Distraction and Dissonance:
a model of the persuasive process

by Davis Foulger

Master's Thesis
(Master of Arts: Communication)
University of Central Florida

Orlando, Florida

Hypermedia Edition, 2003, 2005

Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. A Theory of Distraction
  3. Cognitive Distraction
  4. A Model of the Persuasive Process
  5. An Experimental Model
  6. Methodology
  7. Results
  8. Discussion
  9. Conclusions
  10. References
  11. Acknowledgments
  12. Approval
  13. Comment on the Hypermedia Edition

Abstract: After exploring the successes, failures, and conflicting explanations for results in two communications research traditions, distraction and counter-attitudinal advocacy, an attempt was made to explain these results in terms of a more comprehensive theory. Distractions were organized into classes defined by their strength and relevance to the message, demonstrating how these and other factors affected the persuasiveness of a message.

On the basis of this theory an untested class of distractions, cognitive distractions, were hypothesized. This class of distraction, related to cognitive dissonance, was then used to integrate the conflicting research in counter-attitudinal advocacy. On the basis of this theory, a model of the persuasive process was constructed and an experiment testing the basic components of the model devised.

It was hypothesized that in the counter-attitudinal encoding situation, reward and initial attitude would be significant predictors of counter and consonant argument, which in turn would be significant predictors of persuasion. A central portion of the hypothesis predicted the manner in which attitude and reward would affect counter and consonant argument. If persuasion was caused by a search for justification for encoding a counter-attitudinal message, the dissonance view, then reward would predict consonant argument. If the persuasion was due to distraction, then reward would predict counter-argument.

A path analysis strongly supported the experimental model. Persuasion was predicted by counter and consonant argument. Consonant argument was significantly predicted by initial attitude. counter-argument was significantly predicted by reward and reward X initial attitude. As such, the results supported the distraction hypothesis over the dissonance hypothesis as the source of persuasion in the counter-attitudinal situation.

Foulger, Davis A. (2005). Abstract and Table of Contents. From the Hypermedia Edition of Foulger, Davis A. (1977). Distraction and Dissonance: A model of the persuasive process. Master's Thesis. University of Central Florida. Retrieved from http://foulger.info/davis/mastersThesis/index.htm.