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One-sided versus two-sided refutation messages

 A two-sided message that states the opposing position and then refutes it is most effective when the audience is well-informed, can process a complex message, and the target is mildly opposed to the message. A one-sided message is effective with partisans and the uninformed. A two-sided message without refutations is rarely effective (Hovland, Lumsdaine, & Sheffield, 1949; McGinnies, 1966). Two sided messages gain an advantage in persuasion because such messages tend to reduce counterarguing and increase the perceived credibility of the source (Bohner, Einwiller, Erb, & Siebler, 2003; Kamins, Brand, Hoeke, & Moe, 1989).


The defusing objections technique

 A request to perform a behavior often induces the target to counterargue and raise objections. The defusing objections technique developed by Pardini and Katzev (1986) seeks to remove these excuses by acknowledging the objection and then refuting them before the target can raise them. For example, Pardini and Katzev (1986) found increased support for energy conservation in appeals that defused common objections (i.e., it is too much trouble; doesn’t save much money) relative to controls. More recently, Werner, Stoll, Birch, and White (2002) were able to increase recycling rates by posting signs that acknowledged common excuses for not recycling (e.g., “it may be inconvenient but it is important”).


Legitimizing paltry contributions (even a penny will help)

 Another technique for removing objections to comply with a request is to legitimize a minimal level of compliance. For example, in collecting for the American Cancer Society, Cialdini and Schroeder (1976) added the phrase “even a penny will help” to the standard pitch for a contribution. Such a phrase increased the percentage of those who gave to the American Cancer Society without decreasing the size of the average gift (see Reingen, 1978 for a replication). The technique works because it eliminates many excuses for not giving (such as "I don't have enough money") and at the same time makes the target appears cheap and heartless if they don't give.


Dilution: Mild arguments weaken an appeal

 Adding weak arguments or neutral information to a persuasive communication can diminish the impact of a message, making a strongly positive message less positive and a strongly negative message less negative. For example, Lewan and Stotland (1961) gave subjects neutral information about a fictitious country and found that it weakened the impact of a negative, emotional appeal about that country (see Zuckier, 1982 for a similar effect with person impressions). Friedrich, Fetherstonhaugh, Casey, and Gallagher (1996) gave messages that varied in length and in the mixture of strong and weak arguments and found that weak arguments diluted the appeal. (They also found that message length equals message strength; see below). These patterns of data can be described by Anderson’s (1981) average model of information integration. 


Negativity effect

 In general, negative information receives more attention and weight than positive information when making judgments about persons, issues, and things (Kanouse & Hanson, 1972). For example, Hodges (1974) gave subjects personality descriptors varying in the amount of positive and negative information and found that negative information had a greater impact on evaluation. Lau (1982) found that negative information was more influential than positive information about U.S. Presidential candidates in the 1968, 1972, and 1980 elections. Rozin and Royzman (2001) review evidence to conclude that this negativity bias is manifested in both animals and humans and may be innate.


Discrepancy of a message

Should a message ask the target for a small or a big change in belief? The answer is that it depends on how easy it is to disparage the communication. When the source of the message is of high credibility (and thus difficult to disparage), asking for a large opinion change is most effective (cf., Zimbardo, 1960). On the other hand, when the communicator is of low credibility or the issue is involving (or any other factor that makes the extreme request appear incredulous), asking for a large opinion change is not as effective as asking for a smaller change (a curvilinear result) and may backfire (Hovland, Harvey, & Sherif, 1957; for an illustration of both processes see Aronson, Turner, & Carlsmith, 1963; Brewer & Crano, 1968).


Message length = message strength

 A simple rule of thumb for accepting the conclusion of a message is “the longer the message (larger the number of argument), the more it appears that the message has something to say.” Petty and Cacioppo (1984) varied the number of arguments (3 or 9), the cogency of those arguments (weak or strong), and the level of involvement of the message recipient. When involvement was low (and the recipient was not carefully processing the message), a long message increased persuasion whereas when involvement was high (and the recipient was motivated to scrutinizing the message), persuasion was dependent on the cogency of the arguments (see also Friedrich at al, 1996).


Vivid appeals

A vivid appeal is a message that is (a) emotionally interesting, (b) concrete and image-provoking, and (c) immediate (Nisbett & Ross, 1980). Such messages can be compelling. For example, Gonzales, Aronson, and Costanzo (1988) taught energy auditors to speak in a vivid language (e.g., instead of saying, “the attic needs insulation,” they said such things as, “you have a naked attic that is facing winter without any clothes on”) and found an increase in compliance with recommendations for making homes more energy efficient. Similarly, Borgida and Nisbett (1977) found that students’ selection of courses was much more dependent on receiving a vivid comment from another person than average ratings of the course by previous students (see also Hamill, Wilson, & Nisbett, 1980). Although an effective tactic,

there are conditions when vividness is ineffective or may boomerang such as when it is paired with a weak argument (Pratkanis & Aronson, 2001) or when vividness becomes distracting (Frey & Eagly, 1993; see Taylor & Thompson, 1982 for a review).



A mild distraction such as keeping track of lights on a display while processing a persuasion message disrupts dominate cognitive responses (see Festinger & Maccoby, 1964 for the original finding). Thus, it can result in more persuasion when the message is weak or counterattitudinal (and likely to provoke counterarguments) and less persuasion when the message is strong (and likely to elicit supporting

arguments; see Petty, Wells, & Brock for the definitive experiments on this topic). In other words,

distraction can be viewed as a response de-amplification.


Overt behavior movements

Overt behavior movements such as smiles, frowns, body positions, and head movement can result in social influence consistent with the meaning of those movements. For example, in a test of the facial feedback hypothesis, Strack, Martin, and Stepper (1988) had subjects hold a pen in their mouths (under the guise of testing procedures for use with paraplegics) in a manner that inhibited or facilitated muscles used in smiling. The results showed that cartoons were rated as more humorous when a smile was facilitated as opposed to inhibited. Recently, Briñol and Petty (2003) identified what may be the nature of the feedback in the feedback hypothesis: overt behavior movements serve to self-validate (increase or decrease confidence) in one’s thoughts. In the first of a series of experiments, Briñol

and Petty had subjects engage in head nodding or shaking (under the guise of testing the quality of

equipment) as they listened to a strong or weak message. For a strong message, nodding produced more attitude change than shaking; for a weak message the results were reversed, indicated that the head movement served to validate what the target was thinking during message processing.


 Overheard communication

 In a series of clever experiments, Walster and Festinger (1962) invited subjects to tour the psychology labs and especially the one-way mirror room. As part of this tour, the subjects listened in on a conversation about smoking, living in dorms, or student husbands spending more time with their wives. Some of the subjects thought they just overheard (eavesdropped) on a conversation (the participants didn’t know they were there) whereas others thought the conversationalists knew that the subject was listening. The results showed the overheard communication produced more opinion change for subjects who found the topic to be important and involving. Brock and Becker (1965) replicated these

results and added a limiting condition to the findings: the overheard message must be agreeable to the

subject and not counterattitudinal. The principle reason advanced for the overheard communication effect is that listeners will not infer self-serving motives to the communicator, although there is disagreement on whether this is the mechanism or not (Brock & Becker, 1965).


Hostile audience effect

The knowledge that a communicator previously delivered a message to an audience that opposed and was hostile to the message conclusion increases the acceptance of that message. For example, Mills and Jellison (1967) gave subjects a message arguing for the tripling of tractor trailer license fees and told the subjects that the message was given at a meeting of either a union of railroad workers or long-haul truck drivers (a hostile audience). The subjects were much more likely to endorse the tripling of license fees when they thought the message was given to truck drivers as opposed to railroaders (see Eagly, Wood, & Chaiken, 1978 for a replication).



Heckling refers to attempts by an audience member or members to disrupt a speech and to make it clear to others that the speaker is wrong and not to be listened to. Four research efforts have all

converged on the finding that heckling, in general, is an effective means for countering a speaker. For

example, Sloan, Love, and Ostrom (1974) found that heckling caused listeners who were neutral to a speaker to disagree with the speaker’s views (relative to no-heckling controls; partisans showed a complex relationship to heckling). Similarly, Silverthorne and Mazmanian (1975) found that booing a speaker resulted in less persuasion (compared to controls), regardless of whether the speech was given live, on audiotape, or on videotape (see also Ware & Tucker, 1974). The best way to respond to a heckler is with a calm and relevant reply (Petty & Brock, 1976). Although heckling seems to produce consistent results, there is yet no agreed upon theory to account for these findings with distraction, variation in response range, identification with the heckler, and negative associations proposed as mediators of the effect.


Repetition of a message

Repeating a message over and over again,  generally increases believability and acceptance of the communication. Message repetition works by increasing liking for the object through the mere exposure effect (Zajonc, 1965) and by increasing the perceived validity of "facts" stated in the message (Boehm, 1994). However, when a target carefully attends to a message, repetition can result in no increase and sometimes a decrease in persuasion as tedium sets in, as the target becomes motivated to counterargue the message. Such "wear-out" effects can be reduced by using repetition with variation

(Schumann, Petty, & Clemons, 1990).


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