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Damn it, refute it, damn it, replace it

Once a belief is established or an innuendo spread, it is often difficult to counter and refute. For example, Tybout, Calder, and Sternthal (1981) attempted to counter the rumor that McDonald’s hamburgers contain worms and found that simple refutation was ineffective (see also attempts at corrective advertising; Wilkie, McNeill, & Mazis, 1984). Thus, it is best to use the previous three tactics in counterinfluence. However, a number of lines of research including rumor control during WWII (Allport & Postman, 1947), replies to ethnic slurs (Citron, Chein, & Harding, 1950), responses to

dirty campaigning (Jamieson, 1992), and recent research on rumor transmission (DiFonzo, Bordia, &

Rosnow, 1994; DiFonso & Bordia, this volume) have all converged on some a guideline for dealing with

rumor and innuendo summarized by the phrase “damn it, refute it, damn it, replace it.” Specifically, begin and end any refutation with a clear message that the innuendo is false and negated (damn it). 

Don’t repeat the false information in a memorable manner. The refutation should be logical, short, factually, consistent, conclusive, and presented calmly. If at all possible, replace the false information with positive information about the target of the innuendo (see Tybout et al., 1981) or otherwise change the topic of conversation.

IV. Emotional Tactics

An emotional appeal is one that uses the message recipient’s subjective feelings, affect, arousal, emotions, and tension-states as the basis for securing influence (see Lewis, 1993 for a discussion of the definition of emotion). Aristotle urged communicators who want to be effective to control the emotions (or pathos) of the audience and to use emotions such as pity, pleasure, fear, and anger, to bring about the desired effects. In order to be able to effectively use an emotion in persuasion, Aristotle believed that one must be able to know the names of the emotions, understand what produces them, who is most likely to experience each emotion, and comprehend the way each emotion is excited (its course and effects). Since Aristotle, those who seek to persuade have advocated the use of emotions while those concerned about misguided influence have warned us of the power of emotions to propagandize. There are two general reasons why emotions are effective as an influence device.

First, emotions are relatively easy to create and marshal in any given influence situation. Emotions

can be aroused directly by appeals to fear, laying on a “guilt trip,” piling on the flattery, and similar

techniques. Emotions can also be aroused indirectly by placing a target in a situation that is likely to invoke emotions – for example, providing a gift to invoke a sense of obligation, having the person behave for no apparent reason to create a need for self-justification, or attacking the target’s self-esteem. Second, when an emotion is aroused and experienced, it can involve a number of psychological

processes that can then be used as a platform for promoting and securing influence and compliance. For example, emotions have been shown to (a) provide valenced information that can be used to interpret the situation and guide behavior (Clore, 1992; Schwartz, 1990), (b) supply emotion-specified influences that impact judgment and choice (Lerner & Keltner, 2000), (c) change information processing priorities in the sense that dealing with the emotion becomes paramount (Simon, 1967), (d) reduce attentional capacity and narrow attention to goal-relevant information, especially when strong emotions are involved (Baron, 2000; Easterbrook, 1959; Kahneman, 1973), (e) motivate behavior to avoid or reduce negative feelings, especially in the case of negative tension-states or dissonance (Aronson, this volume; Festinger, 1957), and (f) regulate behavior for the survival and adaptation of a social structure (Kemper, 1984). 

The following tactics are designed to allow a communicator to control the emotions of the target for

desired effects. These tactics follow a simple rule: arouse an emotion and then offer the target a way of  responding to that emotion that just happens to be the desired course of action. The emotion comes to color the target’s world. The target becomes preoccupied with dealing with the emotions, is unable to critically analyze the issue, and thus complies with the request in hopes of escaping a negative emotion or maintaining a positive one.


Fear appeals

 A fear appeal is one that creates fear by linking an undesired action (e.g., smoking) with negative consequences or a desired action (e.g., brushing teeth) with the avoidance of a negative outcome. Fear as an emotion creates an avoidance tendency - a desire to shun the danger. As an influence device, fear has proven to be effective in changing attitudes and behavior when the appeal (a) arouses

intense fear, (b) offers a specific recommendation for overcoming the fear and when (c) the target believes he or she can perform the recommendation (Leventhal, 1970, Maddux & Rogers, 1983). In other words, the arousal of fear creates an aversive state that must be escaped. If the message includes specific, doable recommendations for overcoming the fear, then it will be effective in encouraging the adoption of that course of action. Without a specific, doable recommendation, the target of the communication may find other ways of dealing with the fear such as avoidance of the issue and message, resulting in an ineffective appeal. Propagandists find fear to be a particularly useful influence device because it is easy to create “things that go bump in the night” along with a ready, doable solution – namely supporting the propagandist.


Guilt sells

 Guilt is the feeling of responsibility for some wrongdoing or transgression. Guilt induces a desire to make restitution and to repair a self-image. It can be used as an influence tactic by turning the act of restitution and image-repair into an act of compliance. For example, Carlsmith and Gross (1969) induced students to perceive that they had given a series of painful shocks to another person as part

of a learning experiment.  These guilty students were more likely to comply (relative to controls) to a

subsequent request to make phone calls to “Save the Redwoods” when asked either by the person they

supposed shocked or another person who knew nothing about the shocks (see Kassin & Kiechel, 1996 for anexample of how guilt can induce false confessions). In cases where restitution is not possible, guilt for a transgression can result in self-justification for the wrong-doing (Glass, 1964). 


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