Elaboration likelihood model
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The elaboration likelihood model (ELM) of persuasion is a dual process theory of how attitudes are formed and changed, which was developed by Richard E. Petty and John Cacioppo during the early 1980s. The model examines how an argument's position on the "elaboration continuum", from processing and evaluating (high elaboration) to peripheral issues such as source expertise or attractiveness (low elaboration), shapes its persuasiveness. ELM resembles the heuristic-systematic model of information processing developed about the same time by Shelly Chaiken.
The model defines two processing routes: central and peripheral.
Central-route processes require the audience to think more, and are likely to predominate under high-elaboration conditions. Central-route processes involve scrutiny of persuasive communication (e.g., a speech or an advertisement) to determine the arguments' merits. Under these conditions, a person's cognitive response to the message determines its persuasive outcome. If they evaluate a message as reliable, well-constructed and convincing, it may be received favorably even if it contrasts with the receiver’s original position on the message. If favorable thoughts result from the elaboration process, the message will probably be accepted; an attitude congruent with the message's position will emerge. If unfavorable thoughts are generated while considering the merits of presented arguments, the message will probably be rejected. For the message to be centrally processed, a person must have the ability and motivation (dependent on personal relevance) to do so.
Peripheral-route processes do not involve elaboration of the message through cognitive processing of an argument's merits. They rely on a message's environmental characteristics: the perceived credibility of the source, message presentation quality, the source's attractiveness or a catchy slogan, and is frequently used when the argument is weak or lacks evidence. The peripheral route is a mental shortcut which accepts (or rejects) a message based on external cues, rather than thought. It is used when the audience is unable to process the message due to the message's complexity or the audience's immaturity. The commonest influences are rewards such as food, sex or money, which create rapid changes in mind and action. Celebrity status, likability, humor and expertise are other factors governing the peripheral process. Appearance can gain an individual's attention; while it can create interest in a topic, it will not effect strong change. The goal of the peripheral process is to create change which can be weak (or temporary) compared with the strong, lasting change of the central route.
Choice of route
The factors most influencing the route an individual will take in a persuasive situation are motivation (a desire to process the message; see Petty and Cacioppo, 1979) and ability (the capability for critical evaluation; see Petty, Wells and Brock, 1976). The route taken is determined by the extent of elaboration, in turn determined by motivation and ability factors. Motivation includes the relevance of the message and a person's "need for cognition" (their enjoyment of thought). Ability includes the availability of cognitive resources (e.g., the presence or absence of time pressures or distractions) and the relevant knowledge needed to examine the arguments. Distractions (for example, a persuader trying to convey a message in a room full of crying babies) can affect the ability to process a message. Examples of distractions impeding concentration on a message include a death in the family or relationship problems. A child will change their behavior because their parent told them to do so, rather than by processing information independently. As children grow they develop greater cognitive complexity, becoming able to process information centrally and draw conclusions of their own. A subject's educational level, and their education and experience with the topic at hand, affect their ability to be persuaded. Under conditions of moderate elaboration, a mixture of central and peripheral route processes will guide information-processing. There are benefits and consequences of both processes. An individual who disagrees with the message being presented may boomerang if they centrally process the message and bounce away from the speaker’s goal. In a similar situation, a peripherally-processed message will have less of a negative effect on the individual.
Attitude, motivation and ability increase the likelihood that a message will be ingrained into listeners' minds, although (as the social judgment theory suggests) they may not process information objectively. An attitude is a general evaluation, indicating how a person perceives themselves in relation to their surroundings. Attitudes may be influenced by peripheral cues providing guidance or implications, which cause the audience to draw a conclusion and believe it is their own idea. Many evaluations are based on cognitive intelligence, behavior and guidance. With an understanding of an individual's attitudes, the elaboration may be tailored to the situation. There are two types of elaboration: biased and objective. Elaboration may have positive or negative results, depending on the audience. Individuals with preconceptions about a topic are more difficult to persuade than those who examine the facts.
In top-down thinking, predetermined conclusions color supporting data; it is used on people who already have their minds made up (Cacioppo).
In bottom-up thinking, facts are scrutinized without bias; the truth is sought, whatever it might be. These listeners let facts speak for themselves, approaching the message with an unbiased mind (Cacioppo).
In designing a test for the model, it is necessary to determine if an argument is viewed as strong or weak. If the argument is not seen as strong, the results of persuasion will be inconsistent. A strong argument is defined by Petty and Cacioppo as “one containing arguments such that when subjects are instructed to think about the message, the thoughts they generate are fundamentally favorable”. An argument universally viewed as weak will elicit unfavorable results if the subject considers it logically (the central route); a strong argument, under similar circumstances, will return favorable results. Test arguments must be rated by ease of understanding, complexity and familiarity. To study either route of the elaboration likelihood model, the arguments must be designed for consistent results.
Predictions and features
The ELM makes several proposals. Attitudes formed under high elaboration (the central route) are stronger than those formed under low elaboration, making this level of persuasion stable and less susceptible to counter-persuasion. Attitudes formed under low elaboration (the peripheral route) are more likely to cause short-term attitude change.
Variables in ELM routes can serve multiple roles in a persuasive setting, depending on other contextual factors. Under high elaboration, a given variable (e.g. expertise) can serve as an argument ("If Einstein agrees with the theory of relativity, then this is a strong reason for me to as well") or a biasing factor ("if an expert agrees with this position it is probably good, so let me see what else agrees with this conclusion", at the expense of contradicting information).
Under low-elaboration conditions, a variable may act as a peripheral cue (for example, the belief that "experts are always right"). While this is similar to the Einstein example above, this is a shortcut which (unlike the Einstein example) does not require thought. Under moderate elaboration, a variable may direct the extent of information processing: "If an expert agrees with this position, I should really listen to what (s)he has to say".
A variable's effect on elaboration may increase (or decrease) persuasion, depending on the strength of the argument. If the argument is strong, enhancing elaboration will enhance persuasion; if weak, thought will undermine persuasion.
Recent adaptations of the ELM have added an additional role for variables: to affect the extent to which a person trusts their thoughts in response to a message (self-validation role). A person may feel "if an expert presented this information, it is probably correct, and thus I can trust that my reactions to it are informative with respect to my attitude". This role, because of its metacognitive nature, only occurs in high-elaboration conditions.
- Attitude change
- Need for cognition
- Cognitive biases
- Heuristic-Systematic Model
- Extended transportation-imagery model
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