The Elaboration Likelihood Model is discussed in this lesson, including the distinction between the central route and the peripheral route, examples of each route and when people are likely to take one route over the other.
We’ve previously discussed attitudes: what they are, where they come from and how to measure them. However, attitudes are not always static – sometimes they change. When they do, it is often in response to social influence. Our attitudes toward everything – from pizza toppings to names to give our children – can be influenced by other people. This is why attitudes are studied so extensively by social psychologists; even though attitudes are unique to each person and mostly internal, they are socially influenced and shaped by the behavior of other people.
In fact, advertisements and other methods of persuasion count on the fact that we can be influenced in our opinions and attitudes. But, they are not always successful. In this lesson, we will discuss the Elaboration Likelihood Model, which explains two ways in which persuasive communication can cause attitude change: centrally and peripherally.
Elaboration Likelihood Model
Sometimes, whether listening to a speech or a television advertisement, we are moved by what the speaker says. Other times, we pay less attention to what the person is actually saying and care more about the speaker’s presence. The Elaboration Likelihood Model indicates the factors that determine which of these is more likely. It is a theory that specifies when people are more likely to be influenced by the content of persuasive communication instead of superficial characteristics, and vice versa.
It helps us explain how attitudes are formed and changed through persuasion. The model describes two routes to persuasion – central and peripheral – that can be successful in changing someone’s attitude under the right circumstances.
Central Route to Persuasion
When discussing the Elaboration Likelihood Model, we use the term ‘elaborate’ to mean ‘to think elaborately about something.’ The central route to persuasion is when people elaborate on a persuasive argument, listening carefully and thinking about the logic behind the message. There are times when people are motivated to pay attention to the facts during a speech or other persuasive communication and during those times are persuaded the most by a strong logical argument.
If a person believes the persuasion to be reliable, convincing and well-constructed, he or she will typically be receptive to a change in attitude that is long-lasting.For example, imagine you are a college student listening to a speech about why the cost of tuition should be increased the following year. If you are attending next year, it’s likely this subject would be important to you, and so you would listen closely to the argument. Obviously, you would probably not want the tuition to increase. However, if you find the argument to be convincing – say, if you were going to receive a substantial number of benefits – you may change your mind.
Peripheral Route to Persuasion
There are other times when people are not motivated by the facts and instead are persuaded by superficial things, such as the attractiveness or fame of the person delivering the message. This is the peripheral route to persuasion – when people do not elaborate on a persuasive argument and instead are swayed by surface characteristics that are peripheral to the message.
When using this route, peripheral cues enable the individual to use mental shortcuts, accepting or rejecting the argument based on superficial factors instead of actively thinking about the issue. Attitude change resulting from the peripheral route is typically temporary and susceptible to additional change.For an example of using the peripheral route, imagine you are listening to a debate between two political candidates. It is long and boring, and you zone out for a bit. At the end, though, you favor one particular candidate because he seems more likable and has a warm, soothing voice. Your attitude toward the candidate has changed even though you were not paying attention to what he was saying – his demeanor and voice were peripheral cues that you (likely unconsciously) used as a mental shortcut to determine his likability. Many psychologists have proposed that this is actually how most of the U.
S. population chooses a presidential candidate.
Choosing a Route
So, when and why do people sometimes pay attention to the facts and other times use mental shortcuts instead? The two factors that determine which route to persuasion someone takes are motivation and ability.
An individual must have both motivation and the ability to pay attention, which leads to the central route to persuasion. If one does not have either motivation or the ability to pay attention (it doesn’t have to be both), the peripheral route to persuasion will be used.For example, think again about the speech regarding tuition prices. Motivation typically comes in the form of personal relevance.
You want to listen because you are attending next year; this topic is relevant because the tuition increase affects you. So, you certainly have motivation. But, you also need the ability to listen in order to take the central route. You must be able to understand what the person is talking about and not be distracted by anything else.
If you are motivated to listen but can’t hear the speaker or are distracted by something else, you will end up using peripheral cues (such as the length of the speech) instead of a central argument.Likewise, if you weren’t attending next year but still stuck listening to the speech, you would likely use peripheral cues (maybe the attractiveness of the speaker or the reaction of the crowd) because the subject is no longer relevant to you. And, you probably wouldn’t pay much attention to what the speaker is actually saying.
In summary, the Elaboration Likelihood Model is a theory that specifies when people are more likely to be influenced by the content of persuasive communication instead of superficial characteristics, and vice versa.
It helps us explain how attitudes are formed and changed through persuasion.The model consists of two routes: the central route to persuasion, which is when people elaborate on a persuasive argument, listening carefully and thinking about the logic behind the message; and the peripheral route to persuasion – when people do not elaborate on a persuasive argument and instead are swayed by surface characteristics that are peripheral to the message.An individual must have both motivation and the ability to pay attention in order to take the central route to persuasion, which typically results in a long-lasting change in attitude. If one does not have either motivation or the ability to pay attention (it doesn’t have to be both), the peripheral route to persuasion will be used, which typically results in a temporary change in attitude that is susceptible to additional change.
At the conclusion of this lesson, you’ll be able to:
- Summarize the Elaboration Likelihood Model
- Differentiate between the central route to persuasion and the peripheral route to persuasion and define the key characteristics of each
- Explain what two factors a person must have in order to take the central route to persuasion
- Describe whether each route to persuasion results in long-term or short-term attitude changes