Distraction and Dissonance: A model of the persuasive process

Comment on the Hypermedia Edition

Everybody likes to think their work matters, but the truth is that it is an unusual masters thesis that is read by anyone but the thesis review committee. Even a long shelf life in the libary of the University at which they are completed cannot be assured. That has probably been the case for this work, completed twenty-six years ago at a time when research in the area of persuasion was firmly in the decline, at least with the field of communication. It is not the first time persuasion research has moved into eclipse, and it won't be the last. Still, this was a serious eclipse. Indeed, in my Ph.D. program at the University of Wisconsin I was strongly counciled to stay away from persuasion research and discouraged from even talking to the departments one tenured specialist in the research area.

Academic interest areas are cyclic, however. 26 years later, persuasion has gained some of its old luster, this time by the relationship of cognition to persuasion. Interestingly enough, that was the focus of this study, which sought to tease out some fine issues at the boundaries of two unintegrated theories of persuasion associated with Festinger. The question this study asks in an interesting one: to what extent is the effect of cognitive dissonance a function of distraction. It remains, in this authors view, a clever experimental manipulation, and it may be of continuing interest to scholars today.

What is more interesting to me is the consistency of the studies premise with my continuing research focus on the media as systems of communication. While this is never a primary text in the study, the notion of constructing a medium for maximum effect is evident in the first paragraphs of the study, which for some reason I saw fit to break out as its own chapter. The words are almost precient of my current focus on the characteristics of media, the ways in which they shape our use of media, and the ways in which we shape media to meet our needs: "the campfire may have been more than an attractive setting for storytelling. It may also have been an important factor in the success of the story, in the persuasiveness of the story. If so, the choice of the fire for such activity may not have been a product of what could and couldn't be done at night so much as what the fire could do for the story."

I have, therefore, taken the trouble to recreate my masters thesis as a hypermedia document. It is not quite a true hypermedia space. It is, rather, a translation of an academic thesis chapter structure to a hypermedia space. The chapter structure of the original remains intact, as does most of the text. I've simplified language in a few places and created both linear and hyperlinear trajectories through the document, but it isn't nearly as well done (at least at this time) as the hypermedia rendition of my doctoral dissertation. As I write this I'm still updating the text. The graphics are simply scanned images from the thesis text. Computer graphics software does much better work than even the most careful pasteup could do 26 years ago and I expect to update those images at some point. The documents journey to the web started with a scanning and text recognition process. Some odd errors have ensured, including words that have inappropriately been broken into two words and, more rarely, two words that have been inappropriately concatenated into one. I'm still finding these errors and will continue to correct them as I find them. If you notice any problems in the text (something that doesn't make sense, for instance), please email me. I will certainly try to correct any errors.

Davis Foulger
April 24, 2005

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Foulger, Davis A. (2005). Comment on the Hypermedia Edition. From Distraction and Dissonance: A model of the persuasive process. Retrieved from http://foulger.info/davis/mastersThesis/comment.htm.