Elaboration Likelihood Model
Running Head: ELABORATION LIKELIHOOD MODEL
The Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion After Two Decades:
A Review of Criticisms and Contributions
Sejung Marina Choi
Charles T. Salmon
Department of Advertising
College of Communication Arts and Sciences
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1212
E-mail. [log in to unmask], [log in to unmask]
Over the past twenty years, the Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion (ELM)
has emerged as one of the most influential theories of persuasion in the fields
of communication, psychology, and by extension, advertising. In spite of its
prominent contributions, the ELM has been criticized in detail for both
theoretical and empirical limitations. The purpose of this paper is to evaluate
the current status of the model through revisiting the criticisms as well as
replies to those criticisms by proponents of the ELM. The paper begins with a
review of the basic postulates of the ELM before describing various debates
regarding key concepts and predictions. It concludes with a discussion of the
model's relevance to advertising and a call for future research.
The essence of the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) of Persuasion, born into
the scholarly literature exactly twenty years ago in an article entitled "Issue
Involvement Can Increase or Decrease Persuasion by Enhancing Message-Relevant
Cognitive Responses" (Petty and Cacioppo, 1979), has survived the tribulations
of theoretical childhood and adolescence and now enters a new phase of
development. During its relatively brief lifetime, it has ranked among the most
dominant and influential theories of persuasion studied by scholars in
communication and psychology. Perhaps its most prominent contribution is to
provide a general framework that both encompasses and reconciles many previously
conflicting findings about various facets of the persuasion process (O'Keefe,
1990; Sears, 1988). O'Keefe (1990:112) also suggests that another of the ELM's
primary benefits is "recognition of the variable character of topic-relevant
thinking"-from person to person and situation to situation. Other proponents of
the ELM claim that the theoretical advances of their ELM are that "it (1)
advances multiple processes of yielding, (2) specifies when these processes are
likely to occur, and (3) postulates different attitudinal consequences of these
processes" (Petty et al., 1993:340). The integrated but simple outline of the
ELM has enhanced its applications to domains other than social psychology,
including advertising and psychotherapy.
As is the case for most childhoods and adolescences, however, the maturation of
this theory has been neither smooth nor uneventful. In particular, the model
has been the focus of a considerable number of criticisms regarding the
interpretation of the conceptual framework and the effects of evidence within
this model (Allen & Reynolds, 1993; Areni & Lutz, 1988; Bitner & Obermiller,
1984; Hamilton, Hunter & Boster, 1993; Johnson & Eagly, 1989, 1990; Mongeau &
Stiff, 1993; Petty & Cacioppo, 1990; Petty, Cacioppo, Kasmer & Haugtvedt, 1987;
Petty, Kasmer, Haugtvedt, & Cacioppo, 1987; Petty, Wegener, Fabrigar, Priester &
Cacioppo, 1993; Stiff, 1986; Stiff & Boster, 1987). Given the arguments for and
against it, several rounds of dialogues-critiques of the ELM and replies from
its proponents-have attempted to narrow the gap between the two sides and
achieve shared understanding. Unfortunately, this laudable intellectual goal is
made particularly difficult by the fact that the ELM has not remained static but
rather has dynamically undergone modifications throughout the past twenty years.
To continue the metaphor of theory as a living being introduced earlier in this
paper, the ELM has literally evolved and matured in response to ever-changing
critiques and research findings. Some criticisms valid in the early 1980s no
longer apply; some ambiguous postulates from the same period are now more
The purpose of this paper is to examine the current status of the ELM and
evaluate it through revisiting the criticisms and Petty and Cacioppo, as well as
their colleagues' replies, in an attempt to assist in the clarification and
refinement of the theory. The paper begins with a review of the enduring
elements and principles of ELM, and then launches into an examination of the
various debates between critics and proponents of the model. The paper
concludes with a discussion of the theory's utility in advertising, and offers
some directions for future research.
Overview of the ELM
At its heart, the ELM is based on the assumption that "people are motivated to
hold correct attitudes" (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986a:6) but people's motivation and
ability to process information varies with situational and individual factors
(Petty & Cacioppo, 1986a). Note that the ELM is a theory about the processes
responsible for yielding to a persuasive communication (Petty & Cacioppo, 1981,
1986a, 1986b). It does not address or explain a general theory of information
exposure, memory, and so on, nor was it intended to do so (Petty & Priester,
Motivation and Ability to Think
To represent the range of processing activity, Petty and Cacioppo (1981a, 1986a)
introduced the concept of an elaboration likelihood continuum. People's
motivation and ability to think about issue-relevant messages determine the
elaboration likelihood. In other words, "when conditions foster people's
motivation and ability to engage in issue-relevant thinking, the 'elaboration
likelihood' is said to be high" (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986a:7; Petty, Kasmer,
Haugtvedt, & Cacioppo, 1987:234).
Elaboration refers to "the extent to which a person carefully thinks about
issue-relevant information" (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986a). In a persuasion context,
elaboration denotes "the extent to which a person scrutinizes the issue-relevant
arguments contained in the persuasive communications" (italics added; Petty &
Cacioppo, 1986a:7). The term "elaboration likelihood refers to the likelihood
one engages in issue-relevant thinking with the aim of determining the merits of
the arguments rather than the total amount of thinking per se in which a person
engages" (Cacioppo & Petty, 1984:674).
The ELM holds that there are a variety of variables moderating persuasion by
either affecting a person's motivation or ability to process issue-relevant
arguments. Factors affecting motivation include personal relevance, need for
cognition, personal responsibility, and number of message sources; factors
affecting ability to process arguments include distraction, message repetition,
prior knowledge, message comprehensibility, recipient posture, etc. (Petty &
Two Routes to Persuasion
The most prominent feature of the ELM is that it proposes two distinct routes to
persuasion. Based on their review of prior persuasion research, Petty and
Cacioppo (1986a) argued that many previous approaches reflect one of the two
routes to persuasion: central or peripheral. In the former, attitudes are formed
and changed by consideration and integration of issue-relevant arguments. In the
latter, on the other hand, attitudes are formed and changed without active
thinking about the object and its attributes, but rather as a result of
associating the attitude object with positive or negative cues in the persuasion
When elaboration likelihood is high, the probability of a person's following the
central route to persuasion is increased. When the elaboration likelihood is
low, the peripheral route becomes more probable. In short, the elaboration
likelihood moderates the route to persuasion (Petty et al., 1987).
Determinants of Favorable and Unfavorable Thoughts
Petty and Cacioppo (1983) emphasize that it is important to know the nature of
the cognitive responses generated when elaboration likelihood is high (i.e.,
when a person is motivated and able to engage in issue-relevant thinking). Most
research has dealt with two kinds of cognitive responses: favorable thoughts
(pro-arguments) and unfavorable thoughts (counterarguments). The most important
determinant of the nature of the cognitive responses elicited resides in the
quality of the arguments presented in the persuasive communication when a person
has the motivation and ability to think about a message (Petty & Cacioppo,
The receiver's initial attitude and the message's advocated position would
direction of elaboration. The strength of the message's arguments is the second
influence on elaboration direction. Under conditions of high elaboration, the
strength of the message's arguments should influence the direction of
elaboration and hence should affect persuasion (Petty & Cacioppo, 1983). In
short, the ELM predicts that in some situations cognitive responses to the
persuasive message mediate the impact of variables on attitude change. Under
other conditions, on the other hand, peripheral processes mediate the impact of
variables on attitude change (Petty et al., 1993:345).
Consequences of the Two Routes to Persuasion
The central route results in attitude change that is relatively permanent,
resistant to counterpersuasion, and generally predictive of behavior. The
peripheral route leads to attitude change that is "relatively temporary,
susceptible to counterpersuasion, and less predictive of behavior" (Petty &
Table 1 shows the ELM's postulates and Figure 1 provides a schematic depiction
postulated antecedents and consequences of the two routes to persuasion.
At the crux of the criticisms of the ELM's theoretical foundations is the
question of whether it clearly specifies the conditions in which the process of
persuasive communication varies and thus predicts its effects. This concern is
fundamentally attributable to the somewhat ambiguous nature of the third, sixth
and seventh postulates in the model. The key issues are as follows.
Absolute vs. Probabilistic Nature of the Elaboration Likelihood
Stiff (1986:77) contends that the ELM is based on a problematic assumption that
"message recipients are forced to choose between one of two information
processing strategies" and suggests, instead, that individuals may choose to
process both central and peripheral cues. Petty et al. (1993) point out that
critics often misrepresent the ELM's "probabilistic nature (e.g., elaboration
likelihood model)" and "treat the model as if it deals in absolutes" (Petty et
al., 1993:337). This may be in part due to the fact that the original version of
the ELM uses the two classifications, central and peripheral cues rather than
routes to persuasion. The cues refer to the features in the persuasion context
whereas the routes to persuasion explain the processing types. It becomes clear,
however, in their eventual explication of ELM that Petty and Cacioppo are
referring to classification of subjective processing styles rather than the
classification of objective cues (Petty et al., 1993).
Table 1. Postulates of the Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion (Source:
Petty & Cacioppo, 1986a:5)
1. People are motivated to hold correct attitudes.
2. Although people want to hold correct attitudes, the amount and nature of
issue-relevant elaboration in which they are willing or able to engage to
evaluate a message vary with individual and situational factors.
3. Variables can affect the amount and direction of attitude change (a) serving
as persuasive arguments, (b) serving as peripheral cues, and/or (c) affecting
the extent or direction of issue and argument elaboration.
4. Variables affecting motivation and/or ability to process a message in a
relatively objective manner can
do so by either enhancing or reducing argument scrutiny.
5. Variables affecting message processing in a relatively biased manner can
produce either a positive (favorable) or negative (unfavorable) motivational
and/or ability bias to the issue-relevant thoughts attempted.
6. As motivation and/or ability to process arguments is decreased, peripheral
cues become relatively more
important determinants of persuasion. Conversely, as argument scrutiny is
increased, peripheral cues become relatively less important determinants of
7. Attitude changes that result mostly from processing issue-relevant arguments
(central route) will show greater temporal persistence, greater prediction of
behavior, and greater resistance to counterpersuasion than attitude changes that
result mostly from peripheral cues.
The central and peripheral routes to persuasion are not two exhaustive and
mutually exclusive categories of persuasion; they represent the prototypical
extremes of processing on the elaboration likelihood continuum (O'Keefe, 1990;
Petty et al., 1993). In other words, the elaboration continuum is bounded at one
end by "no thought about the issue-relevant information presented" and at the
other end by "complete elaboration" of all of the relevant information (Petty &
Cacioppo, 1986a, p. 8).
Single vs. Parallel Processing
Another debate is related to the assumption of humans' single versus parallel
processing. Stiff (1986, 1994) claims that the ELM wrongly assumes that
individuals are single-channel information processors and argues that human are
instead multi-channel limited capacity processors capable of parallel
information processing (Kahneman, 1973). The issue is here "whether people are
able to engage in both central and peripheral processing of persuasive messages
simultaneously" (Stiff, 1994:184). In response to this claim, Petty et al.
(1987:237-238) claim that the fact that "attitude change may result primarily
from argument processing or the operation of peripheral cues does not mean that
people are incapable of processing both arguments and cues." They stress that it
addresses the issue of which processing is the primary determinant of attitude
change depending on situations (Petty et al., 1993).
The reply does not seem to answer the question, however. The question here is
whether people are able to engage in both central and peripheral processing
simultaneously at a certain point, not whether people can go through both
processes to form or change their attitude. Petty et al. (1987:258) even assert
that the "it is silly to criticize the ELM for failing to make predictions about
hemispheric asymmetry, parallel processing, or the price of tea in China, since
there have always been outside the domain of the theory." This perspective seems
not to take into account the model's basic assumption. Cognitive information
processing theories are based on the assumption that people have limited
processing capacity. That is why people tend to rely on heuristics or simple
peripheral cues rather than engage in message elaboration. How to allocate the
limited capacity is another issue and most important to understand the nature of
the underlying processes of persuasive communication, the main focus and purpose
of the ELM.
Furthermore, even if we agree that people are able to engage in both types of
processing at least sequentially, the schematic diagram (Figure 1) would not be
explanative for this purpose. Rather, it seems that people should make judgment
to choose either central or peripheral route at every decision point along the
flowchart (Stiff, 1994). Petty and Priester's (1994) argue about multiple roles
for variables in the ELM that when elaboration likelihood is moderate (i.e.,
people may be uncertain as to whether or not the message warrants or needs
scrutiny and whether or not they are capable of providing this analysis) they
may examine the persuasion context for indications of whether or not they are
interested in or should process the message. It is important to note that the
ELM is not able to explain this kind of movement between the processes. The
schematic diagram, in which there is no arrow from the peripheral process to
central process, again does not illustrate this argument (Stiff, 1994).
Distinction between Central vs. Peripheral Processes
Rejecting the idea that people are "forced to choose between" processing message
arguments and source factors when involvement is high, Petty et al. provide
results of a study as an example that high involvement subjects processed both
source and message information, but the source information failed to affect the
attitudes because it was irrelevant to determining the true merits of the
attitude object (Petty et al., 1983). Consequently, they argue that "just
because both source information and message information are processed, however,
does not mean that both types of information will affect attitudes," although
the ELM posits that in some cases central and peripheral processes occur
together (Petty et al., 1987:238).
The ELM thus notes that the central and peripheral processes determine attitudes
with different probabilities at different points along the elaboration
continuum. That is, as the likelihood of thinking about the attitude object
increases, the central route becomes a more likely determinant of attitudes,
whereas the peripheral route becomes a less likely determinant (Petty et al.,
1993:337). Petty et al. (1993) emphasize, however, that the ELM does not hold
that a given peripheral process is less likely to occur as the elaboration
likelihood increases, but only that the peripheral process is likely to account
for less variance in the attitude. With regard to the attitude change, the sixth
postulate indicates that there is "a tradeoff between argument elaboration and
the operation of peripheral cues" (italics added; Petty & Cacioppo, 1986a:21).
This postulate leads Stiff (1994) to interpret that the ELM is a single-channel
processing model because it implies that the increase in argument elaboration
should decrease the operation of peripheral cues. The confusion seems to stem
from the fact that the ELM has not clearly distinguished between explaining
effects on the persuasive outcomes, not the occurrence of the central and
peripheral process per se. That may be why critics contend that it still remains
unclear how the central and peripheral processes occur and interact to result in
attitude changes (Bitner & Obermiller, 1985; Stiff, 1986; Stiff & Boster, 1987).
In fact, it seems that the ELM distinguishes between the processing per se and
its effects on attitude change. Although a person engages in both central and
peripheral process, the central process is the only determinant of the attitude
change when the person is highly involved with the attitude object according to
the example above. Thus it is necessary to know how great an impact each process
has on the attitude change as well as which process or processes a person engage
in to understand and assess the attitude change. It is more important when
considering that the consequences of each process differ in persistence,
resistance and prediction of behavior as the seventh postulate describes (Petty
& Cacioppo, 1986a:5). Only if the combination of the variance from each process
were known could the consequences be more exactly understood. However, the ELM
researchers do not seem to have paid attention to the relationship between the
process and its effects on the attitude and measured each variance subjected by
either process consisting of the attitude change.
In addition, according to the previous example (p. 8 in the present paper),
people seem to make a decision whether the peripheral cues (i.e., source factor)
they process should affect the attitude or not by assessing if it is relevant or
not to the attitude object. This seems unreasonable if the nature of peripheral
process is considered. People just associate with less cognitive effort or even
unconsciously in a less controlled way in the peripheral process (Petty &
Cacioppo, 1986a). It would be more reasonable that people were affected by the
peripheral cue but in a little amount whereas the argument was the greatest
determinant of the attitude.
Multiple Roles for Variables
Another important features of the ELM is that it holds that any one variable can
have an impact on persuasion by serving in a different role in a different
situation. Petty and Cacioppo (1986a:16) postulated that "variables can affect
the amount and direction of attitude change by (a) serving as central cues, (b)
serving as peripheral cues, and/or (c) affecting the extent or direction of
issue and argument elaboration."
The emphasis on this postulate stems from an experiment testing the model's
applicability for persuasion in the realm of advertising. In contrary to their
expectations, Petty and Cacioppo (1981b) found that the
source-attractiveness-by-involvement interaction was not significant, which
indicated that the source cue was not more important in the low- than
high-involvement condition. In retrospect, they concluded that the physical
attractiveness of the models in the ad might have served as a central cue
relevant to the product. For instance, an attractive model can be a peripheral
cue in an automobile advertisement whereas s/he is likely to be a central cue
(i.e. an argument) in a shampoo advertisement because the model is perceived as
relevant to the merits of the product. ELM researchers have underlined this
postulate in reply to the critics arguing the ELM's ambiguity about distinction
between the central and peripheral cues. The most compelling problem associated
with this postulate is the ELM's lack of predictive ability. It makes it
possible for any result to be valid and consistent with the ELM, post hoc rather
than a priori. That is, this "conceptual flexibility" causes a problem that it
is possible for the ELM to explain all the outcomes of experimental study but
makes impossible to falsify the ELM's predictions (Stiff, 1994, p. 187-188).
Burgoon (1989) also notes this problem by describing the classification of these
...derived from inferring antecedents from consequents, or a teleological
method of explanation. Thus, if specific outcome occurs (e.g., attitude change),
then certain kinds of intrapsychic message processing had to have occurred...The
more appropriate approach is to specify a priori how message variables affect
the persuasive process (p. 157).
Although Petty and Priester (1994) acknowledge that "if any one variable can
influence persuasion by several means, it becomes critical to identify the
general conditions under which the variable acts in each of the different roles
or the ELM becomes descriptive rather than predictive (cf. Stiff, 1986:107),"
their subsequent descriptions are not compelling and they have not provided
specifications enough for prediction to date. Petty and Cacioppo (1993)
emphasize the subjective nature of classifications of the central and peripheral
cues. In the ELM, arguments are defined as "bits of information contained in a
communication that are relevant to a person's subjective determination of the
true merits of an advocated position" (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986a, p. 16) because
people have attitudes for different reasons (Katz, 1960).
With regard to this matter, Petty and Cacioppo (1986a) refer to a study by
Snyder and DeBono (1985). In their research, high and low self-monitoring
individuals were exposed to the image or attribute-based ads for a variety of
products and then asked to indicate how much they would be willing to pay for
each of the advertised products. High self-monitoring individuals were willing
to pay more for the products advertised with the image campaign, but low
self-monitoring individuals were willing to pay more for the products advertised
with the attribute messages (Snyder & DeBono, 1985). Petty and Cacioppo (1986a)
agree with Snyder and DeBono (1985) that they view both high and low
self-monitoring individuals as following the central route to persuasion, since
both groups of subjects appear to attempt to evaluate the central merits of the
product but what features are believed to be central differs between high and
low self -monitors.
It is interesting to note another study in which two types of advertising
appeals are used for different motives: value-expressive and utilitarian are
proposed and compared with the central and peripheral routes in the ELM. Johar
and Sirgy (1991) view a self-congruity route to persuasion (i.e., the
value-expressive appeal) as a form of peripheral processing, whereas the
functional congruity route (i.e., the utilitarian appeal) as a central
processing based on the type of the main cues processed. This dramatically shows
the ELM's ambiguity of classification of the cues in the domain.
Although the description of the subjective nature of classification may help to
make better sense of the postulate, it reveals another limitation of the model,
i.e., that the ELM does not provide any mechanism explaining all the results in
the examples. As Petty and Cacioppo (1986a) note, people have attitudes for
different reasons and those reasons affect their processing of central and/or
peripheral cues, yet the ELM does not address the question of whether people
have different motivations. The motivation in the ELM affects only the extent,
not the quality, of elaboration. Hence the ELM cannot explain the impacts of the
qualitatively different motivations on the process underlying persuasion and
thus attitude change.
Another related question is whether or not elaboration includes the case in
which people activate issue-relevant knowledge from the memory and not presented
in the persuasive message and actively scrutinize it (e.g., "mere thought")
(O'Keefe, 1990; Petty & Cacioppo, 1986a; Tesser, 1978). And, if simple cues
objectively irrelevant to the issue elicit a person's stored issue-relevant
knowledge in memory and thus lead to scrutinization of it, is it central or
peripheral process? It seems confusing because which cues people attend to in an
advertisement is one thing and what they think about is another. It is not
currently addressable by the ELM.
There have been also criticisms about the peripheral processing. Petty and
Cacioppo (1986a) imply that the central processing is preferred at least in the
short run, because it is more persistent, resistant and better predictive of
behaviors. However, there has been increasing attention to and interest in
peripheral processing along with that in affect. The peripheral process in the
ELM may be underspecified in that it may encompass qualitatively different
processes and thereby result in different persuasive effects (i.e., use of
heuristics and classical conditioning).
In sum, the theoretical limitations of the ELM stem from its uncertainty and
ambiguity about the concepts and its failure to specify a priori the conditions
under which particular cues will be processed centrally and peripherally. The
ELM also lacks the ability to describe and examine the conditions under which
central process and/or peripheral process occur and thus they affect the
attitude change in which manner (i.e., with which mixture of the variance). It
is also essential to note that the ELM should articulate and examine the
mediating process (i.e., cognitive responses) and roles of and interaction among
The originators of the ELM (Cacioppo & Petty, 1984; Petty & Cacioppo, 1981,
1986a) and their colleagues have extensively tested the model. Although the
prolific outcomes from their experiments seem to have built a coherent body of
knowledge (Ajzen, 1987), their manipulations of the key variables and the
experimental procedures have been questioned (Bitner & Obermiller, 1984, Johnson
& Eagly, 1989; Stiff, 1994). This is an important issue along with the
conceptual issues because deficiencies of the tests mean loss of the theory's
validity and thereby theoretical and practical value. The two concepts that have
been the focus of the most critical attention are argument quality and
Arguments play a key role in inducing attitude change in the ELM. As noted
above, since the amount and direction of cognitive responses to the arguments
determine the attitude change, the arguments have the primary responsibility for
persuasion. Its recognition of importance of the arguments in persuasion has
been seen as one of the ELM's contribution (O'Keefe, 1990).
To obtain experimental message containing "strong" or "weak" arguments, ELM
researchers pretest various messages: A "strong" message is defined as "one
containing arguments such that when subjects are instructed to think about the
message, the thoughts that they generate are predominantly favorable," and a
"weak" message is defined as "one in which the arguments are such that when
subjects are instructed to think about them, the thoughts that they generate are
predominantly unfavorable" (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986a, p. 32). That is, they
define argument quality not in terms of the nature or structure of the arguments
but rather in terms of the nature of message cognitions generated by the
arguments. Thus they determine the strong and weak arguments as follows:
Strong messages should elicit a profile of predominately favorable thoughts
(e.g., 65% favorable, 35% unfavorable)...but weak messages should elicit a
profile of predominantly unfavorable thoughts (e.g., 65% unfavorable, 35%
favorable) (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986a, p. 54-55).
For example, in their initial attempt to apply the ELM to advertising, argument
for the shampoo that had been rated as compelling and persuasive in the pretest
were presented in the strong-argument condition whereas the weak-argument ad
presented reasons that had been rated as unpersuasive (Petty & Cacioppo, 1981b).
They described the results as follows; "it is not surprising that...the subjects
liked the product significantly more when the ads contained strong rather than
weak arguments..." (italics added; Petty & Cacioppo, 1983:17). As they
described, it is natural that the strong arguments rated as persuasive result in
more persuasion than do weak arguments because they measured the outcome of the
variable (i.e., argument quality) rather than the variable per se. Hence, given
the operational definition of argument quality used by the ELM researchers, the
relationship between the predictor and the outcome is true by definition
(O'Keefe, 1990) and it is unclear what creates variation in message cognitions
(Mongeau & Stiff, 1983).
From examining the arguments used in experiments by Petty, et al. (1981, 1983),
Areni and Lutz (1988) contend that those arguments include differences in the
desirability or valence of the arguments as well as the logical aspects of the
messages. This point is well illustrated by the example of the arguments (table
2). For example, getting the "smoothest shave possible" is seen as being quite
desirable and representing a basic objective of shaving while the claim that the
razor "can only be used once" is viewed as undesirable (Areni & Lutz, 1988). The
two sets of attributes presented in the two ads are so disparate in terms of
their desirability that the ads seem for two completely different products. As a
result, the interpretations of the past results associated with the argument
quality must be reconsidered due to the obscure nature of the construct (Areni &
Lutz, 1988). Given this view of argument quality, the validity of the
involvement by argument quality interaction on attitudes has also been
questioned (Mongeau & Stiff, 1993).
Table 2. Ad claims used by Petty, Cacioppo and Schumann (1993, p.139)
y Advances honing method creates unsurpassed sharpness
y Special chemically formulated coating eliminates nicks and cuts and prevents
y Handle is tapered and ribbed to prevent slipping
y In direct comparison test, the Edge blade gave twice as many close shaves as
its nearest competitor
y Unique angle placement of the blade provides the smoothest shave possible
y Floats in water with a minimum of rust
y Comes in various sizes, shapes and colors
y Designed with the bathroom in mind
y In direct comparison test, the Edge blade gave no more nicks or cuts that its
y Can only be used once but will be memorable
In reply to these criticisms, Petty et al. (1993:350) argue that "argument
strength" manipulations have been used as a methodological tool for indexing the
level of argument-based processing underlying postcommunication attitudes."
They also claim that they deliberately manipulate the valence of issue-relevant
cognitions "for the purpose of allowing one to determine under what conditions
individuals are thinking about and elaborating upon the arguments provided"
(Petty et al., 1993:350). Given that they typically report and assess the main
effects of argument quality, this claim is not convincing. It lacks practical
utility in that way, even if we accept the validity of manipulation for their
Involvement has been viewed as one of the most important constructs across
various domains, in spite of being plagued by lack of conceptual clarity and
uniformity (Rothschild, 1984). Involvement has been given attention as the most
important moderating variable by the ELM researchers. According to the ELM,
issue involvement refers to "the extent to which the attitudinal issue under
consideration is of personal importance" (Petty & Cacioppo, 1979:1915; italics
added). Petty and Cacioppo (1979) regard this type of involvement as the same
construct examined by social judgment involvement researchers (e.g., Sherif et
al., 1965). However, critics contend that issue involvement, as conceptualized
and operationalized in the ELM research, is different from the traditional
involvement employed by Sherif in his studies of persuasion , which consequently
results in conflicting empirical results (Celsi & Olson, 1988; Johnson & Eagly,
1989, 1990; Salmon, 1986). Salmon (1986), for example, notes that Sherif's
treated ego-involvement as a measured variable while Petty and Cacioppo's
considered involvement as a variable to be manipulated. Sherif's
ego-involvement was conceptualized as highly enduring and was operationalized in
terms of extremity of attitude while Petty and Cacioppo's notion of involvement
refers merely to a condition that has "future consequences" for the subject. In
other words, while issue involvement in the ELM heightens an individual's
arousal in an interaction with a stimulus, thereby making certain cues more
salient, this type of involvement is "fundamentally different" from the type
Sherif et al. described in their studies (Salmon, 1986:255).
Johnson and Eagly (1989) distinguish between the two different research
traditions discussed above as value-relevant (ego-) and outcome-relevant
(issue) involvement. Their meta-analysis of involvement effects on persuasion
shows that the two kinds of involvement result in different effects on
persuasion: less or more persuasion respectively. Although Petty and Cacioppo
(1990) contend that their issue involvement (i.e., outcome-relevant involvement;
Johnson & Eagly, 1989) can be integrated with value-relevant involvement (i.e.,
ego-involvement), it has not convinced other researchers. Celsi and Olson
(1988), on the other hand, distinguish between intrinsic versus situational
sources of personal relevance (ISPR vs. SSPR). They point out that most
involvement researchers have examined only the effects of situational sources of
personal relevance, essentially ignoring intrinsic sources of personal
relevance. One reason for the emphasis on SSPR is the relative ease of
manipulating situational factors in laboratory experiments (e.g., ELM's typical
research), compared to within-individual characteristics. Hence, the particular
conceptualization and operationalization of involvement in the ELM is different
from that used by other researchers (e.g., value- and response-relevant
involvement, Johnson & Eagly, 1989, 1990) and thereby results in discrepant
conclusions regarding the influence of involvement on persuasion (i.e., high
involvement can lead to more or less persuasion than low involvement).
Specific manipulation of involvement in the ELM requires more discussion. For
example, in one study, subjects in the high-involvement group were told that
they would have to make a decision to select from a variety of disposable-razor
products and the product would be available in their area soon. Low involvement
subjects, on the other hand, were told that they would be able to choose from a
variety of toothpaste brands and the product would not be available for purchase
in their area (Petty et al., 1983). Although the product may be more salient to
high-involvement subjects than low-involvement individuals, it is hard to
believe that the disposable razor is highly involving and thereby results in
enough difference in involvement between two treatment conditions.
In the same study, manipulation for the involvement variable was checked by
asking a question of what gift they had been told to expect. The recall index
(i.e., 92.5% of the high-involvement subjects correctly recalled whereas 78% of
the low-involvement group did.) led the researchers to the conclusion that the
manipulation was successful (Petty et al., 1983:140). It seems clear that they
made an assumption that high involvement results in better recall than low
involvement or that correct recall of the product which subjects would expect as
a gift in each condition (razor vs. toothpaste) means that people are highly or
lowly involved with the product advertised (razor). Neither can be considered
true without any supporting theory or evidence. As a result, the manipulation of
the involvement is suspect.
A lack of variety in manipulation of this variable and use of only a small set
of topics (e.g., comprehensive exams for college seniors) has been also regarded
as sources of restriction on the generalizability of findings on the ELM. Hence
it remains a question whether involvement in the ELM would have similar impact
for issue in other domains (Johnson & Eagly, 1989).
A good theory has practical utility as well. Petty et al. (1983) suggest that
the ELM has important implications for advertising in that different kinds of
appeals may be effective under different kinds of conditions on different kinds
of audiences. This means that when the elaboration likelihood is high, the
central route to persuasion should be effective whereas when the elaboration
likelihood is low, the peripheral route should be better (Petty et al., 1983).
Thus, practitioners should be able to get insights into the process underlying
advertising effectiveness and use the principles provided by this theory.
For example, if audiences are highly involved with the product, they are most
engage in the central route (i.e., arguments relevant to the product should be
the most dominant determinant of the attitude). When audiences don't consider
the product as relevant to themselves, on the other hand, they rely on
peripheral cues irrelevant to the merits of the product to form or change their
attitude. One thing to remember is that audiences subjectively determine which
cues they process as arguments or peripheral cues. With regard to this, Petty
and Cacioppo (1983) provide an example for application of the ELM to advertising
Consider an advertisement for cigarettes that depicts a man and a woman on
horseback riding through majestic mountain terrain. At the bottom of the ad is
the headline, "20 REASONS WHY CALBOROS ARE BEST," along with a list of twenty
statements. Will attitude changes induced because of this ad occur via the
central or the peripheral route? Our framework suggests that in evaluating or
designing an ad for a particular product, it is extremely important to know what
information dimensions are important for people who desire to evaluate the true
merits or implications of the product (in this case, cigarette). On the one
hand, to smokers over fifty, the most important information may relate to the
health aspects of the brand (for example, tar content). For this group, an
effective ad would likely have to present considerable information about the
medical consequences of the brand if it were to be effective in inducing
influence via the central route...On the other hand, for teenage smokers, who
may be more concerned with impressing their peers than with their health, the
major reason why they smoke may relate to the image of the particular brand (for
example, "though man," "independent woman"; see Chassin et al., 1981). For this
group, the presentation of the rugged outdoor images might provide important
product-relevant information that would elicit numerous favorable thoughts and
enduring attitude changes with behavioral consequences. It is interesting to
note that for nonsmokers over fifty (an uninvolved group), the majestic scenery
might serve as a peripheral cue inducing momentary liking for the brand and that
for teenage nonsmokers, the twenty statements might lead to momentary positive
evaluations for the brand because of the simple belief that there are many
arguments in favor of it (Petty & Cacioppo. 1983:21 -22).
However, this notion might not be helpful to planning advertising strategies in
some cases at all because we don't know a priori which will be considered as the
arguments or the peripheral cues by individuals. Marketers and advertising
practitioners control the objective cues to elicit desired effects and
communication effectiveness would be greatly improved if the model could predict
which cues would be processed in which way under particular sets of
circumstances by whom. "As it stands, the ELM describes the process that results
from a motivational state, but it cannot predict the motivational state" (Bitner
& Obermiller, 1985:421).
Nor does it seem to be realistic considering marketing situations. Products such
as cigarette and beer have used image advertising as their most important
marketing communication tool. That is mainly because the brands in the product
categories have no differential attributes to communicate to consumers and
thereby their brand image itself is their equity and has been promoted.
Furthermore, the peripheral cues and arguments might have interaction, or
synergy effects. For example, MECCAs (Means-End Conceptualization of Components
for Advertising Strategy) based on means-end chain model provides insights into
what kind of advertising execution strategy should be used. One of the important
points is that all the elements, including
both central and peripheral cues by the ELM's definitions, should be consistent
in tone and
manner even if some feature is highlighted. This kind of advice is not provided
by the ELM.
A good theory should explain and predict phenomena and furthermore make it
possible to control them (Reynolds, 1971). It is obvious that the ELM has
contributed to constructing a body of knowledge by introducing a new perspective
to understand effects of persuasive communication. Yet the theory still has
ambiguity and underspecifications of its postulates which limit its theoretical
and practical utility. It seems impossible to explain the dynamic nature of
persuasion process with the ELM. For instance, although the theory made a good
attempt to encompass all the aspects of persuasion theories by multiple-routes
to persuasion, it tends to make people to confine their view to a dichotomy. The
classification of the type of process would be more meaningful when we consider
them as interactive and concurrent.
Proponents of the ELM contend that many critics misrepresent their model. The
source of this misunderstanding might be not only from its original explication
of the postulates in the model but also from the way they communicate them to
others. For example, the schematic diagram does not explain the postulates well.
It is important that researchers in the same domain achieve agreement on and
shared meaning for the theories. Reynolds (1971:15) proposes abstractness,
intersubjectivity (explicitness and rigorousness) and empirical relevance as
desirable characteristics of scientific knowledge. "Intersubjectivity means
shared agreement among relevant individuals with respect to (1) the events or
phenomena encompassed by a concept, and (2) the relationship between concepts
specified by one or more statements." If scientists cannot agree on the
predictions derived from combinations of statements, then there can be no
agreement as to the usefulness of the statements for predicting or explaining
phenomena. If scientists cannot agree on the usefulness of the statements for
achieving the goals of science, the statements cannot be accepted as part of a
scientific body of knowledge. Hence criticisms and replies to them are keys to
attaining the agreement on the ELM and thus enhancing its theoretical and
practical value. In light of the notion, the primary purpose of this paper was
to contribute to the process and future dialogues.
Finally, some recommendations and directions of future research are suggested.
First, it is necessary that problematic conceptualizations and
operationalizations of key concepts in the model be reevaluated. Clear and
shared meanings on the concepts and relationships among them are essential for a
good theory. Second, all the moderating and variables and their roles and
relationships should be articulated and integrated in a systematic way in the
model. This should be based on the casual links to the outcome or consequences.
It might be desirable to use other analysis techniques other than ANOVA to test
the model. Third, the key characteristics of the ELM-the two routes to
persuasion-should be better specified because its breadth does not seem to
account for different process. For example, Slater (1997) proposes more
processes underlying persuasion in terms of an individual's goal. In sum, a
valuable avenue of research would be to develop a normative model of
communication structure that would identify which cues are processed centrally,
which peripherally, under what conditions, and by whom and test it.
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