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Primacy effect (in the order of presentation)

 In general, when a series of information is presented on a given topic (say, a list of trait words or product attributes), the first information given will have more weight in the overall attitude or impression developed about the topic (Anderson, 1965). The results have been less clear when two opposing messages on the same topic are presented in sequence. In an experiment varying the order of presentation of pro and con messages on the topic of protective tariffs, Lund (1925) found evidence for a “law of primacy,” in which the first message given had disproportionate impact on final attitudes. However, subsequent research has sometimes found evidence for a primacy effect, a recency effect, or no effect at all (see reviews by Lana, 1964; Rosnow, 1966). Two sets of research have begun to clarify the conditions under which a primacy or recency effect will be obtained. First, Miller and Campbell (1959) found a recency effect when the presentation of the two messages were separated by a

week and opinions were assessed immediately after the presentation of the second message. A primacy

effect was obtained at longer measurement delays. Pratkanis, Greenwald, Leippe, and Baumgardner (1988) used this principle of “differential decay of impact” to specify the conditions under which a sleeper effect (delayed increase in the impact of a message) would obtain. Second, Haugtvedt and Wegener (1994) have an attitude strength model of the primacy effect; primacy effects will obtain when the first message produces a strong attitude. In two experiments, Haughtvedt and Wegener found that primacy effects occurred under conditions when the message was of high personal relevance (inducing message elaboration resulting in a strong attitude on the first message) and that recency effects occur when message relevance is low.


Forewarning of persuasive intent

 In this chapter, I have presented a number of ways to increase compliance and influence. This tactic and the next three tactics are designed to decrease the impact of an influence attempt. Forewarning of persuasive intent means providing the target of an influence attempt with a warning that what will happen next is designed to persuade. Such an appeal can be effective in increasing resistance to influence (but not always; for reviews see Cialdini & Petty, 1979; Sagarin & Wood, this volume; Wood & Quinn, 2003). For example, Milgram and Sabini (1978) asked subway riders in New York City for their seat and found that over 68% of the rider would yield their seat. However, if these subway riders overheard a conversation warning them that they were about to be asked to give up their seats, only 36.5% of the riders gave up their seat. There are two factors that limit the effectiveness of forewarning for increasing influence resistance. First, the forewarning should induce the target to prepare to counterargue the persuasive appeal; without such preparation, forewarning does not increase resistance. As such forewarning is most effective in increasing resistance when the topic is involving, the target has time to marshal defenses and is motivated to counterargue a discepant message. Second, a forewarning can result in attitudinal politics – moderating one’s position to a neutral stance or mid-point of a scale when faced with having to discuss the issue with another person (Cialdini, Levy, Herman, & Evenbeck, 1973). 



 Another tactic for preventing persuasion is inoculation - a target receives a brief, opposing message that can be easily refuted and thus immunizes against a subsequent attack. This technique was pioneered by McGuire (1964) in a series of research investigations. In these experiments, McGuire

created effective messages capable of changing attitudes about various cultural truisms (e.g., one should brush after every meal and get a routine chest x-ray). He then developed effective inoculation messages in which he taught possible responses (counterarguments) to these attack messages, with the result that the target of the communication could resist a latter, stronger influence attempt (see An & Pfau, 2004 for a recent application to political communications).


Stealing thunder

Another tactic for mitigating or reducing the impact of an opponent’s persuasive message is the technique of stealing thunder or revealing potentially damaging information before it can be stated by an opponent. The effectiveness of this tactic was demonstrated in two experiments by Williams,

Bourgeois, and Croyle (1993). In these experiments, mock jurors received trial transcripts in which negative information was presented by the opposing side about the defendant (Experiment 1) or a witness (Experiment 2). This information had strong, negative effects on the target. However, for some of the mock jurors the “thunder was stolen” by having the negative information presented by the defendant’s attorney or the witness himself (before it was given by the opposing side). In such cases, the negative effects of the information was mitigated (Experiment 1) and eliminated (Experiment 2; for a summary of stealing thunder research see Williams & Dolnik, 2001).


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