The Heuristic Model of Persuasion
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Implicit in traditional information-processing models of persuasion such as McGuire's (1972) reception-yielding framework and the cognitive response approach (Greenwald, 1968; Petty, Ostrom, & Brock, 1981) is the view that recipients of persuasive messages engage in a considerable amount of information processing in deciding whether to accept a message's overall position; that is, people are often assumed to attend to, comprehend, and cognitively elaborate upon persuasive argumentation, and to think in some depth about the issue discussed in the persuasive message (see Eagly & Chaiken, 1984, for a fuller discussion of these approaches). In contrast to this systematic conceptualization of persuasion (see Chaiken, 1978, 1980), this chapter focuses in more detail on an alternative conceptualization called the "heuristic" model of persuasion (Chaiken, 1978, 1980, 1982; Chaiken & Eagly, 1983; Eagly & Chaiken, 1984). The thrust of the heuristic conceptualization is that opinion change in response to persuasive communications is often the outcome of only a minimal amount of information processing. According to the model, people exert little cognitive effort in judging the validity of a persuasive message and, instead, may base their agreement with a message on a rather superficial assessment of a variety of extrinsic persuasion cues such as surface or structural characteristics of the message itself (e.g., its length or number of arguments), communicator characteristics (e.g., expertise, likability, physical attractiveness), and audience characteristics (e.g., positive or negative audience reactions to the message). The idea that people often perform tasks and make decisions and other judgments after only minimal information processing has gained increasing attention in both cognitive psychology (e.g., Craik & Lockhart, 1972; Schneider & Shiffrin, 1977; Shiffrin & Schneider, 1977) and social psychology (e.g., Abelson, 1976;
Bargh, 1984; Cialdini, 1985; Langer, 1978). Moreover, within the social influence area per se, this idea has found expression in Petty and Cacioppo's (1981; Cacioppo & Petty, Chapter 2, this volume) "central versus peripheral" framework and in Cialdini's (1985; Chapter 7, this volume) attempt to understand compliance phenomena in terms of a set of "compliance principles" not unlike some of the simple decision rules featured in the heuristic model of persuasion. Nevertheless, aside from the heuristic model, the central versus peripheral framework, and a few informal observations by persuasion theorists (e.g., McGuire's (1969) discussion of the "lazy organism" message recipient), the view that people may often be minimalist information processors is largely absent in contemporary cognitive accounts of the persuasion process (see Eagly & Chaiken, 1984).