Elaboration likelihood model

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The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) of persuasion [1] is a dual process theory describing how attitudes form and change. The ELM was developed by Richard E. Petty and John Cacioppo in the mid-1970s.[2] The model aims to explain different ways of processing stimuli, why they are used, and their outcomes on attitude change. The ELM proposes two major routes to persuasion: the central route and the peripheral route. Under the central route, persuasion will likely result from a person's careful and thoughtful consideration of the true merits of the information presented in support of an advocacy.[3] The central route involves a high level of message elaboration in which a great amount of cognition about the arguments are generated by the individual receiving the message. The resulting attitude change will be relatively enduring, resistant, and predictive of behavior.[4] Under the peripheral route, persuasion results from a person's association with positive or negative cues in the stimulus or making a simple inference about the merits of the advocated position. The cues received by the individual under the peripheral route are generally unrelated to the logical quality of the stimulus. These cues will involve factors such as the credibility or attractiveness of the sources of the message, or the production quality of the message.[5] The likelihood of elaboration will be determined by an individual's motivation and ability to evaluate the argument being presented.[6]

Origin of the Elaboration Likelihood Model[edit]

Elaboration Likelihood Model is a general theory of attitude change. According to the theory’s developers Richard E. Petty and John T. Cacioppo, they intended to provide a general “framework for organizing, categorizing, and understanding the basic processes underlying the effectiveness of persuasive communications”.[7]

The study of attitudes and persuasion began as the central focus of social psychology, featured in the work of the psychologists Gordon Allport(1935) and Edward Alsworth Ross(1908). Allport described attitudes as “the most distinctive and indispensable concept in contemporary social psychology”.[8] Considerable amount of research were devoted to the study of attitudes and persuasion from the 1930s through the late 1970s. These studies embarked on various relevant issues regarding attitudes and persuasion, such as the consistency between attitudes and behaviors[9][10] and the processes underlying attitude-behavior correspondence.[11] However, Petty and Cacioppo noticed a major problem facing attitude and persuasion researchers that there was minimum agreement regarding “if, when, and how the traditional source, message, recipient, and channel variables affected attitude change”.[12] Noticing this problem, Petty and Cacioppo developed the Elaboration Likelihood Model, as their attempts to account for the differential persistence of communication-induced attitude change. Petty and Cacioppo suggested that different empirical findings and theories on attitude persistence could be viewed as stressing one of two routes to persuasion which they presented in the Elaboration Likelihood Model.

ELM Routes Overview[edit]

The Elaboration-Likelihood Model proposes two distinct routes for processing: the central route and the peripheral route. The ELM holds that there are numerous specific processes of change on the "elaboration continuum", ranging from low to high. When the operation processes at the low end of the continuum determines attitudes, persuasions follow the peripheral route. When the operation processes at the high end of the continuum determines attitudes, persuasion follows the central route.[2]

Central Route[edit]

The central route is used when the message recipient has the motivation as well as the ability to think about the message and its topic. Being at the high end of the elaboration continuum, people assess object relevant information in relation to knowledge that they already possess, and arrive at a reasoned attitude that is supported by information.[2] Motivation to process the message may be determined by a personal interest in the subject of the message,[13] or individual factors like the need for cognition. However, if the message recipient has a strong, negative attitude toward the position proposed by the message, then a boomerang effect (an opposite effect) is likely to occur. That is, they will resist the message, and may move away from the proposed position.[14] Two advantages of the central route are that attitude changes tend to last longer and are more predictive of behavior than the changes from the peripheral route.[15]

Peripheral Route[edit]

The peripheral route is used when the message recipient has little or no interest in the subject and/or has lesser ability to process the message. Being at the low end of the elaboration continuum, examination of information is reduced.[2] With the peripheral route, message recipients are more likely to rely on general impressions (e.g. "this feels right/good"), early parts of the message, the recipient's mood, positive and negative cues of the persuasion context, etc.[16] If these peripheral influences go completely unnoticed, the message recipient is likely to maintain their previous attitude on the subject of the message. Otherwise, the individual will temporarily change his attitude towards the subject of the message. This attitude change can be long-lasting, although this is less likely to occur when compared to the central route.[14]

Determinants of Route[edit]

The two most influential factors that affect which processing route an individual uses are: motivation (the desire to process the message; see Petty and Cacioppo, 1979) and ability (the capability for critical evaluation; see Petty, Wells and Brock, 1976). The extent of motivation, is in turn affected by attitude and personal relevance. An individual's ability for elaboration is affected by distractions, their cognitive busyness (the extent to which a person’s cognitive processes are engaged by multiple tasks[17]), and knowledge.


Attitudes towards a message can affect motivation. Drawing from cognitive dissonance theory, when people are presented with new information (message) that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values, they will be motivated to eliminate the dissonance, in order to conclude that they are not fools.[18] E.g., People who want to believe that they will be academically successful may recall more of their past academic successes than of their failures. They may also use their world knowledge to construct new theories about how their particular personality traits may predispose them to academic success (Kunda, 1987). If they succeed in accessing and constructing appropriate beliefs, they may feel justified in concluding that they will be academically successful, not realizing that they also possess knowledge that could be used to support the opposite conclusion.[18]

Personal relevance also can affect an individual's extent of motivation. E.g., Undergraduate students were told of a new exam policy which would take effect in either one year or ten years in the future. The proposal of the new exam policy was either supported by strong or weak arguments. Those students who were going to personally be affected by this change would think more about this issue than those students who were not going to be personally affected.[2]

An additional factor that affects extent of motivation is an individual's need for cognition. Individuals that take greater pleasure in thinking than others tend to engage in more effortful thinking because of its intrinsic enjoyment without respect to the important of the issue or the need to be correct.[2]


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 arguments. Distractions (e.g., a person reading a journal article in a noisy library) can affect a person's ability to process a message. Cognitive busyness, which can also serve as distractions, limit an amount of cognitive resources otherwise available for the current task (assessing a message). Another factor of ability is a person's knowledge of the relevant subject. Though one may not be distracted nor cognitively busy, their insufficiency in knowledge can limit them from engaging in deep thinking.


Core ideas[edit]

There are four (4) core ideas to the ELM.[2]

1. The ELM argues that when a person encounters some form of communication, they can process this communication with varying levels of thought (elaboration), ranging from a low degree of thought (low elaboration) to a high degree of thought (high elaboration).

2. The ELM predicts that there are a variety of psychological processes of change that operate to varying degrees as a function of a person's level of elaboration. On the lower end of the continuum are the processes that require relatively little thought, including classical conditioning and mere exposure. On the higher end of the continuum are processes that require relatively more thought, including expectancy-value and cognitive response processes. When lower elaboration processes predominate, a person is said to be using the peripheral route, which is contrasted with the central route, involving the operation of predominantly high elaboration processes.

3. The ELM predicts that the degree of thought used in a persuasion context determines how consequential the resultant attitude becomes. Attitudes formed via high thought, central route, processes will tend to persist over time, resist persuasion, and be influential in guiding other judgments and behaviors to a greater extent that attitudes formed through low thought, peripheral route, processes.

4. The ELM also predicts that any given variable can have multiple roles in persuasion, including acting as a cue to judgment or by biasing the direction of thought about a message. The ELM holds that the specific role by which a variable operates is determined by the extent of elaboration.


One of the main predictions about the ELM is that the attitudes formed through the central route rather than the peripheral route are stronger and more difficult to change.[1] This means that when using the central route (i.e., engaging in high elaboration thought in which all information is being carefully analyzed), the attitudes formed during this time become more stable and less susceptible to counter-persuasion. Whereas when using the peripheral route (i.e., engaging in low elaboration thought by relying on heuristics and shortcuts to establish an attitude) is more inclined to cause short-term attitude change.


A variable is essentially anything that can increase or decrease the persuasiveness of a message. Motivation (desire to process the message), ability (capability for critical evaluation), attractiveness, mood and expertise are just a few examples of variables that can influence persuasiveness. Variables also have different roles, for example, they may have a positive effect as a cue, but a negative effect if it ends up decreasing thought about a strong message.

Under high elaboration, a given variable (e.g., expertise) can serve as an argument (e.g., "If Einstein agrees with the theory of relativity, then this is a strong reason for me to as well") or a biasing factor (e.g., "If an expert agrees with this position it is probably good, so let me see who else agrees with this conclusion"), at the expense of contradicting information.[19] Under low-elaboration conditions, a variable may act as a peripheral cue (e.g., 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 (e.g., "If an expert agrees with this position, I should really listen to what (s)he has to say").

Recent adaptations of the ELM [19] 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).[2] A person may thing, "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.


For an individual intent on forming long-lasting beliefs on topics, the central route is advantageous by the fact that arguments are scrutinized intensely and that information is unlikely to be overlooked. However, this route uses a considerable amount of energy, time, and mental effort.

It is not worthwhile to exert considerable mental effort to achieve correctness in all situations and people do not always have the requisite knowledge, time, or opportunity to thoughtfully asses the merits of a proposal.[2] For those, the use of the peripheral route excels at saving energy, time, and mental effort. This is particularly advantageous in situations in which one must make a decision within a small time constraint. On the other hand, the peripheral route is prone to errors in judgment, at least in attributing reasons for behaviors.[20]

Applications of the Elaboration Likelihood Model[edit]

Researchers have applied the Elaboration Likelihood Model to many fields, including advertising, marketing, consumer behavior and health care, just to name a few.

Application in Advertising Communications[edit]

The Elaboration Likelihood Model can be applied to advertising and marketing. In 1983, Petty, Cacioppo and Schumann conducted a study to exam source effects in advertising.[21] It was a product advertisement about a new disposable razor. The authors purposefully made one group of subjects highly involved with the product (disposable razor), by telling them the product would be test marketed soon in the local area and by the end of the experiment they would be given a chance to get a disposable razor. Whereas, the authors made another group of subjects have low involvement with the product by telling them that the product would be test marketed in a distant city and by the end of the experiment they would have the chance to get a toothpaste. In addition to varying involvement, the authors also varied source and message characteristics by showing a group of the subjects ads featuring popular athletes, whereas showing other subjects ads featuring average citizens; showing some subjects ads with strong arguments and others ads with weak arguments. This experiment shows that when the elaboration likelihood was low, featuring famous athletes in the advertisement would lead to more favorable product attitudes, regardless of the strength of the product attributes presented. Whereas when elaboration likelihood was high, only the argument strength would manipulate affected attitudes.[21][22]

Application in Healthcare[edit]

Recent research has been conducted to apply the ELM to the healthcare field. In 2009, Angst and Agarwal published a research article Adoption of Electronic Health Records in the Presence of Privacy Concerns: the Elaboration Likelihood Model and Individual Persuasion.[23] This research studies Electronic Health Records (EHRs), (an individual’s) Concern for Information Privacy (CFIP) and the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM). The two researchers aimed to investigate the question, “Can individuals be persuaded to change their attitudes and opt-in behavioral intentions toward EHRs, and allow their medical information to be digitized even in the presence of significant privacy concerns”?[24]

Findings of the research:

• "Issue involvement and argument framing interact to influence attitude change, and that concern for information privacy further moderates the effects of these variables."

• "Likelihood of adoption is driven by concern for information privacy and attitude."

• "An individual’s CFIP interacts with argument framing and issue involvement to affect attitudes toward HER use and CFIP directly influence opt-in behavioral intentions."

• "Even people have high concerns for privacy, their attitudes can be positively altered with appropriate message framing."

Methodological Considerations[edit]

In designing a test for the aforementioned model, it is necessary to determine the quality of an argument, i.e., whether it is viewed as strong or weak. If the argument is not seen as strong, then 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."[25] An argument that is universally viewed as weak will elicit unfavorable results, especially if the subject considers it under high elaboration, thus being the central route. 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.[26] Also when assessing persuasion of an argument, the influence of peripheral cues needs to be taken into consideration as cues can influence attitude even in the absence of argument processing.[27] The extent or direction of message processing also needs to be taken into consideration when assessing persuasion, as variables can influence or bias thought by enabling or inhibiting the generation of a particular kind of thought in regard to the agrument.[27]

Critiques of the Theory[edit]

Some researchers have been criticized for misinterpreting the ELM. One such instance is Kruglanski and Thompson thinking that the processing of central or peripheral routes is determined by the type of information that affects message persuasion. For example, message variables are only influential when the central route is used and information like source variables is only influential when the peripheral route is used. In fact, the ELM does not make statements about types of information being related to routes. Rather, the key to the ELM is how any type of information will be used depending on central or peripheral routes, regardless of what that information is.[16] For example, the central route may permit source variables to influence preference for certain language usage in the message (e.g. "beautiful") or validate a related product (e.g. cosmetics), while the peripheral route may only lead individuals to associate the "goodness" of source variables with the message. Theoretically, all of these could occur simultaneously. Thus the distinction between central and peripheral routes is not the type of information being processed as those types can be applied to both routes, but rather how that information is processed and ultimately whether processing information in one way or the other will result in different attitudes.

A second instance of misinterpretation that is also related to the first is that processing of the central route solely involves thinking about the message content and not thoughts about the issue.[28] Petty and Cacioppo (1981) stated “If the issue is very important to the person, but the person doesn’t understand the arguments being presented in the message, or if no arguments are actually presented, then elaboration of arguments cannot occur.…Nevertheless the person may still be able to think about the issue.”[29] Therefore issue-relevant thinking is still a part of the central route and is necessary for one to think about the message content.

Lastly, a third instance of misinterpretation by Kruglanski and Thompson is the disregard for the quantitative dimension presented by the ELM and more focus on the qualitative dimension. This quantitative dimension is the peripheral route involves low-elaboration persuasion that is quantitatively different from the central route that involves high elaboration. With this difference the ELM also explains that low-elaboration persuasion processes are qualitatively different as well.[28] It is seen as incorrect if the ELM focuses on a quantitative explanation over a qualitative one; however one of the ELM’s key points is that elaboration can range from high to low which is not incorrect as data from experiments conducted by Petty (1997)[30] as well as Petty and Wegener (1999)[31] suggest that persuasion findings can be explained by a quantitative dimension without ever needing a qualitative one.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Petty R. and Cacioppo J. "Communication and persuasion: central and peripheral routes to attitude change." Springer-Verlag, New York.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kruglanski, Arie W.; Van Lange, Paul A.M. (2012). Handbook of theories of social psychology. London, England: Sage. pp. 224–245. 
  3. ^ Petty, Richard E; Cacioppo, John T (1984). "Source factors and the elaboration likelihood model of persuasion". Advances in Consumer Research 11: 668. 
  4. ^ Petty, Richard E; Cacioppo, John T. "The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion". Advances in experimental social psychology: 126. 
  5. ^ Miller, Katherine (2005). Theories of message processing, Chapter 8, Communication theories: perspectives, processes, and contexts. McGraw-Hill. p. 129. 
  6. ^ Petty, Richard E; Cacioppo, John T (1986). "The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion". Advances in experimental social psychology: 129. 
  7. ^ Petty, Richard E; Cacioppo, John T (1986). "The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion". Advances in experimental social psychology: 125. 
  8. ^ Allport, Gordon (1935). "Attitudes". A Handbook of Social Psychology: 789–844. 
  9. ^ Ajzen, Icek; Fishbein, Martin (1977). "Attitude-behavior relations: A theoretical analysis and review of empirical research.". Psychological Bulletin, American Psychological Association 84 (5): 888–918. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.84.5.888. 
  10. ^ Fazio, Russell H; Zanna, Mark P (1981). "Direct experience and attitude-behavior consistency". Advances in experimental social psychology 14: 161–202. doi:10.1016/s0065-2601(08)60372-x. 
  11. ^ Sherman, Steve J; Fazio, Russell H; Herr, Paul M (1983). "On the consequences of priming: Assimilation and contrast effects". Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 19 (4): 323–340. 
  12. ^ Petty, Richard E; Cacioppo, John T (1986). "The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion". Advances in experimental social psychology: 124–125. 
  13. ^ Morris, J. D., Singh, A. J., Woo C., Elaboration likelihood model: A missing intrinsic emotional implication. Journal of Targeting, Measurement and Analysis for Marketing, 14, 79-98.
  14. ^ a b Griffin, E. (2012). A First Look at Communication Theory, 8th ed. McGraw-Hill: New York, 205-207.
  15. ^ McNeill, Brian W. (1989). "Reconceptualizing social influence in counseling: The Elaboration Likelihood Model.". Journal of Counseling Psychology. 
  16. ^ a b Chaiken & Trope (Eds.)(1999). Dual-process Theories in Social Psychology. Guilford Press.
  17. ^ "Social Cognition". 
  18. ^ a b Kunda, Ziva (1990). "The Case for Motivated Reasoning". Psychological Bulletin 103 (3): 480–498. 
  19. ^ a b Petty R. et al "Thought confidence as a determinant of persuasion: the self validation hypothesis." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2002 82 p722 - 741.
  20. ^ Gilbert, Daniel T.; Pelham, Brett W.; Krull, Douglas S. (1988). "On Cognitive Busyness: When Person Perceivers Meet Persons Perceived". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 54 (5): 733–740. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.54.5.733. 
  21. ^ a b Petty, Richard E; Cacioppo, John T; Schumann, David (1983). "Central and peripheral routes to advertising effectiveness: The moderating role of involvement". Journal of consumer research: 135–146. 
  22. ^ Petty, Richard E; Cacioppo, John T (1984). "Source factors and the elaboration likelihood model of persuasion". Advances in Consumer Research: 668–672. 
  23. ^ Angst, Corey; Agarwal, Ritu (2009). "Adoption of electronic health records in the presence of privacy concerns: the elaboration likelihood model and individual persuasion". MIS Quarterly 33 (2): 339–370. 
  24. ^ Angst, Corey; Agarwal, Ritu (2009). "Adoption of electronic health records in the presence of privacy concerns: the elaboration likelihood model and individual persuasion". MIS Quarterly 33 (2): 339. 
  25. ^ Griffin E. A First Look at Communication Theory, 8th ed. McGraw-Hill, New York, p366 - 377.
  26. ^ Berkowitz L. Advances In Experimental Social Psychology. Vol 19. Academic press, Orlando 1986 p132 - 134. Print.
  27. ^ a b Petty, Richard E. (1986). Communication and Persuasion: Central and Peripheral Routes to Attitude Change. Springer New York. 
  28. ^ a b c Richard E. Petty, S. Christian Wheeler, and George Y. Bizer (1999). "Is There One Persuasion Process or More? Lumping Versus Splitting in Attitude Change Theories". 
  29. ^ Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1981). Attitudes and persuasion: Classic and contemporary approaches. 
  30. ^ Petty, Richard E. (1997). "The Evolution of Theory and Research in Social Psychology: From Single to Multiple Effect and Process Models of Persuasion". 
  31. ^ Petty, R.E. and Wegener, D.T. (1999). "The Elaboration Likelihood Model: Current Status and Controversies". 

Further reading[edit]

  • Eagly A. and Chaiken S. Psychology of Attitudes. Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich, Fort Worth, Texas, 2003.
  • Jae H. and Delvicchio D. "Decision making by elaboration likelihood model- analysis journal and model." The Journal of Consumer Affairs. 2004 38(2) p342 - 354.
  • Metzler A. et al. National HIV Prevention Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, 1999.
  • Petty R. and Cacioppo J., Brown W. and Dubuque I. (ed.) Attitudes and Persuasion: Classic and Contemporary Approaches.
  • Petty R. and Wegener D., Chaiken S. and Trope Y. (ed.) "The elaboration likelihood model: current status and controversies." Dual Process Theories in Social Psychology Guilford Press, New York. p41 - 72.
  • Richard E. Petty and John T. Cacioppo, The Elaboration likelihood model of Persuasion. 1986. p136.