Persuasion can be defined as the process by which a communicator attempts to convince a person or group to change their attitude or behaviour in regards to a particular issue by communicating a message in an atmosphere of free choice (1). Persuasive messages can utilize all forms of stimuli, including words, images, sounds, etc., and generally communicators trying to persuade attempt to do so by appealing to a person’s reason through the use of logical argument and scientific methodology, or to their emotion through the use of techniques such as advertising, propaganda, and faith. Persuasion is closely related to rhetoric, which is a practice that “aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations” (2). Some of the earliest examples of rhetoric can be found in the Akkadian writings of the princess and priestess Enheduanna (ca. 2285-2250 BC) (3).
In modern psychology, persuasion has been studied systematically by researchers such as Robert Cialdini, who has identified 6 basic principles apparent in most methods of persuasion taught to professionals in ‘influence professions’ such as sales and marketing (4). The principles are:
– Reciprocity, which is a tendency to want to give back when we have received something from someone.
– Scarcity, which is a desire to want things that are not easily available.
– Commitment and consistency, which is a desire to be consistent with what we have previously said or done.
– Consensus, which is a tendency to make choices based on what others have done.
– Liking, which is a preference towards saying yes to the requests of someone we know and like
– Authority, which is a tendency to more readily follow the requests of an authority figure.
1. Perloff, Richard M. (2010). The dynamics of persuasion: communication and attitudes in the 21st century. 4th ed. New York: Routledge.
2. Corbett, Edward P. J. (1990). Classical rhetoric for the modern student. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press.
3. Lipson, C., Binkley, R. A. (2004) “The Rhetoric of Origins and the Other: Reading the Ancient Figure of Enheduanna.” Rhetoric before and beyond the Greeks. Albany: State University of New York, (pp.47-64).
4. Cialdini, R. (1984) Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Harper Collins
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