Communication Studies 205-0
Theories of Persuasion
Fall 2016



Professor:       Daniel O’Keefe

                        Office: 1-148 Frances Searle

                        Office hours: 9-10 MW, 2:00-4:00 W, & by appt.

                        Office phone: 847.491.3581




Assistants:      Silvia Lovato

                        Office: 2-101 Frances Searle, office hours: by appt.



                        Sarah Pila

                        Office: 2-101 Frances Searle, office hours: by appt.



Course site: or via

Text (supplementary):  D. O’Keefe, Persuasion: Theory and research (3rd ed., paperback, Sage) (ISBN 978-1-4522-7667-0) (one copy available at the Library Reserve Room)

Brief course description and tentative outline:  This course provides a general introduction to the social-scientific study of persuasive communication. The course focuses on alternative theoretical accounts of the processes underlying persuasion and on research findings concerning the effects of various factors on persuasive effectiveness.


      I.  Introduction

     II.  Theoretical approaches

          A.  Functional approaches

          B.  Social judgment theory

          C.  Belief-based models

          D.  Reasoned action theory

          E.  Elaboration likelihood model

          F.  Consistency theories

    III.  Factors influencing persuasive effectiveness

          A.  Source factors

          B.  Message factors

          C.  Receiver factors

   IV.  Persuasive campaigns


Graded assignments:


One’s course grade is based on two hourly examinations and a final examination. The examinations cover material presented in lecture and discussion sections. The hourly exams are multiple-choice exams; the first counts for 30% of the course grade, the second for 35%. The final exam is a take-home essay exam; the final exam counts for 35% of the course grade.


It is assumed that examinations will be completed when required. No make-up examinations will be administered, except in cases of documented medical or family emergency. When such problems are encountered, notify Professor O’Keefe at the earliest possible time; appropriate documentation will be needed. Without an acceptable excuse, a missed examination will receive a failing grade (F).



Course grading:

One’s course grade will be determined by the weighted average of the grades on the individual assignments. Each assignment will receive a letter grade, with the usual numerical equivalents (that is, A = 4.0, A- = 3.7, B+ = 3.3, and so forth).


So, for example, a student who received an A- on the first exam, a B on the second exam, and an A on the final exam would have a course average of 3.56.


                        (3.7 x .30) + (3.0 x .35) + (4.0 x .35) = 3.56


To convert the course average into a course grade, the following scale will apply:


                                                course average             course grade

                                                 3.850 and up              A

                                                 3.500 and up              A-

                                                 3.150 and up              B+

                                                 2.850 and up              B

                                                 2.500 and up              B-

                                                 2.150 and up              C+

                                                 1.850 and up              C

                                                 1.350 and up              C-

                                                 0.500 and up              D

                                                 below 0.500               F



So a student with a course average of 3.56 would receive a course grade of A-.


However, before course grades are submitted, the raw scores on the hourly exams are reviewed. If the circumstance is such that having answered correctly just one additional question on just one hourly exam would have yielded a higher course grade, then the higher course grade is given.



Academic dishonesty:


Don’t do it. (If uncertain about what constitutes a violation of Northwestern University’s standards of academic integrity, consult the University web site, e.g., p. 22 of:


Bad things will happen if you do. (These can include a failing grade on the assignment—and worse. Again, see the University web site. For details on School of Communication procedures:



Accommodations for disabilities:


Any student requesting accommodations related to a disability or other condition is required to register with AccessibleNU (; 847-467-5530) and provide professors with an accommodation notification from AccessibleNU, preferably within the first two weeks of class. All information will remain confidential. For details:



Some tentative dates of interest: 

Hourly exam #1:  Wednesday 19 October

Hourly exam #2:  Monday 21 November


Take-home final available at lecture:  Monday 28 November

Take-home final available online:  not later than 5:00 p.m. Monday 28 November

Take-home final due:  not later than noon Monday 5 December


Tentative schedule:


Week of 19 September

            topic: concept of persuasion, attitude measurement

            supplementary reading: pp. 1-18

Week of 26 September

            topic: functional approaches, social judgment theory

            supplementary reading: pp. 35-55 (functional); pp. 19-34 (social judgment)

Week of 3 October

            topic: social judgment theory (continued), belief-based models

            supplementary reading: pp. 19-34 (social judgment); pp. 56-75 (belief-based)

Week of 10 October

            topic: reasoned action theory, elaboration likelihood model

            supplementary reading: pp. 98-131 (RAT); pp. 148-175 (ELM)

Week of 17 October

            topic: elaboration likelihood model

            supplementary reading: pp. 148-175

            Wednesday 19 October: hourly exam #1

            discussion sections do meet as usual Friday 21 October

Week of 24 October

            topic: consistency theories

            supplementary reading: pp. 76-97

Week of 31 October

            topic: source factors

            supplementary reading: pp. 188-213

Week of 7 November

            topic: message factors

            supplementary reading: pp. 214-251

Week of 14 November

            topic: receiver factors, campaigns

            supplementary reading: pp. 252-267

Week of 21 November

            Monday 21 November: hourly exam #2

            Wednesday 23 November: no class meeting

Week of 28 November

            Monday 28 November: take-home final available at lecture (and online by 5:00 p.m.)

            Wednesday 30 November: no class meeting

            Friday 2 December: no class meeting

Week of 5 December:

            Monday 5 December: final exam due not later than noon