Icek Ajzen University of Massachusetts – Amherst
From M. J. Manfredo (Ed) (1992). Influencing Human Behavior: Theory and Applications in Recreation and Tourism (pp 1– 27). Champaign, IL: Sagamore Publishing.
Persuasive Communication Theory
Few subjects in social psychology have attracted as much interest and attention as persuasive communication. One of the first topics to be systematically investigated, persuasion has been the focus of intense research efforts throughout much of social psychology's brief scientific history. Untold experiments have been conducted to unravel the intricate web of factors that appear to play a role in determining the effectiveness of a persuasive message. These attempts have revealed a degree of complexity that seems to defy explanation and that poses serious obstacles to theory construction. However, recent years have seen considerable progress at the theoretical level and a resurgence of empirical work has done much to invigorate the field and provide a better understanding of the fundamental psychological processes underlying persuasion. To appreciate the significance of these developments we must compare the emerging ideas and research findings with those from earlier efforts. The present chapter is designed to provide the required historical perspective. Since it aims to review developments in our understanding of the persuasion process, emphasis is placed on ideas and theories rather than on methodological or practical concerns; empirical research findings are summarized only in broad outline when needed to make a point of theoretical significance. The solution of problems created by recreation and tourism often involves persuasion in one form or another. As the chapters in the second part of this book illustrate, recreationists must be persuaded to observe rules of safety, to avoid conflicts with other visitors, and to keep their impact on the environment to a minimum. Although social psychologists have rarely tested their ideas in the context of recreation and tourism, the findings and conclusions discussed below have obvious implications for any attempt to influence beliefs, attitudes, and behavior in this domain. THE NATURE OF PERSUASION Persuasive communication involves the use of verbal messages to influence attitudes and behavior. Although the context of persuasion must necessarily be considered, the verbal message, designed to sway the hearts and minds of the receivers, is at the core of persuasive
communication. Through a process of reasoning, the message exerts its influence by force of the arguments it contains. As we shall see below, this emphasis on reasoning sets persuasive communication apart from other social influence strategies. Structure of a Message As a general rule, a message consists of three parts: An advocated position, a set of general arguments in support of the advocated position, and specific factual evidence designed to bolster the general arguments (Fishbein and Ajzen, 1981). The advocated position may be a stand on a particular issue (e.g., support for a tax increase) or a recommended action (e.g., donating blood). The general arguments will typically supply reasons for adopting the advocated position, and justification for the arguments is provided in the form of factual evidence. Consider the question of instituting a senior comprehensive examination for undergraduate college students. Petty and Cacioppo (1986, pp. 54-59) published some examples of general arguments and supportive evidence they have used in their research program. Among the major arguments contained in Petty and Cacioppo's messages were the claims that instituting a comprehensive exam raises students' grade point averages and leads to improvement in the quality of undergraduate teaching. The factual evidence in support of the first argument was formulated as follows (pp. 54-55): The...