(GS PAPER-4) Persuasion


  • Persuasion can attempt to influence a person’s beliefs, attitudes, intentions, motivations, or behaviors.
  • Persuasion is a process aimed at changing a person’s (or a group’s) attitude or behavior toward some event, idea, object, or other person.
  • Systematic persuasion is the process through which attitudes or beliefs are changed by appeals to logic and reason. Heuristic persuasion on the other hand is the process through which attitudes or beliefs are changed because of appeals to habit or emotion.

Theories of Persuasion:

1. Attribution theory

  • Attribution is the process by which individuals explain the causes of behavior and events. Attribution theory is the study of models to explain those processes.
  • Humans attempt to explain the actions of others through either dispositional attribution or situational attribution.
  • Dispositional attribution, also referred to as internal attribution, attempts to point to a person’s traits, abilities, motives, or dispositions as a cause or explanation for their actions. For Example: A citizen criticizing a Prime Minister by saying the nation is lacking economic progress because the Prime Minister is either lazy or lacking in economic intuition is utilizing a dispositional attribution.
  • Situational attribution, also referred to as external attribution, attempts to point to the context around the person and factors of his surroundings, particularly things that are completely out of his control. For Example: A citizen claiming that a lack of economic progress is not a fault of the Prime Minister but rather the fact that he inherited a poor economy from the previous Prime Minister is situational attribution.
  • Fundamental attribution error (also known as the correspondence bias or attribution effect) is people’s tendency to place an undue emphasis on internal characteristics (dispositional explanations) to explain someone else’s behavior in a given situation, rather than considering external factors (situational explanations). In general, people tend to make dispositional attributions more often than situational attributions when trying to explain or understand a person’s behavior. This happens when we are much more focused on the individual because we do not know much about their situation or context.
  • When trying to persuade others to like us or another person, we tend to explain positive behaviors and accomplishments with dispositional attribution, but our own negative behaviors and shortcomings with situational attributions.

2. Classical conditioning

  • Conditioning plays a huge part in the concept of persuasion. It is more often about leading someone into taking certain actions of their own, rather than giving direct commands. In advertisements for example, this is done by attempting to connect a positive emotion to a brand/product logo. This is often done by creating commercials that make people laugh, using a sexual undertone etc.
  • This conditioning is thought to affect how people view certain products, knowing that most purchases are made on the basis of emotion. Just like you sometimes recall a memory from a certain smell or sound, the objective of some ads is solely to bring back certain emotions when you see their logo in your local store. The hope is that by repeating the message several times it will cause the consumer to be more likely to purchase the product because he/she already connects it with a good emotion and a positive experience.

3. Cognitive dissonance theory

  • Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.
  • Human beings constantly strive for mental consistency. Our cognition (thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes) can be in agreement, unrelated, or in disagreement with each other. Our cognition can also be in agreement or disagreement with our behaviors. When we detect conflicting cognition, i.e. dissonance, it gives us a sense of incompleteness and discomfort. For example, a person who is addicted to smoking cigarettes but also suspects it could be detrimental to his health suffers from cognitive dissonance.
  • We are motivated to reduce this dissonance until our cognition is in harmony with itself. We strive for mental consistency. There are four main ways we go about reducing or eliminating our dissonance:
    1. changing our minds about one of the facets of cognition
    2. reducing the importance of a cognition
    3. increasing the overlap between the two, and
    4. re-evaluating the cost/reward
  • Revisiting the example of the smoker, he can either quit smoking, reduce the importance of his health, convince himself he is not at risk, or evaluate the reward of his smoking to be worth the cost of his health.
  • The most famous example of how cognitive dissonance can be used for persuasion comes from Festinger and Carlsmith’s 1959 experiment in which participants were asked to complete a very dull task for an hour. Some were paid $20, while others were paid $1, and afterwards they were instructed to tell the next waiting participants that the experiment was fun and exciting. Those who were paid $1 were much more likely to convince the next participants that the experiment really was enjoyable than those who received $20. This is because $20 is enough reason to participate in a dull task for an hour, so there is no dissonance. Those who received $1 experienced great dissonance, so they had to truly convince themselves that the task actually was enjoyable in order to avoid feeling like they were taken advantage of, and therefore reduce their dissonance.

4. Elaboration likelihood model

  • Persuasion has traditionally been associated with two routes.

    • Central route: Whereby an individual evaluates information presented to them based on the pros and cons of it and how well it supports their values
    • Peripheral route: Change is mediated by how attractive the source of communication is and by bypassing the deliberation process.

Elements / Components of Persuasion

  • The components or factors involved in the communication process are source, message, channel, receiver and destination.
  • “Source” factors include the perceived sender of the communication. The “message” refers to what he says and includes style, content and organization, while “Channel” designates the medium (e.g. press, radio, television) through which the message is communicated.
  • As regards the “receiver” factors, it refers to the persons (e.g. age, sex, etc.) to whom the communication is directed and the “destination” indicates the behaviour (e.g. voting) the communication is designed to influence.
  • The process of persuasion involves a series of successive steps: The communication is presented; the person pays attention to it; he comprehends the contents of the message and also the basic conclusion being urged. However, for persuasion to be effected the individual must agree with or yield to the point being urged and then finally act on it or in other words carry out the behaviour implied due to the new change in his attitude.
  • A communication model of persuasion that identifies the following major components: the source; the message itself; the context of the message; and the audience.

1. The Source

  • The source of a persuasive message is the communicator who is presenting it. A source is more persuasive if he or she is seen as credible (believable) and attractive.
  • There are two ways for a source to be credible: (a) claiming to be an expert, and (b) appearing to be trustworthy. When a tennis star endorses a particular brand of athletic shoe, she is persuasive because she is an expert. When an actor who always plays heroes endorses a product, he is persuasive because his career as a “good guy” makes him appear trustworthy.
  • There are also two ways for a source to be attractive: (a) physical appeal and (b) similarity to the audience. When automobile commericals feature beautiful men and women at the wheel, advertisers hope that the models’ physical appeal will make the commerical persuasive. When a beer commerical portrays a group of blue-collar men enjoying a particular brand of beer, the commerical is persuasive to audience members who consider themselves similar to the characters depicted.

2. The Message

  • Persuasive messages can involve emotional appeals or rational arguments. When time is limited, short emotional appeals may be more effective than rational arguments. For example, anti-smoking campaigns with slogans like “Smokers Stink!” may be more persuasive than lists of recent statistical findings about the health of smokers versus nonsmokers.
  • Should a message be one-sided or should it present both sides of an issue? Research shows that when the audience is highly involved and already sympathetic, a one-sided message is more persuasive. In contrast, when an audience is undecided or uninvolved, a two-sided message seems more fair and persuasive. There is also evidence that more intelligent audiences are persuaded better by two-sided messages, probably because they more readily recognize that there are two sides to the issue.

3. The Context 

  • Advertisers often have difficulty overcoming the internal arguments that compete with their persuasive messages. When we listen to or read a persuasive message, we are usually free to limit our attention or silently counter argue with its arguments. For this reason, many salespeople will try to prevent internal counterarguing by distracting a customer. For example, if a customer is urged to “try out” a new appliance while the salesperson talks about its features, the cusotmer will already be paying attention to two things- using the appliance and listening to the salesperson – and will have difficulty rehearsing counterarguments.
  • Research has shown that when subjects are distracted, they are more likely to accept a persuasive message than when they have been allowed to concentrate on their counterarguments.

4. The Audience

  • Numerous research efforts have focused on the recipients of persuasive messages, the audience, to discover when some people are more persuadable than others.
  • Many audience characteristics interact with message variables, like involvement or intelligence. Intelligent recipients are more persuaded by complex messages, while unintelligent recipients are more persuaded by simple emotional messages.
  • Other audience research has identified characteristics like age or lifestyle as relevant to persuasiveness. For example, young people may be more likely to accept a message that promised popularity, while older people would find security or health a more appealing promise.

Other Methods and Techniques of Persuasion:

(1) Four Persuasion Styles:

(a) Negative feeling: Aggression

  • When people care less about the other person and particularly when they are feeling angry or in a negative mood, they easily fall into aggressive methods where the basic message is ‘Do as I say or I’ll harm you.’
  • While aggression can come from a generally unpleasant personality, it is often due to a lack of skill in other methods.

(b) Negative thinking: Deception

  • A more subtle form of negativity is deception, where we may lie and manipulate the other person, for example with faked friendship, clever argument or outright lying. The basic message is ‘Believe me (do not challenge me)’.

(c) Positive feeling: Affection

  • When we are emotionally driven but largely concerned about the other person or our relationship with them, then we typically use methods based in kindness and affection, such as being friendly and asking nicely. The basic message is ‘Help me now, my friend, and I will help you in return some other day.’
  • Friendly methods require trust and are common in relationships where rules of exchange mean that give and take balance out over time. Affection can be faked and this approach can be deception in disguise.

(d) Positive thinking: Reason

  • Perhaps the most difficult approach can be in crafting reasonable arguments where we expect the other person to carefully consider what we say and respond with a counter-arguments that perhaps refute some of our proposals and add further facts or reasoning that lead to different conclusions and eventual agreement.
  • People who use the reasoned approach are often more open to being persuaded, though this must be done with valid reason rather than with other methods described above.
  • When we consider ourselves to be reasonable and civil, we often prefer this method. However, when we suspect that the other person may be deceptive, using false ‘facts’ or plausible but fallacious reasoning, then we may defensively resort to negative approaches.

(2)  Cialdini’s Six Principles of Influence:

(a) Reciprocity:

  • Principle: We feel obliged to give back to people who have given to us.
  • Give people something. Then ask for something in return. You do not need to limit your request to something of equivalent value; you can ask for things that are far bigger than what you gave.
  • For Example: A sales person does a lot of research for a customer, in the assumption that this will make the customer feel obliged to reciprocate by buying.

(b) Consistency and Commitment:

  • Principle: We feel we must always align our outer actions and promises with our inner choices and systems, such as our beliefs and values.
  • When we make a promise, we feel obliged to work hard to fulfil that promise. When we make a decision, we like to feel that this is the right decision for us.
  • When we do something that is out of alignment with our beliefs, values and other aspects of our self-image, we may change those inner aspects in order to restore alignment.
  • When we have committed to something, we tend to justify this commitment by inventing new rationale and otherwise seeking confirmation that we have made the right choice.
  • Example: You’d probably be more likely to support a colleague’s project proposal if you had shown interest when he first talked to you about his ideas.

(c) Social Proof:

  • Principle:  We copy what others do, especially when we are unsure. People will be more open to things they see others doing.
  • Emphasize the credibility and numbers of people who are acting in the way you want the target person to follow. Show how they are similar to the target person.
  • For Example: An advertiser shows a happy family in selling goods to people who are likely to have families.

(d) Liking:

  • Principle: The obligations of friendship.
  • Be friendly. Show that you like them. Be interested in them and their world. Two things that increase liking in particular are similarity and praise. If you show that you are like them in some way, they will like you.
  • For Example: A sales person develops an easy and friendly introduction conversation that gets customers to like them.

(e) Authority:

  • Principle: We defer to people who seem superior.
  • When a person asserts something as being true, if we believe they know more than us then we are far more likely to accept what they say as true without question.
  • A person dresses to look like a university professor and speaks using technical-sounding terms. He is able to bluff his way into a conference.

(f) Scarcity:

  • Principle: We want now what we may not be able to get in the future.
  • When things become less available, they become more desirable. If we have the choice of getting it now or only possibly getting it in future, then we choose getting it now.
  • This increase in desire and consequent acquisitive action happens even if we do not need the item now. It is the scarcity that drives our desire, not the utility of the item in question.
  • For Example: A shop has a sale, with signs such as ‘last few’, ‘limited availability’ and ‘special offer today only’.

(3) Low-Balling:

  • First, low-balling is a persuasion technique that deliberately offers a product at a lower price than one intends to charge. Imagine you are out shopping, and a salesman has convinced you to buy a new product. You are pretty excited about the product as you follow him to the register. However, as he is checking you out, he realizes that the price sticker on the product, Rs 250, is incorrect. He apologizes and tells you that the real price is actually Rs 350. You respond graciously that it’s not his fault and confirm you would still like to complete the transaction.
  • Low-balling is pretty successful in convincing us to pay a higher price by ensuring our buy-in at a lower level. Once we have made a decision to purchase something, our need to be consistent in behavior assures us our choice was right, even if the price is later increased.
  • The key to successful low-balling is not only to make the initial offer attractive enough to gain compliance, but also to not make the second offer so excessive that it’s refused.

(4) Foot-in-the-Door:

  • The other persuasion technique is foot-in-the-door, which starts with a small request in order to gain eventual compliance with larger requests. Imagine you receive an e-mail from a friend asking you to sign a petition that favored a particular charity. The request is small, simple, and easy enough, so you go ahead and sign. A week later, that same friend calls and thanks you for your signature, and asks if you would be willing to put a small sign in your yard. After you do that, your friend convinces you to make a small donation, and also volunteer an entire Saturday to help the cause.
  • Now, if your friend had originally asked you to give up a Saturday volunteering for a charity that you had no commitment to, it’s unlikely you would have done it. However, because your friend started small and built up to the bigger request, he ensured your commitment.
  • The foot-in-the-door technique works by first getting a small yes and then getting an even bigger yes. Like low-balling, this technique works because of our desire to be consistent. From the beginning, we justify our agreement, typically convincing ourselves that our original action was because of genuine interest in the subject. With subsequent requests, especially those that are extensions of the first request, we feel obligated to act consistently with that internal explanation.

(5) Door-in-the-Face:

  • In the door-in-the-face (DITF) technique,  the persuader attempts to convince the respondent to comply by making a large request that the respondent will most likely turn down. The respondent is then more likely to agree to a second, more reasonable request, compared to the same reasonable request made in isolation.
  • Example: Will you donate $100 to our cause? [response is no].  Oh. Well could you donate $10? [This time probability of yes increases]
  • The DITF technique can be contrasted with the foot-in-the-door (FITD) technique, in which a persuader begins with a small request and gradually increases the demands of each request.

Resisting Persuasion: Attitude Inoculation

  • It is possible to resist unwanted persuasion. If, because of an aura of credibility, something have intimidated us into unquestioning agreement, we can rethink our habitual responses to authority. We can seek more information before committing time or money. We can question- what we don’t understand.

Strengthening Personal Commitment:

  • Before encountering others’ judgments, you make a public commitment to your position. Having stood up for your convictions, you become less susceptible (or less “open”) to what others have to say.

Challenging Beliefs:

  • When you attack a committed person and your attack is of inadequate strength, you drive him to even more extreme behaviors in defense of his previous commitment

Developing Counterarguments:

  • A mild attack might build resistance. Like inoculations against disease, weak arguments prompt counterarguments, which are then available for a stronger attack.
  • Could we inoculate people against persuasion much as we inoculate them against a virus? Is there such a thing as attitude inoculation? Could we take people raised in a “germ-free ideological environment”—people who hold some unquestioned belief—-and stimulate their mental defenses? And would subjecting them to a small “dose” of belief-threatening material inoculate them against later persuasion?
  • That is what McGuire did. First, he found some cultural truisms, such as ‘It’s a good idea to brush your teeth after every meal if at all possible.” He then showed that people were vulnerable to a massive, credible assault upon these truisms (for example, prestigious authorities were said to have discovered that too much tooth brushing can damage one’s gums). If, however, before having their belief attacked, they were “immunized” by first receiving a small challenge to their belief, and if they read or wrote an essay- in refutation of this mild attack, then they were better able to resist the powerful attack.
  • There are two basic key components to successful inoculation. The first is threat, which provides motivation to protect one’s attitudes or beliefs. Refutational preemption is the second component. Refutational preemption is the cognitive part of the process. It is the ability to activate one’s own argument for future defense and strengthen their existing attitudes through counterarguing.


  • Reactance is a motivational reaction to offers, persons, rules, or regulations that threaten or eliminate specific behavioral freedoms. Reactance occurs when a person feels that someone or something is taking away his or her choices or limiting the range of alternatives.
  • Reactances can occur when someone is heavily pressured to accept a certain view or attitude. Reactance can cause the person to adopt or strengthen a view or attitude that is contrary to what was intended, and also increases resistance to persuasion.
  • When certain free behaviors are threatened or removed, the more important a free behavior is to a certain individual the greater the magnitude of the reactance.
  • There are four important elements to reactance theory: perceived freedom, threat to freedom, reactance, and restoration of freedom.


Snowball effect

  • The snowball effect means something of little to no significance building up to become miraculous and great.
  • A small snowball which is placed on a steep hill will go down much faster and collect more snow and become much bigger a lot quicker than if it weren’t a steep hill. Basic laws of physics.  However, the faster the snowball goes down the hill, the harder it will be to control the snowball toward the end of the path thereby possibly being destructive.
  • Like a snowball, most of us are starting our careers or experiences with small significance. We probably have little to no power right now and will continue to have no power for a while. To become the all mighty powerful snowball, we must go down the right path.

  • If we get rich to quick or too fast, we might lose control and be headed down a path of utter disappointment.  It’s always better to go down the not so steep hill of life so we can progress.

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