Distraction and Dissonance: A model of the persuasive process

Chapter V - An Experimental Model

Most research in persuasion explores established persuasion variables and either explores them in new ways while replicating prior results. This study is no exception. The primary questions raised Chapters 2 and 3 suggest what may be new ways of thinking about the relationship of well established variables and research traditions in the study of persuasion. While the hypotheses of Chapters 2 and 3 and the model of Chapter 4 integrate our knowledge of the persuasive process in what may be a more comprehensive fashion, most of the relationships described are well supported in the existing literature.

It remains, however, that several aspects of the framework have not been tested adequately. Although they are not the only parts of the model which demand testing in the near future, two parts, the basic model and the concept of cognitive distraction, deserve more immediate attention. The basic model demands attention because of its pivotal nature. It is the connection from message counter and consonant argument to persuasion that allows the rest of the model to tie together. If the basic model works, it is a strong argument not only for the basic model, but for the entire model. Cognitive distraction demands attention because it suggests an important relationship between to theories of persuasion that are rarely discussed together.

Some evidence already exists to support the basic model. Several experiments have measured counter-argument production and at least one has employed a system for measuring both counter and consonant argument. In each case, counter and consonant argument have been treated only as dependent measures. In the model, message counter and consonant argument serve a dual function. They are dependent to the various persuasion variables but should also be viewed as independent variables in studies of persuasion. The basic model, then, while supported in other studies, has yet to be adequately tested.

Direct experimental support for the concept of cognitive distraction, by contrast, is almost non-existent. Indirect support abounds, but as attitude change is the only criterion measure used in most tests of cognitive dissonance, is it is difficult to attribute the persuasion to either dissonance or distraction with any great degree of accuracy. This difficulty can be overcome through the use of the basic model. The attempt to overcome cognitive dissonance should evidence itself in increased consonant argument. The energy-draining effect of the dissonance, the distraction, should result in decreased counter-argument. These effects, and the combined effect of dissonance and distraction, has yet to be tested.

The model in Figure 8 outlines an experiment in which both the basic model of persuasion and the concept of cognitive distraction can be tested. The model is based on the more comprehensive model outlined in Figure 7 of Chapter 4. The experimental design implied in the model involves manipulating two of the variables which affect cognitive dissonance, initial attitude and reward. Manipulation of these two variables should, in turn, affect message consonant and counter-argument. Reward should affect message consonant argument negatively and message counter-argument positively. The effect of initial attitude should be harder to predict. It would be reasonable to expect that a more favorable initial attitude toward a message would indicate greater message consonant argument and less message counter-argument than a less favorable attitude. In terms of cognitive dissonance and distraction, however, message consonant argument production should decrease and message counter-argument increase, as attitude becomes more favorable.

As independent variables, message counter and consonant argument should effect persuasion. As consonant argument increases, persuasion should be expected to increase, a positive relationship. As counter-argument increases, persuasion should be expected to decrease, a negative relationship. Persuasion should, in turn, be expected, along with initial attitude, to predict final attitude. Duration and post-test order effects, which also appear in Figure 8, are control variables.

Figure 8: The Experimental Model.

Their role in the experiment will become clear in the methodology.

Previous Chapter

Foulger, Davis A. (2005). An Experimental Model. 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/chapter5.htm.