yes, therapy helps!
9 keys to change attitudes through persuasion

9 keys to change attitudes through persuasion

April 27, 2024

What leads us to change our opinion about a fact or to decide to acquire a certain product? How do we change a habit or our perception of another person?

From the Social Psychology are very diverse are the models that address the issue of attitudinal change . By definition, an attitude is a type of acquired and relatively durable predisposition to evaluate in a certain way a fact or a subject and to behave according to such assessment.

Attitudes are composed of a cognitive element (perception about the object of the attitude), an affective element (set of feelings that generates the attitude object) and a behavioral element (intentions and behavioral actions derived from the previous two).

Due to its complexity and the amount of internal and external aspects to the subject that are involved, modifying an attitude can be more arduous than it may seem superficially. Below are the key points that intervene in this particular psychological process.

  • Rotated article: "What is Social Psychology?"

Persuasive messages and their role in attitudinal change

Persuasive messages are socially mediated strategies which are usually used to pursue attitude change . It is a direct methodology that is based on a central idea to be defended and is complemented by one or two strong arguments that reinforce it, since its ultimate purpose is usually aimed at a type of recipient that is originally positioned in the opposite attitude .

Thus, the effectiveness of a persuasive messageeside in the ability to modify a series of beliefs already internalized by the recipient through the use of incentives and a clear and simple type of information that can be understood by the recipient.

The choice of such a persuasive message is very relevant , since it must produce a series of internal effects in the receiver such as attention, understanding, acceptance and retention. If these four processes are not combined, the achievement of attitudinal change can be greatly compromised. In turn, these cognitive processes depend on the nature of four other main external factors:

  • The source of information
  • The content of the message
  • The communicative channel
  • The communicative context

Several authors have tried to explain through different models why attitudinal change occurs throughout the last decades. McGuire (1981) defends a process of six stages that are summarized in the result of combining the joint probability on the reception of the information and the acceptance of said message.

  • Maybe you're interested: "Persuasion: definition and elements of the art of convincing"

The central route and the peripheral route

On the other hand, Petty and Cacioppo (1986) affirm in their Model of Probability of Elaboration that the individuals try to validate their position before the decision of accepting or rejecting a certain idea through two routes, the central route and the peripheral .

The center consists of the most lasting critical evaluation process where the arguments presented are analyzed in detail, and the peripheral route is the superficial assessment that has a low level of motivation and focuses on external aspects such as interest in the issuer or its credibility. In the latter case, the probability of basing the change of opinion on heuristics or "cognitive shortcuts" is considerably significant.

The Cognitive Response Theory (Moya, 1999), on the other hand, states that when receiving a persuasive message the receiver compare this information with one's own feelings and other previous attitudes regarding the same topic generating a cognitive response. Thus, the message recipients are "self-convinced" with their own messages based on their previous opinion when they receive certain persuasive information.

  • Related article: "Differences between emotions and feelings"

Key elements in the persuasion process

As discussed above, some of the main factors that modulate the effectiveness of persuasion for attitudinal change are the following.

1. The source of information

Aspects such as credibility, which is formed in turn by competition (or experience in the subject field in question) and authenticity (perceived sincerity), the attractiveness of the issuer, power or group similarity between this and the receiver affect at the level of attention raised by the information transmitted.

2. The message

They can be classified as rational vs. emotive and in unilateral vs. bilateral .

According to the first criterion, the investigations show that the level of persuasion maintains a relationship of inverted U with the degree of threat or perceived danger that the receiver presents to the received information. Thus, the so-called appeals to fear are often used in the promotion of attitudinal changes related to health and disease prevention.

In addition, greater persuasive power has been demonstrated when the level of fear raised is high provided that it is accompanied by certain indications on how to deal with the danger expressed in the message.

Unilateral messages are characterized by present exclusively the advantages of the object of persuasion , while the bilateral ones combine both positive aspects on alternative proposals and the negative aspects of the original message. The studies seem to position themselves in favor of bilateral messages regarding the effectiveness of persuasion, since they tend to be perceived as more credible and realistic than the former.

Other key elements to be assessed in the type of message they are, mainly: if the information is accompanied by graphic examples (which increases the persuasive efficacy), if the conclusion is explicit or not (more probability of attitudinal change in the first case) or the degree of the effects derived from the order of the ideas that make up the message (primacy effect -more memory of the information offered in the first place- or of recencia -more memory of the last information received-).

3. The receiver

The receiver of the message is also another key element. As pointed out by the findings of authors such as McGuire (1981), Zajonc (1968) or Festinger (1962), there is a lower probability that the recipient will resist accepting a persuasive message if:

1. The receiver feels involved with the subject matter

If what is spoken of has a meaning for the recipient, it will come out of it to listen to the proposal.

2. There is little discrepancy

There is little discrepancy between the defended position in the message and the previous beliefs of the receiver , that is, the level of discrepancy is moderate but existing.

3. The information given was not known

There has been a process of pre-exposure to information or not, which can lead the person to defend their original position and not give in to the persuasive message. This occurs in cases in which the power of information is not strong enough to overcome such defenses.

4. Moderate level of distraction

The level of distraction in the recipient is considerable, which makes it difficult to consolidate the arguments used by the persuasive message. When the degree of distraction is moderate, the persuasive power tends to increase because the tendency to counter-argue the idea transmitted is diminished .

5. The issuer's persuasive intention has been given a warning

On these occasions, the receiver usually increases their resistance as a prevention mechanism to preserve their previous beliefs. This factor interacts considerably with the degree of involvement of the individual in the subject matter : the greater the involvement and the greater the warning, the greater the resistance to persuasion.

6. Repetition of the persuasive message is maintained over time

This condition is given as long as it is based on the central transmission route.

7. The degree of exposure to stimulus or persuasive information is high

It seems to have been shown that the subject tends to increase the liking for the new attitude in question from spontaneous contact, since does not have the conscious perception of having been directly persuaded for it.

8. The power that cognitive dissonance is significant enough for the receiver

Cognitive dissonance is the effect of discomfort that an individual experiences when there is no correspondence between their beliefs and their actions, which is why he tries to readjust one of the two elements to decrease such discrepancy and minimize the psychological tension caused.

The degree of dissonance in turn is influenced by the type of incentive that accompanies the attitude change , the degree of freedom of choice of the decision or personal involvement, among others.

  • Related article: "Cognitive dissonance: the theory that explains self-deception"

9. There is consistency in the message

The arguments that justify the message are solid (central route).


As explained in the text, the relative interaction between the cognitive aspects that are manifested in the recipient of a type of information in order to achieve a change of attitude (attention, understanding, acceptance and retention) and other external factors such as the characteristics of the original source of the message or the way it is presented can facilitate or hinder such attitudinal modification in a significant percentage .

Even so, the effect of the idea defended and the arguments used to substantiate it becomes a phenomenon that is considerably particular, since it is a function of circumstances such as the previous beliefs of the person, the type of feelings generated by the new information (which depend of previous life experiences) or the degree of discrepancy between theoretical thinking and the actual behavior that the individual emits, which determine to a greater extent the effectiveness of the persuasive intention.

Therefore, the existence of infallible strategies or methodologies can not be affirmed to achieve the change of attitude in a universal or standard way for all people.

Bibliographic references:

  • Baron, R. A. and Byrne, D. (2005) Social Psychology, 10th edition. Ed: Pearson.
  • Moya, M (1999). Persuasion and change of attitudes. Social psychology. Madrid: McGraw-Hill.

Persuasion, attitude change, and the elaboration likelihood model | MCAT | Khan Academy (April 2024).

Similar Articles