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History Of Persuasion Rhetoric English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3714 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Rhetoric, the study of how human beings use symbols to communicate( Foss, Foss, &Trapp, 2002), is one of the oldest concepts of human communication in the Western World which dates back to the fifth century B.C( Baldwin, Perry, &Moffitt,2004). This field of study marked the advent of speech communication. A pivotal concept studied in the field of rhetoric is Persuasion. Such is the prominence of this particular phenomenon in this discipline that, in present times, the study of rhetoric is generally considered synchronous to the study of persuasive communication.( Baldwin et al, 2004).

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Persuasion stems from the three cultures which make up the classical rhetorical theory. It all started with the sophists, a body of Greek teachers, who wrote handbooks which defined methods of producing and delivering persuasive messages. The act of sophists charging money for their services and their strong criticism by Plato “perpetuated an antisophistic sentiment” which lead to their subsequent demise. By this time ( 428 -348 B.C) Plato had come to the forefront and professed the necessity of finding the absolute truth( Baldwin et al, 2004). Plato’s student Aristotle constructed a philosophy which drew from the ideologies advocated by the sophists as well as Plato, providing a sort of middle ground between “completely relative” to “absolute unvarying truth”.( Baldwin et al, 2004, pg 78). In his masterpiece “The Rhetoric”, Aristotle speaks of the three essential elements of an effective persuasive speech: ethos, pathos and logos. Ethos is the moral character of the speaker, pathos is taking into consideration the feelings of the audience members and logos is the accuracy of logic and argument in the speech.( O’Hair , Wiemann,2009). The current literature review primarily focuses on the role of pathos in persuasive messages. But before progressing in that direction, the most fundamental question which needs to be addressed is : What is persuasion?

Persuasion and Interpersonal Influence

Persuasion, at its very core, is an attempt to influence without direct coercion ( Dillard, &Pfau, 2002). Daniel O’Keefe in his book Persuasion: Theory and Research smartly pointed out that success is considered to be ingrained in the concept of persuasion. To make a claim that ” I was persuaded” means that the attempt of influence was indeed successful. This influence attempt can either be to bring in a complete change in attitude and beliefs which is inclusive of emotions and behavior of another person or to just preserve this attitudinal change. (Dillard et al 2002). The early research work conducted on persuasion has primarily been with respect to a large audience setup ( Miller 1987). However, with the realization that almost 80 % of the influence attempts occur in close relationships( Dillard,Knobloch, 2002) the focus on research work has steered towards interpersonal influence which, as the name suggests, focuses on the persuasive message production and effects( dillard , knobloch, 2002) in interpersonal relationships.

One of the main differences which crops up between the study of rhetoric and the study of persuasion theories is the fact that research on rhetoric is primarily humanistic while persuasion takes a more social scientific bend trying to explicate the variables which enhance or inhibit the probability of success of a persuasive message (Baldwin et al 2002).

Affect, Emotion, Mood and Feelings : Same or different?

Some researchers use the terms affect emotion and mood interchangeably, but these terms need to be delineated for a better understanding of each of their roles in persuasive communication( Guerrero, Anderson ,& Trost, 1998).

Affect refers to the experience of feeling or emotion. Emotions are considered to be internal and have a primary focus on affect. Moods are longer lasting feelings (which are not as concrete and specific as emotions ( Clore, Shwartz,&Conway, 1994 ; Frijda,1986 in Jorgenson,1998). A more detailed description of the terms are accounted for below.




There have been two contesting views on the source of affect. Studies conducted by Dillard and Wilson(1993) explicated the “message irrelevant affect” where the affect itself bears no logical relationship to the content of the message , it has nothing to do with the message whatsoever ( Dillard,& Pfau,2002). This type of affect takes into account the emotional state existing prior to the reception of a persuasive message which has a significant impact on the message processing by an individual(Anderson,& Guerrero,1998). The other view on the source of affect, the “message induced affect” (Dillard, &Wilson, 1993) is one where affect is considered a part and parcel of the message evaluation, when messages are designed in a way to evoke certain emotions and feelings which serve as the basis of acceptance of the advocacy(Dillard,& Pfau,2002). Dillard and Wilson(1993) refer to it as “direct effect” as the emotion occurs in direct response to a given message(Jorgenson,1998, pg.406).

Structure of Affect

Dillard and Meijenders(2002) accounted for three models of affect on which I am going to focus on as well.

The first model is the Bipolar Valence Model. According to this model, affect should be structured as a single continuum with positive affect on one end of the spectrum and negative affect on the other. This model suggests how the pre-existing affective states have a considerable effect on how the receiver processes the message. The mood as information hypothesis in this regard states that positive mood or affective state of a receiver encourages heuristic message processing while negative moods elicit cognitive processing. Mood management hypothesis( Wegener and Petty,1996) was formulated as a challenge to the mood as information hypothesis which states that information processing depends on the affective state of the receiver in a different way. If the receiver feels that elaborative processing of a positive message can enhance his mood, he will indulge in it.

The second model is the Two Dimensional Model. Dillard and Meijnders(2002) account for two types of two dimensional models. One model has pleasure as one dimension and arousal as the second one. “The conceptual allure of this circumplex is its ability to explain affective experience as blends of pleasure and arousal” (Reisenzein, 1994 in Dillard, &Meijnders 2002). Empirical evidence shows that increased arousal inhibits systematic processing of messages. The second model in this category has two systems as the two dimensions. One of them, the “behavioral approach” system, facilitates “goal directed behavior”. The other one, “behavioral inhibition” system discourages behavior which may lead to undesired negative results.(Davidson,1993 ;Gray,1990 in Dillard, &Meijnders, 2002, pg 316).

The third and final model named the Discrete Emotion Model distinguished emotions from one another on the grounds that they are characterized by varied “systemic changes”( Dillard and Meijenders,2002). The main function of this model is to elicit the fact that each emotion has distinct effects on a variety of persuasive outcomes.( Dillard and Meijenders, 2002).

Information Processing Models

After the persuasive message has been disseminated, the audience member processes the information in different ways depending on factors such as the message features and audience member’s emotional and affective state. Different models of information processing are formulated based on these caharacteristics.

Message Relevant Models :

Elaboration Likelihood Model as well as Heuristic Systematic Processing ( as a dual process model as) postulate two distinct modes of message analysis.

The Elaboration Likelihood Model of persuasion is an approach developed by Richard Petty,John Caciaoppo and their associates(1986a,1986b) which postulates that there can be two different routes to persuasion depending on the extent to which the argument is elaborated, by the central route or by the peripheral route( Anderson,& Guerrero,1998). The central route is when the receiver of the message weighs the argumentative quality of the message and processes the message using sound logic and reason whereas peripheral route is when the receiver of the message uses cues such as mood(Anderson,& Guerrero,1998) to react to the persuasive message. When the receiver’s motivation is low and he is unable to judge the cognitive aspects of the message, i.e., he performs low elaboration of the message, the receiver is then generally guided by simpler heuristic principles such as credibility, liking, and consensus (O Keefe, 2002). On the other hand, during extensive elaboration, the content of the message takes predominance over the peripheral cues.

Jorgensen(2002) argues that emotional appeals are more effective as persuasive tools during low elaboration and even brings about attitude change in the receiver, however such attitude change is more fleeting than those brought about by the central route processing.(authors, pg409).

The Heuristic Systematic Processing model is also used to explain the message processing methods used by receivers of persuasive messages. According to this model, there are two ways by which a receiver will judge a message, either by Systematic processing or by Heuristic Processing. Dillard and Peck ( 2000) in their article on evaluation of Public Service announcements succinctly describe both approaches in this model with reference to how the audience perceives the persuasive health campaign messages. They state that systematic processing is contemplative analytic and responsive to the argumentative quality of the message while heuristic processing involves the usage of shortcut decision making rules called heuristics to make a faster decision. Many researchers have stated that affect serves as the basis of the heuristics in heuristic reasoning. ” Emotion is, perhaps, the psychological heuristic key to human survival”( pg 735, persuasion handbook). WHEN ARE THE TWO USED?

Appraisal Theory :

The appraisal theory explains the simple causal sequence through which emotions arise in the following steps : the message is produced by the speaker, perceived by the hearer and then appraised by the hearer. The receiver makes a judgment call by appraising the message against the dimension of the resultant personal harm or benefit and depending upon the extent of the judgment, an emotion arises( iv). In a nutshell, this theory suggests that a message may engender emotions as a result of the receiver’s judgment or not evoke any emotions all together.

Appraisal Pattern:

Message Irrelevant Models – Effect of Mood on Persuasion

More than models, three hypotheses govern the explanation of how mood has a substantial effect on message processing.

We have already discussed how the elaboration of a message affects the message processing by the receiver. Now, we shift our attention to the reasons behind the differing elaboration of the message by the receiver.

As suggested by Blumenthal () , the mood regulation hypothesis states that cognitive information processing of a persuasive message is influenced by the receiver’s mood. If the receiver is in a positive mood , he is motivated to steer away from a deep analysis of the message for it might take him out of that good mood. Similarly , if someone is in a negative mood, he is more likely to evaluate the incoming stimuli more carefully. Thus positive mood involves heuristic cognitive processing of a communication message and negative mood is synchronous with the in depth systematic processing of the message.

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The motivational hypothesis also has a similar line of belief. It states that the use of peripheral or systematic processing to evaluate a message depends upon the mood of the receiver; if the person is in a certain mood, he might be predisposed to choose a certain method of message processing over another. For example the research conducted by Isen(1991) suggests that people in a good emotional state are more inclined towards low elaboration of a message as they just want to hold on to their positive mood( handbook). On the other hand, people in bad moods tend to be in a threatened mentality where in they want to judge every message carefully to be sure to not make costly judgments about the state of the world( Jorgensen). The motivational hypothesis also sheds light on the way the argumentative quality of the message is perceived in different emotional states. Recipients of strong arguments should be more persuaded when they are in a bad mood and conversely, recipients of weak arguments should be more persuaded when they are in a good mood. This shows that the mood plays an instrumental role in deciding the acceptance of the message as well as its argumentative quality.

The cognitive capacity hypothesis can be considered as an extension of the motivational hypothesis as together with asserting that affective states do influence the information processing capacity of the receiver it also states that these affective states may also interfere with the information processing. However it fails to state which affective state acts as the hindrance because under different circumstances different affective states can become the hindrance. This claim is elucidated by Dillard and Nabi(2006) when they posited that different emotional states can enhance or inhibit persuasive success and that under different circumstances the same emotional states may inhibit or enhance persuasive processes.

Understanding that emotional appeals play an important and legitimate role in the process of persuasion is an important first step for communication researchers.


Emotion plays a major role in various forms of persuasive communication, from politics to health communication to advertisements.

Aristotle stated that persuasion is accomplished by the interplay of three forms of rhetorical proof( real communication ph 461), ethos which reflects the speakers trustworthiness and moral character; logos which stands for a well reasoned and structured argument and finally pathos which denotes the audience’s feelings. Even though everyday attempts of persuasion depend heavily on emotional appeals, emotion is the one variable which has had very little inquiry. There can be many reasons for this discrepancy. One of them could be the over emphasis of logic over emotion, researchers have always treated logic as a superior dimension in the construction of persuasive messages(Jergenson,1998). On the other hand Seibold, Cantrill and Meyers(1985 p559) point out that most of the times emotion is taken for granted. Since emotion is so effortlessly incorporated in most of our day to day persuasive messages that researchers just assume its effectiveness in the persuasive process rather than testing its operation( vi).

Jorgensen(1998) posits the two competing notions of studying emotions: one of them states that emotion is not an integral part of the persuasion process rather it is a offshoot of the communicative process. In this view, emotions are looked upon as inherent states of the receiver, ones which do not have any direct relation with the persuasive message. The other view suggests that emotions are an integral part of the persuasive messages and emotional appeals are explicitly used to bring in attitude change thus accomplishing the primary goal of the persuasive process.

Affect, Emotion, Feeling and Mood

Affect refers to the experience of feeling or emotion. Emotions are considered to be internal and have a primary focus on affect. Together with this, emotions are also thought to be specific, focused and foregrounded in consciousness.(v) . The concept of emotion becomes clearer when seen in comparison with mood. Unlike emotion, moods are considered to be longer lasting feelings which may not be about anything specific. Instances like “I am happy because I feel good” , which do not have any sound and concrete reasons backing up the resulting emotion are considered to be moods. Moods are also not characterized by a specific outcome stimuli and even though mood seems to be something which is fleeting and diffusive, it does have serious effects on message information processing. (Geurrero, Andersen, troust,1998). Before we delve into that part of research, we will look a bit more in details on emotion.

There are three ways in which emotions can be conceptualized : the discrete emotions approach, the prototype approach and the dimensional approach.

The discrete emotion approach pivots around a central claim, emotions guide behavior(handbook of persuasion pg 318). As the name suggests, this approach considers each emotion to be discrete and also postulates that each emotion supplies a unique information manifesting distinct patterns of cognitive change( handbook). This means that if each emotion has a distinct pattern of behavioral change, then these emotions should also elicit distinct effects of persuasion.

In the dimensional approach, emotions are categorized according to different dimensions like valence, activity and intensity.

The prototype approach offers a middle ground position between discrete emotional approach and dimensional approach by categorizing emotions by a number of characteristics like valence, functions and expressions( pg 19 , guerrero, Anderson and trost).

Emotional Appeal and Emotional Arousal:

The meaning of appeal is to request for change. Emotional appeal is hence an appeal through emotions. Considering that emotional appeals are profusely implemented in everyday persuasive attempts, the limited attention and research on emotionality is astounding. There can be many reasons for this neglect. One of them could be the over emphasis of logic over emotion, researchers have always treated logic as a superior dimension in the construction of persuasive messages(Jergenson,1998). On the other hand Seibold, Cantrill and Meyers(1985 p559) point out that most of the times emotion is taken for granted. Since emotion is so effortlessly incorporated in most of our day to day persuasive messages that researchers just assume its effectiveness in the persuasive process rather than testing its operation( vi). Dillard and Wilson(1993) claim until the 1960s, research on emotions was negated by many of the social sciences on the grounds of it not being in accordance with the theory of logical positivism. Although the recognition of the importance of emotion from a communication perspective( Jorgenson,1998) gained prominence in the 1980s.(Dillard and Wilson 1993). Through research it was realized that the effectiveness of persuasive messages in highly enhanced when the message incorporates both flawless logic as well as the effective arousal of the receiver’s emotions.(Arnold,1985).

Emotional persuasion is this the method by which the message receiver is persuaded through the arousal of emotion or through appeal to expected emotion.

Sometimes the message producers include emotional appeals in the messages, intending to arouse a certain sort of emotion in the receiver which would increase the effectiveness of the persuasive message. However, the interpretation of the message by the audience member may have three possibilities; after the receiver appraises the message, the intended emotion will be invoked in him; multiple emotions are invoked in the receiver or no emotions are evoked altogether. Thus the study of emotional appeals has been done by a trial and error method ( Jorgenson, 1998) and also challenges the principle of the CFM model(Nabi,1999) to an extent. The cfm model states that the message producers should firstly decide which emotion they want to evoke to achieve their persuasive goals and then construct the message in a way to reflect the core relational theme or the crux of that emotion. This model points out one of the processes of emotional arousal. Another generic way of arousing emotions is by incorporating a novel stimuli in the message. It has been observed that often times prior knowledge may inhibit emotional arousal(iii).

There are certain emotional appeals which evoke negative emotions in the audience member for example fear appeals in specific health campaign messages. In such messages, when the emotional arousal is followed up with effective and feasible ways to overcome the fear, this strategy is very effective in increasing the persuasiveness of the message. For example, when a commercial on AIDS elicits fear in the audience member, the next step should be to also inform the audience member about safe sex, the usage of condoms and other preventive measures which reassures the audience member as well.

Walton(1992) states that many a times emotional appeals in messages are either irrelevant, i.e. , it is not pertinent to the message being conveyed or they are used as tools to camouflage the weakness of an argument being presented to inappropriately influence the listener(vi). Thus, even though it is the receiver’s perception of the emotion induced message which guides his attitude and the subsequent action, the receiver should be careful of the way in which he reaches his conclusion about the persuasive message.

Thus from the above observations it can be summarized that the efficacy of a persuasive message from the stand point of a receiver can be measured in three parameters : the credibility of the source , the effective emotional arousal by the message and finally the provision of feasible measures to cater to the emotion( vi).

Structure of Affect and Future Research :


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