Yale attitude change approach
In social psychology, the Yale attitude change approach (also known as the Yale attitude change model) is the study of the conditions under which people are most likely to change their attitudes in response to persuasive messages. This approach to persuasive communications was first studied by Carl Hovland and his colleagues at Yale University. The basic model of this approach can be described as "who said what to whom": the source of the communication, the nature of the communication and the nature of the audience. According to this approach, many factors affect each component of a persuasive communication. The credibility and attractiveness of the communicator (source), the quality and sincerity of the message (nature of the communication), and the attention, intelligence and age of the audience (nature of the audience) can influence an audience's attitude change with a persuasive communication. Independent variables include the source, message, medium and audience, with the dependent variable the effect (or impact) of the persuasion.
The Yale attitude change approach has generated research and insight into the nature of persuasion. This approach has helped social psychologists understand the process of persuasion and companies make their marketing and advertising strategies more effective. Like most other theories about persuasion and attitude change, this approach is not perfect. Not a systematic theory about persuasive communications, this approach is a general framework within which research was conducted. The Yale researchers did not specify levels of importance among the factors of a persuasive message; they emphasized analyzing the aspects of attitude change over comparing them.
The Yale attitude change approach is a method of making persuasive communications effective, a study begun by Carl Hovland based on his experiences during World War II attempting to boost morale in US soldiers with propaganda. This study focused on communication-bound predispositions to accept (or reject) appeals and unbound attributes, such as tendencies to particular responses to all communications. The Yale group developed a theoretical structure linking individual attributes and persuasion based on three major factors: the source of the communication, the nature of the communication and the nature of the audience.
The approach has a similar structure to Aristotle’s concept of persuasion in his Rhetoric. According to Aristotle, there are three means of persuasion: the character of the speaker, the emotional state of the listener and logos (the argument itself). Contemporary psychologists use the Yale model’s psychological approach and Aristotle’s philosophical approach to examine components of persuasion.
William McGuire was one of the first to develop the Yale model during the late 1960s; interestingly, McGuire is best known for his inoculation theory of creating resistance to persuasion. McGuire emphasized the importance of reception (the attention and comprehension stages of the Yale group) and yielding (anticipation and critical-evaluation steps) in his study of individual differences in influencibility. He predicted that ability and motivational attributes would be positively related to reception. Another description of McGuire's persuasion process is six steps: presentation, attention, comprehension, yielding, retention and behavior. For example, people with high intelligence have the cognitive skills to comprehend the speaker’s message. Similarly, people with high self-esteem are more socially engaged and less anxious or distracted, facilitating attention to (and comprehension of) the message. McGuire found that yielding to persuasion required the opposite attributes; people with low intelligence and self-esteem are more likely to change their opinion after receiving a message. People with midrange intelligence and self-esteem seemed to be the most-easily persuaded, since they were most likely to receive and yield to the message.
One weakness of the approach is the nature of its steps—specifically, the yielding step. The approach assumes that the audience's attitude will change by learning a new message, yet learning does not always result in persuasion. The elaboration likelihood model, a contemporary approach to persuasion, stems from the Yale attitude change approach. Developed by R.E. Petty and J.T. Cacioppo during the late 1980s, the model describes two ways in which persuasive communications can cause attitude change: centrally and peripherally. The central route to persuasion occurs when people have the ability and motivation to listen to a message and think about its arguments. The peripheral route to persuasion occurs when people are swayed not by the argument itself, but by elements secondary to the message (such as the length of the communication or the attractiveness of the communicator).
Martin Bauer views the Yale approach from a slightly-different angle. In 2008, he argued that persuasion cannot focus only on the social influence of intersubjectivity (the sharing of subjective states by two or more individuals) but must include inter-objectivity (the understandings shared by individuals about social reality). Using the concept of the fait accompli (a completed, irreversible "done deal"), Bauer described artifacts such as nuclear power, information technology and genetic engineering as types of social influence.
Much research of the influence of external factors on an individual's attitude focuses on their application to marketing strategy. Studies examining the factors surrounding the sender of the message, the channel and the recipient indicate that source credibility, communicator attractiveness, message context and mood can change attitude.
"Prepurchase Attribute Verifiability, Source Credibility, and Persuasion", a study by Shailendra Jain and Steven Posavac, examines the role message origin plays in the likelihood that a recipient will believe the message in an advertisement. Advertisements for mountain bikes and cameras were studied; consumers were asked their overall reaction to search claims (claims which can be statistically proven) and experience claims (testimonials). The credibility of the claims was also compared.
Eighty-one MBA students (62 men and 19 women) were shown advertisements for each of the products and asked questions about the advertisements, which contained search or experience claims. The search claim for the mountain bike was its weight, and the experience claim its ease of control. The search claim for the camera was its compactness, and the experience claim was its photo quality.
The mountain-bike ads' believability was rated 5.8 for a search claim with high credibility, 5.3 for a search claim with low credibility, 5.7 for an experience claim with high credibility and 3.2 for an experience claim with low credibility. The ratings for the camera ads were 5.9 for a search claim with high credibility, 5.7 for a search claim with low credibility, 5.5 for an experience claim with high credibility and 4.7 for an experience claim with low credibility.
The results indicated that consumers were more likely to believe (and be satisfied with) claims if they thought the source was trustworthy or had experience with the product. They were more likely to believe advertisements with concrete evidence behind the claims, such as the weight of the bike or the compactness of the camera. The study demonstrates that the credibility of a source correlates with its ability to persuade.
"An Attribution Analysis of Communicator Characteristics on Opinion Change: the Case of Communicator Attractiveness", a study by Alice Eagly and Shelly Chaiken, examines the effects of attractiveness and message content on persuasion. Eagly and Chaiken surveyed undergraduate students on communicators' attractiveness and whether they were persuaded to adopt the speaker's position (desirable or undesirable) on a topic. Students were asked to predict the speaker's position before hearing the message.
In the study, 358 undergraduate students were shown photos of an individual and asked to determine, based on appearance, which position the individual would take on a given issue. The students were more likely to pair attractive people with desirable positions on the given issue, and more likely to be persuaded by an attractive speaker to take an undesirable position on a topic than by an unattractive speaker. However, they were equally likely to be persuaded to take a desirable position on a topic by attractive and unattractive speakers.
The results indicated that participants were more likely to agree with attractive speakers in general and more likely to agree with any speaker discussing a desirable position on a topic. More attractive individuals are more persuasive than individuals perceived as less attractive. Message content affects believability; desirable messages are more believable than undesirable ones.
A major issue with the Yale attitude change approach is the fact that it is strictly functional, focusing on a change in attitude and the information processing accompanying it. Other scholars see persuasion as a function of "communication, social influence, and group processes", taking into account other factors such as social influence and the media.
A theory proposed by Margarita Sanchez-Mazas focuses on people's desire for social recognition and dignity. In this model, persuasion is seen as a way to overcome social injustice and achieve recognition and dignity. Sanchez-Mazas examines the roles of majorities and minorities in creating social change, and believes that "persuasion is a simultaneous, reciprocal process between groups, and specifically between majorities and minorities".
A persuasion developed by Clelia Nascimento-Schulze emphasizes communication in a complex society. According to Nascimento-Schulze, technology and the media are used to promote science in developing countries. It was determined that the Internet was most successful at transferring scientific knowledge to the public because it contains an optimal amount of visual information and combines art and science in a creative, informative way. Key to this theory is an "interactive society" with technology allowing communities to share common values and beliefs, such as the Internet.
Another form of public persuasion, studied by Helene Joffe, explores how the media produces visual stimuli which elicit feelings of fear, empathy or disgust. This theory highlights the substantial role of technology in evoking emotion in individuals, focusing on advertising campaigns for health, safety and charities. According to Joffe, visual stimuli lure an audience into a "state of emotion".
Research in persuasion is considering the effects of the unconscious, with scholars beginning to explore the possibility of "priming in inducing non-conscious effects". This idea, new to social psychology, is beginning to shed light on the relationship between the individual unconscious and the social environment. The study of persuasion has always been an integral part of social psychology. However, the focus is slowly moving from attitude change and behavior modification to communications, literature, art and the other humanities.
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