Message repetition

During WWII Floyd H. Allport and Milton Lepkin conducted a study to investigate why false wartime rumors persisted in the United States. They found that the single best predictor of belief in a rumor was whether hearers had heard the rumor before on several occasions. Mere repetition seemed to be strongly correlative with the acceptance and subsequent spreading of misinformation, as “repeated hearing does strengthen belief rather than fortify rejection, and that when a citizen repeats a subversive rumor, he is not only making it fall upon more ears, but may be helping to increase some previous hearer’s belief in it by a substantial margin.”20 Since Allport and Lepkin’s classic study a great deal of research has been dedicated to analyzing the effects of repetition, which has become a commonplace persuasion strategy in the repertoire of modern advertising campaigns.21 Studies have suggested that such repetition can be successful simply because multiplying exposure to a reiterated statement improves message recall. Additionally, repetition seems to increase the apparent legitimacy of communicated facts because “repeating a statement causes it to be perceived as more valid or true.” Importantly, it does not matter whether a repeated statement “is factually true, factually false, or an opinion; repetition enhances perceived validity for each.”22 This connection between repetition and enhanced message believability is known as the Truth Effect.1' Its agency results from an increase in an audience’s familiarity with reiterated claims, causing more familiar statements to seem more believable because they are easily recognizable and cognitively accessible, even when they might be factually dubious. In a sense, such observations resonate with the words of the fictional character, Count Thurner, who stated in Isa Blagden’s The Crown of a Life, “If a lie is only printed often enough, it becomes a quasi-truth, and if such a truth is repeated often enough, it becomes an article of belief, a dogma, and men will die for it.”24

Despite these findings, however, the specific persuasive mechanisms of repetition appear to be quite complex. Fortunately, the Elaboration Likelihood Model has shed light onto its operations. Petty and Cacioppo have found that message repetition increases message recall and can stimulate motivation to process arguments.25 Along with driving elaboration, repetition influences are also operational when elaboration likelihood is low, resulting in enhanced perceptions of a marketed product or idea when audiences devote a small amount of energy to message analysis.26 However, excessive repetitions often become annoying, causing “tedium or reactance and biasrecipients’ message processing - in particular, to cause them to counterargue even strong arguments and proattitudinal positions.”27 Because of this side effect, marketing psychologists have examined how spacing repetition throughout a message seems to decrease recipient irritation. Researchers have also found that introducing superficial modifications to a repeated message influences persuasion. Cosmetic variation, including changes in certain aesthetic features of recurring statements, such as alterations to backdrop colors and images appearing in advertisements, as well as the slight rewording of a restated message, enhances product recall and peripheral persuasion in low-elaboration contexts.28 Therefore, repetition with some cosmetic variation can successfully influence persuasion and reliance upon peripheral cues, while mediating counterarguing resulting from annoyance. Within this book repetition is identified as the reiteration of a message at least three times within the same communication.29 Observations of repetition with cosmetic variation will also be noted, as well as how repeated claims are spaced throughout articles. All told, the frequency rates of Message Repetition in Evolution Wars media are presented in Figure 3.2.

Recurrence Rates of Message Repetition

Figure 3.2 Recurrence Rates of Message Repetition

Source cues and repetition in antievolutionist media

In considering the persuasive features of Source Cues, it is of note that this message trait represents the most ubiquitous variable articulated in both Institute for Creation Research and Answers in Genesis’ communications, while it is the third prevalent attribute in the Center for Science and Culture’s Intelligent Design materials. The variety of ways in which this variable is expressed throughout Darwin-skeptic media is presented in Figure 3.3. Incidences of Source Cues are most often represented as cases of Messenger Credibility rather than Source Attraction. Boasting relatively meager frequency rates, Source Attraction cases are exemplified in ICR and AiG’s claims that their organizations share common Evangelical beliefs and Christian principles with their Bible-believing audiences. The much more prevalent Messenger Credibility occurrences can be divided into two primary subcategories, delineated here as appeals to sacred authority, and appeals to expertise and evidence. The first of these divisions encompasses attempts at gaining religiously based credibility, including assertions that God sanctions a message, or that religious scripture and respected religious figures are message partisans. The second form of Messenger Credibility consists of references to secular knowledge and competencies, such as a messenger’s prestigious scientific education or research acumen.

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