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The Nature of Attitudes and Persuasion

The Yale Approach

Congruity Theory

Cognitive Dissonance Theory

Social Judgment/ Involvement Theory

Information Integration Theory

Theory of Reasoned Action

Elaboration Likelihood Model


The Nature of Attitudes and Persuasion

What is Persuasion?
Why Study Persuasion?

Persuasion as an Alternative to Apathy or Coercion
The Nature of Attitudes
The Process of  Persuasion
Additional Readings

Why Study Persuasion?
The idea that persuasion is important, and well worth learning, is true for several reasons. First, persuasion can be found almost everywhere humans can be found. As explained above, students, parents, teachers, politicians, sales persons, friends, and others use persuasion in their everyday lives. Mass media from print (newspapers, magazines, direct mailing) to electronic (radio, television, the World Wide Web) positively thrives on advertisements. These are examples of the kinds of situations all of us could encounter, in which we have the opportunity to try to persuade others. Thus, thinking about the varied contexts in which communication occurs shows that persuasion exists throughout human society.

In these situations persuasion exists in one or both of two forms: we can try to persuade others, and other people can try to persuade us. Persuasion, coming from us to others and from others to us, frequently occurs in interpersonal or dyadic situations. Although we rarely have to opportunity to persuade others via the mass media, that is a context in which others frequently develop persuasive messages aimed at us. A moment’s reflection should convince you that understanding the nature of persuasive communication, and how it works, is well worth knowing. Whenever we want to influence others through messages (speaking, writing, or using pictures and symbols), we need to understand persuasion in order to increase the likelihood that our message(s) will be successful. However, it is also important for us to understand the persuasion aimed at us so that other people cannot unduly influence us.

We can also see that persuasion pervades our lives by thinking about the activities that make up our daily lives. Persuasion is a part of education and learning. A college recruiter, alum, or parent may try to persuade us to attend his or her school. Once at school, students persuade their friends when to take classes (e.g., in the morning or afternoon) and which classes to take. Professors and academic advisors can persuade students what major to select, and whether to go to graduate or professional school. Students may persuade professors to accept an assignment late, to change a grade, or to take a test early. Persuasion is a part of work. During employment interviews, we want to persuade the employer to offer us a job. At work, we persuade co-workers about projects, bosses about promotions, and customers about our products or company. We may even try to persuade (rather than order) subordinates about their tasks to keep morale up. Many professions, like sales, politics, and the law, are essentially about persuading others. Persuasion is also a part of recreation and relaxation. We persuade our families, roommates, and friends that we should go out to eat, and which restaurant to patronize. We persuade our friends that we ought to go see a movie, and then which film to see. We tell our friends about a new musical group we have heard or a book we have read, persuading them to buy it. So we persuade each other while learning, working, and socializing. The fact is, most of us have never thought about just how much of our lives are influenced by persuasion.

However, it is important to realize that the fact that we persuade, and are persuaded, so often does not mean we are already experts in persuasion. Of course, we have learned something about persuasive strategies through trial and error. However, thousands and thousands of scholars in disciplines like communication, psychology, and advertising have systematically studied persuasion for many, many years. In fact, rhetoricians like Aristotle have written about how to persuade others since four centuries before the Christian era. Practitioners, like lawyers, politicians, and advertisers have also devoted an incredible amount of time and effort to understanding persuasion “in the real world.”  Three hundred years after Aristotle, Cicero was one of the greatest orators in ancient Rome. He was an accomplished orator and was elected consul, a position roughly analogous to President. Cicero also wrote several books on rhetoric or persuasion. More recently, social scientists have conducted tens of thousands of experiments into the nature of persuasion or attitude change. Thus, there is an incredible wealth of knowledge about persuasion that has accumulated over literally hundreds of years, from scholars and practitioners, in a variety of disciplines. There is much useful to be learned about persuasion.

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