The elaboration likelihood theory is a process which describes how a change in attitude begins to form. It is a dual-process theory that was initially developed by Richard Petty and Jon Cacioppo in 1986. Within the concepts of the theory, one can find explanations for why stimuli are processed in different ways, why those processes are used, and how that create a change in attitude.
According to the theory, there are two primary routes that lead to persuasion.
1. The Central Route. This primary route creates persuasion through thoughtful, careful consideration of available information. The merits of the data are evaluated by an elaborate thought process and all arguments from every angle are considered until a decision is made. Persuasion from this route is usually predictive of behavior, resistant, and semi-permanent.
2. The Peripheral Route. This primary route creates persuasion through positive or negative components in the stimuli. Instead of focusing on a logical process, a focus is placed on the emotional reactions that are created by the positive or negative components. Added positives can create attractiveness, while added negatives eliminate the attractiveness of persuasion. Persuasion from this route can be unpredictable, based on individual motivation, ability, and comprehension.
Which route is used depends upon the desire of the individual to process information and their ability to understand it. The amount of persuasion that occurs depends on how distracted the individual happens to be, how much they are multitasking, and their overall base of knowledge.
The Four Core Ideas of Elaboration Likelihood Theory
There are four core ideas that form the foundation of the elaboration likelihood theory.
1. When a person encounters some form of information, they can process it on varying planes of thought. This may vary from a low plane of thought to a high plane of thought.
2. Every plane of thought is predicted to be governed by varying psychological processes of change. Each process operates with a varying degree of function according to the levels of thought being used. Low planes of thought, such as simple exposure, use a different process than high planes of thought, such as a cognitive response process.
3. Dictating the planes of thought being used during an episode of persuasion will determine which primary route is used. High planes of thought require more cognition, which is why they are semi-permanent and can resist persuasion, especially from episodes that involve lower planes of thought.
4. Any possible variable can play several different roles during the process of persuasion. This can include cues to judgment, influencing thought direction, or impacting an emotional response.
For these core ideas to work as they do in the elaboration likelihood theory, it is necessary for the theory to assume that the attitudes formed by the central route are stronger than the attitudes formed by the peripheral route. That allows central route persuasions to be long-term attitude perspectives and peripheral route persuasions to be short-term attitude perspectives.
What Are the Variables and Consequences?
Variables in the elaboration likelihood theory are anything that may increase or decrease the persuasion that occurs within the data being examined. Motivation and ability are two common variables, but the mood of the individual, their education or expertise, and even their attractiveness can influence the amount of persuasion that is achieved.
These variables tend to act as a biasing factor toward the conclusions that are determined through the persuasion process. Higher planes of thought increase the likelihood of a bias factor being present.
Every variable has a consequence which must be considered as well. Higher planes of thought consume more time, energy, and mental resources to reach a conclusion compared to lower planes of thought. Fewer information items are overlooked when engaging the central route and that creates a long-term belief structure, but only with resource investment.
That is why the peripheral route is often engaged first. If persuasion can occur on lower planes of thought, then less energy and time are consumed. An individual can focus their attention to the next information set to begin the evaluation process once again. The peripheral route is advantageous if time is in short supply, but persuasion can occur on this route through an error in judgment and cause additional consequences.
We see the elaboration likelihood theory employed every day in marketing, advertising, and social media. When we purchase something at the store, whether its clothing or groceries, we employ this process as well. By evaluating available information, it becomes possible to make the best decision possible. That decision comes through the persuasion process.