Distraction and Dissonance: A model of the persuasive process

Chapter IX - Conclusions

Coming to the conclusion of an experiment as successful as this has been is a pleasure, because it's fun to write about things that have gone well. In review, however, the author began by examining the re search in persuasion due to distraction. There proved to be enough consistency in the data to organize distractions into a variety of categories. The effects of the distractions in the various categories differed, but there was a clear linear flow to the differing categories and their effects. Two comprehensive hypotheses were offered and a hypothetical, but untested, category of distraction was examined in depth.

This category, cognitive distraction, was offered as the mechanism by which cognitive dissonance affected persuasion. A review of the research in counter-attitudinal advocacy provided support for the hypothetical mechanism. The mechanism proved useful, moreover, in organizing the research in a consistent theoretical framework. A series of hypotheses were forwarded and the author proceeded to formalize the hypotheses offered in both the distraction and counter-attitudinal framework into a single comprehensive model of the persuasive process. Although the model is incomplete, it shows promise for integrating other theoretical frameworks, including that of inoculation theory.

A more restrictive experimental model was then offered to test some of the key concepts of the larger theory of persuasion, notably the basic persuasive mechanism and the concept of cognitive distraction. The model was then tested experimentally. The manipulation was carefully executed. A control sample of over 150 subjects established the validity of the measuring instruments and a total of 56 volunteer subjects participated in a two by two plus two experimental design in which reward was manipulated randomly, initial attitude was manipulated blindly, and subjects who refused to en code the message around which the experiment revolved were still administered the pre and post test as a control on selection. The lack of evidence of any selection bias is already the subject of a second study.

The experiment was highly successful, with both the basic model of persuasion and the concept of cognitive distraction receiving strong support. The resultant model of the persuasive process shows that where there is dissonance, persuasion results from cognitive distraction, a form of biased scanning. Where, moreover, there is no dissonance, it was shown that poor biased scanning may result in dissuasion. As such, the results explicitly supported none of the traditional theories of counter-attitudinal advocacy and role playing nearby as well as they supported the experimental model.

It was possible, on the basis of these results, to refine the experimental model and ultimately, the larger model of the persuasive process. The revised larger model, depicted in Figure 10, differs from that presented in chapter 4 only in the elimination of two lines, each representing a hypothesized causal link between two variables. Initial attitude is no longer expected to affect counter-argument. Dissonance is no longer expected to affect consonant argument. It is possible, of course, that as the research expands, both lines may be restored.

The key to this experiment is in that last statement, because by supporting two key elements of the larger model, the entire model is bolstered. Much of the model remains to be tested sufficiently for firm conclusions to be drawn, but the success of this manipulation should encourage the testing that will be needed if the entire model is to be validated. It should also encourage attempts to incorporate other theories of the persuasive process into the model.

Validation and expansion of this or some alternative model of the persuasive process is important to research in persuasion because it provides the basis for a program of systematic research. I know of no systematic program of research in the area of persuasion. To my knowledge, the last true series in persuasive research was McGuire's research in inoculation theory, research which was concluded in the early 1960's. Most of the research in the area over the last few years has been unfocused variations on past experiments, what might be called "what if" experiments. There's nothing wrong with "what if" experiments. They increase our knowledge of persuasion. But there has been little done in the area of tying all the "what if" experiments together in order to run "research indicates" experiments. Some have gone so far as to think that the various research disciplines can't be tied together. it is hoped that this experiment may help to dispel that notion. More important, however, it is hoped that it may prove the basis for a systematic program of research aimed at eventually establishing a validated comprehensive model of persuasion.

Previous Chapter

Foulger, Davis A. (2005). Conclusion. 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/chapter9.htm.