One of the most deeply-debated, and researched, models of persuasion is the ELM (Elaboration Likelihood Model). Developed by Petty and Cacioppo (1981 to 1986). Based on cognitive processes, it “portrays receivers as active participants in the persuasion process. Receivers produce cognitions (thoughts, elaborations) in response to the stimulus of persuasive discourse” (Stephenson; Benoit; Tschida; 2001). Petty and Cacioppo argue there are two “routes” to persuasion: central and peripheral.
The central route to persuasion consists of thoughtful consideration of the arguments (ideas, content) in the message, and occurs only when a receiver possesses both the motivation and ability to think about the message and topic. The peripheral route occurs when the receiver lacks ability and/or motivation to engage in much thought on the issue. Using the peripheral route, the listener decides whether to agree with the message based on other cues besides the strength of the arguments in the message, such as whether the source is credible or attractive, the number (but not the quality) of arguments in the message, or length of the message.
” Petty and Cacioppo argue that subjects produce more favorable cognitive responses to messages with strong than weak arguments. Mitigating factors include source credibility, the state of the recipient’s thinking when the message is received, and method and medium used to deliver the message (i. e. , verbal or written; print or electronic), There is a considerable body of work, both pro and against the ELM. However, from the literature it seems we are once again left with the thought that the processes involved have yet to be rigorously tested as they relate to communication theory, let alone their effect on the Domino Model.
“There have been relatively few rigorous tests of this assumption via path analysis or structural equation modeling” (Stephenson, Benoit, Tschida). American graphic designer Katherine McCoy suggests that persuasion might be considered more than just trying to convince an audience of the sender’s intention “The receiver’s motivation might also be an important factor. We know persuasion is necessary for distracted, unmotivated users. But it can also increase productivity for motivated users, for instance, through the use of prompts and cues for accurate use of spreadsheet software.
In product design, persuasion/seduction can clarify operation sequences for smart products and enrich the user’s product experience. Persuasion provides motivation for those unmotivated through disinterest, unfamiliarity with the content, or lack of competence for a software tool or a product’s operation. There is a complex interaction between the sender’s intentions, message content, the audience/receiver’s motivations and the communications context. Here, the receiver’s motivation is paramount” (McCoy, 2000).
But how accurately can we predict motivation? An airport monitor would seem to be purely informational. A traveler hurrying to catch a plane is highly motivated and will make full use of the flight monitor – no need to persuade this audience member. But when a driver in a hurry encounters a stop sign, that driver has a low motivation level. Although the content is informational, the driver may ignore it, making only a rolling stop. Thirdly, what happens when a junk food enthusiast encounters a food package with nutritional information?
This audience member has low motivation and probably ignores message content completely. ” In order to achieve persuasion, an audience has to be motivated; to want to absorb knowledge, change attitude and, in turn, have their behaviour affected. The American Marketing Association found that after a study of the major persuasion theories “to date, no single theory or framework that has been developed has been able to account for all the varied and sometimes conflicting persuasion findings.
“Presumably, this is because the complex process of persuasion is intricately dependent on a myriad of contextual, situational, and individual difference factors, whereas the theories remain relatively simplistic and narrowly developed. The inability of existing theories to accommodate all persuasion findings need not suggest, however, that these theories are inaccurate. Rather, these theories simply may represent pieces of persuasion processes that operate in certain conditions that are not always clearly specified”.
(Meyers-Levy, 2001). For good measure, highlighting the difficult nature of this area of study, the Association added an additional strategy that people are likely to employ in processing information. a third fundamental processing strategy in response to an advertisement, referred to as an “experiential processing strategy. where “judgments are not based on thoughts prompted by message content per se but rather on sensations or feelings prompted by the very act of processing” (cited in Strack, 1992).
The Domino model is certainly simplistic, as it assumes that attitudes, and then behaviour, will be altered after information is provided. However, it doesn’t recognise that attitudes are formed early in our development and are inherently difficult to change (why is it that drink-driving, anti-smoking and domestic violence programs don’t seem to work? ). So it can’t be assumed that all people will change their attitudes just because they receive information. In fact, many people may not even receive knowledge from the initial message, particularly if they already have heard the message.
Given the number of persuasion theories (and they are just that: theories) it is difficult to judge with any certainty their effect on the Domino model. The simplicity of the Domino Model is probably a result of the fact that public relations is, for the most part, an inexact science – a practice that relies on the foibles of human nature. It also flawed in that what applies to a target group, does not necessarily apply to all individuals in that group. Clearly, more quantifiable research is required before either the Domino Model, or any persuasion theory can be considered exact.
In fact “to date, no single theory or framework that has been developed has been able to account for all the varied and sometimes conflicting persuasion findings. Presumably, this is because the complex process of persuasion is intricately dependent on a myriad of contextual, situational, and individual difference factors, whereas the theories remain relatively simplistic and narrowly developed” (Meyers-Levy, 1999). As Carl Hovland stated: “to change attitude you have to change opinion. That requires communication”. Whether any of the above theories affect the Domino model remain to be truly tested.