Carl Hovland set up a research team at Yale University which looked into the nature of persuasion. During his years at the university he developed the Hovland-Yale Model. This model states that there several factors that will affect how likely a change of attitude through persuasion is, after all behavioural change cannot occur without attitude change also having taken place. The three most prominent factors are the source, the message and the audience.
This has led psychologists to look at the science of persuasion to discover how to change attitudes with the ultimate goal of changing behaviour.
The Source Credibility theory states that people more likely to be persuaded when a source presents itself as credible, for example Bochner and Insko found that people were more likely to trust a sleep expert than a non-sleep expert, on matters surrounding sleep.
The Hovland-Yale model says the content of the message is an important factor. O’Keefe’s meta-analysis of research on one-sided and two-sided messages found that two-sided messages influence attitudes more than one-sided messages, as long as the two sided argument was eventually gave a solid opinion. So an argument is more effective if you show both sides of the argument, but then show why your opinion is correct.
The audience strongly effects how likely someone is to be persuaded, for example McGuire found that more intelligent audiences are more likely to be persuaded by valid arguments because they have a longer attention span and can understand the arguments better.
The cultural differences of an audience can also affect how persuasive an argument can be. For example Wang et al found Americans prefer products that offered ‘separateness’ whereas Chinese prefer products that offered ‘togetherness’. This suggests different cultures would be more influences by messages which back up their opinions.
Evaluation of the Hovland-Yale Model
+ Grounding breaking – this traditional approach to persuasion and attitude change was one the earliest attempts to investigate the topic area, this acted as a catalyst, meaning that a lot of more research was done into the area.
+ Real world application – It dealt with attitude change in practical ways and, indeed, much of the research is still relevant today and can be seen in advertising, speech writing and use by ‘spin doctors’ such as Alastair Campbell.
– Research findings – There has been a wealth of research into the Hovland-Yale model, a lot of which criticises the model.
– Doesn’t explain how persuasion actually happens – Perhaps the greatest weakness of the Hovland-Yale approach is that it only really concentrates on the steps in the persuasion process, and doesn’t really offer an explanation of how persuasion actually occurs.
– Assumption that understanding a message leads to persuasion – The model assumes that attitude change always derives from an understanding of a message. This is obviously an important factor and probably the main reason behind persuasion and attitude change, but this does not guarantee that people are persuaded. For example, the Elaboration Likelihood model shows that persuasion can still occur even when a message is not fully understood or learned.
– Methodological issues – A lot of the research into persuasion and attitude measurement is faulty. For example, one of the main methods used is self-reports such as questionnaires, these can be unreliable and result in invalid date. Also standardised measurements scales, for example where participants have to rate their level of agreement to a series of attitude statements, are often very subjective to each individual, again leading to invalid data. This means that the theory the data is based upon must also be invalid to some extent.