involves attitude change through an individual’s diligent scrutiny of a persuasive message. This is described as high elaboration, and it involves a relatively sizeable amount of mental effort in order to carefully examine the quality and cogency of a message’s arguments. For high elaboration to occur an individual must possess both the motivation and the ability to thoroughly study a communication’s claims. Motivation and processing ability increase the likelihood of elaboration and result in the articulation of favorable or unfavorable cognitive responses to a message’s persuasive assertions. Some noteworthy attributes that have been shown to influence motivation include the personal relevance and importance of a message, the number of message sources bolstering a position, and the use of rhetorical questions in a communication.160 Additionally, a message recipient’s capacity to adequately process a communication’s arguments can be increased through prior knowledge about the issues, eliminating distractions, and repeating the message.161 At the same time, some individuals simply enjoy applying their mental faculties more often than others and will tend to develop attitudes in relation to central route processing due to a higher personal need for cognition.162 Regardless of what prompts central route thinking, when elaboration likelihood is high “attitudes will be determined primarily by argument quality.”163

The second route, on the other hand, consists of low elaboration, which occurs when there is a lack of motivation and/or ability to thoroughly investigate and process a persuasive message’s substantive information. The low elaboration avenue involves comparatively little cognitive exertion, and it features a dependence upon various “mental shortcuts,” or “cues,” to help formulate ensuing opinions and behaviors.164 These cues are described by Petty and Cacioppo as “stimuli in the persuasion context that can affect attitudes without necessitating processing of the message arguments.”165 Such mental shortcuts can include a messenger’s perceived credibility or likability. Though people desire to hold correct attitudes, a lack of knowledge about communicated topics, or the perceived irrelevance of messages, combined with the sheer magnitude of persuasive messages inundating modern individuals, frequently results in low elaboration likelihood and peripheral route persuasion.166 Also, if central cognitive processing neither results in a positive nor a negative reaction, or if there is no clear change in that person’s cognitive perceptions, peripheral processing may still ensue.

According to the ELM, central route persuasion culminates in attitude change that will often be more enduring, resistant, and predicative of behavior than persuasion derived by way of the peripheral route.167 Nonetheless, both prove to be crucial paths of persuasion, and empirical findings have helped to demonstrate the effectiveness of the peripheral route for attitude formation.168 It is also important to note that within the ELM any single message variable can actually serve to influence both central and peripheral route processing. For instance, while Messenger Credibility and a communicator’s attractiveness generally act as peripheral cues when elaboration likelihood is low, such cues can also function in high elaboration conditions, or

A Schematic Depiction of the Elaboration Likelihood Model’ may serve to trigger elaboration in the first place

Figure 2.1 A Schematic Depiction of the Elaboration Likelihood Model16’ may serve to trigger elaboration in the first place. Consequently, an attractive, highly credentialed, or prestigious source might serve to foster interest in a communication, resulting in elevated attentiveness and subsequent central route analysis.170 Figure 2.1 illustrates the ELM’s persuasion pathways.

The ELM has proven to be one of the most empirically substantiated persuasion models, along with the relatively analogous dual-process system known as the Heuristic-Systematic Model (HSM).171 The HSM is remarkably similar to the Elaboration Likelihood Model, as it includes two paths of persuasion described as “systematic” and “heuristic” processing, which are somewhat comparable to the Elaboration Likelihood Model’s central and peripheral routes.172 According to this model, the likelihood of systematic processing intensifies when an individual’s confidence in an attitude falls below a desired subjective point of confidence. Alternatively, if a person’s self-confidence in an attitude is rather high, then heuristic processing tends to occur. This model complements the ELM by emphasizing that individuals willingly rely upon cognitive heuristic shortcuts, or cues.175 This is because people seem to be “minimalist information processors” who seek to exert the least amount of effort possible for the analysis of communications.174 Thus, the heuristic/peripheral route is most commonly engaged as individuals continuously seek to “strike a balance between minimizing cognitive effort on the one hand and satisfying their current motivational concerns on the other.”17' As Axsom, Chaiken, and Yates have clarified, “Unlike systematic processing (engaging in a considerable amount of message- and issuerelevant thinking), which is effortful and may generally be avoided in the interest of cognitive economy, heuristic processing is relatively effortless and thus may predominate in many persuasion settings.”176 Furthermore, the Heuristic-Systematic Model also emphasizes that both routes of persuasion are not mutually exclusive and can occur simultaneously.

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