Persuasion Theory and Research
 September 2011

a course for the Argupolis doctoral program:

Argumentation Practices in Context



1. Background: concept of persuasion, attitude measurement, assessing persuasion


Read:  O’Keefe, Persuasion, pp. 1-16.


For further reading:

            Krosnick, J. A, Judd, C. M., & Wittenbrink, B. (2005). The measurement of attitudes. In D. Albarracín, B. T. Johnson, & M. P. Zanna (Eds.), Handbook of attitudes and attitude change (pp. 21-76). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. [more detailed treatment of attitude measurement]

            Banaji, M. R., & Heiphetz, L. (2010). Attitudes. In S. T. Fiske, D. T. Gilbert, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), Handbook of social psychology (5th ed., Vol. 1, pp. 353-393). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley. [see pp. 359-370 concerning attitude measurement]

            Dillard, J. P., Weber, K. M., & Vail, R. G. (2007). The relationship between the perceived and actual effectiveness of persuasive messages: A meta-analysis with implications for formative campaign research. Journal of Communication, 57, 613-631. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2007.00360.x [discusses the degree to which assessments of perceived message effectiveness might be used as indicators of actual persuasiveness]



2. Persuasion theories


2.1 Belief-based attitude models:


Read:  O’Keefe, Persuasion, pp. 53-75.


For further reading:

            Cappella, J. N., Yzer, M., & Fishbein, M. (2003). Using beliefs about positive and negative consequences as the basis for designing message interventions for lowering risky behavior. In D. Romer (Ed.), Reducing adolescent risk (pp. 210-219). Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA. [an example of applying belief-based models to message design]

            Chang, C. (2006). Changing smoking attitudes by strengthening weak antismoking beliefs: Taiwan as an example. Journal of Health Communication, 11, 769-788. doi: 10.1080/10810730600959697 [an example of applying belief-based models to message design]



2.2 Theory of reasoned action (TRA) and theory of planned behavior (TPB)


Read:  O’Keefe, Persuasion, pp. 101-135.


For further reading:

            Rivis, A., & Sheeran, P. (2003). Descriptive norms as an additional predictor in the theory of planned behaviour: A meta-analysis. Current Psychology, 22, 218-233. doi: 10.1007/s12144-003-1018-2 [a review of research concerning a potential addition to TPB]

            Hill, C., Abraham, C., & Wright, D. B. (2007). Can theory-based messages in combination with cognitive prompts promote exercise in classroom settings? Social Science and Medicine, 65, 1049-1058. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.04.024 [an example of applying TPB to message design]

            Elliot, M. A. & Armitage, C. J. (2009). Promoting drivers’ compliance with speed limits: Testing an intervention based on the theory of planned behaviour. British Journal of Psychology, 100, 111-132. doi:10.1348/000712608X318626 [an example of applying TPB to message design]

            Rhodes, R. E., Blanchard, C. M., Courneya, K. S., & Plotnikoff, R. C. (2009). Identifying belief-based targets for the promotion of leisure-time walking. Health Education & Behavior, 36, 381-393. doi: 10.1177/1090198107308376 [an example of applying TPB (and belief-based models) to message design]

            Fishbein, M., & Ajzen, I. (2010). Predicting and changing behavior: The reasoned action approach. New York: Psychology Press. [the most comprehensive recent presentation of TRA/TPB approaches]



2.3 Elaboration likelihood model


Read:  O’Keefe, Persuasion, pp. 137-167.


For further reading:

            van Enschot-van Dijk, R., Hustinx, L., & Hoeken, H. (2003). The concept of argument quality in the elaboration likelihood model: A normative and empirical approach to Petty and Cacioppo’s “strong” and “weak” arguments. In F. H. van Eemeren, J. A. Blair, C. A. Willard, & A. F. Snoeck Henkemans (Eds.), Anyone who has a view: Theoretical contributions to the study of argumentation (pp. 319-335) Amsterdam: Kluwer. [an example of research illuminating “argument quality”]

            Petty, R. E., & Briñol, P. (2008). Psychological processes underlying persuasion: A social psychological approach. Diogenes, 55, 52-67. doi: 10.1177/0392192107087917 [brief general presentation of ELM ideas]




3. Persuasive effects of message variations


3.1 Background


Read:  O’Keefe, Persuasion, pp. 169-180.


For further reading:

            Jackson, S., & Jacobs, S. (1983). Generalizing about messages: Suggestions for design and analysis of experiments. Human Communication Research, 9, 169‑181. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.1983.tb00691.x [a classic treatment of issues concerning experimental studies of message effects]

            Jackson, S. (1992). Message effects research: Principles of design and analysis. New York: Guilford Press. [treatment of conceptual and statistical issues concerning experiments involving message effects]

            Brashers, D. E., & Jackson, S. (1999). Changing conceptions of “message effects”: A 24-year overview. Human Communication Research, 25, 457-477. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.1999.tb00456.x [updated treatment of issues raised by Jackson & Jacobs (1983)]



3.2 Some assorted message variations


Read:  O’Keefe, Persuasion, pp. 215-221 (climax vs. anticlimax order of arguments, conclusion omission, recommendation specificity, one-sided vs. two-sided messages).


For further reading:

            Green, M. C., & Brock, T. C. (2000). The role of transportation in the persuasiveness of public narratives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 701-721. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.79.5.701 [an example of research concerning influence through narratives]

            O’Keefe, D. J. (2002). Guilt as a mechanism of persuasion. In J. P. Dillard & M. Pfau (Eds.), The persuasion handbook: Developments in theory and practice (pp. 329-344). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. [available at] [a review of research on guilt-based mechanisms of influence]

            O’Keefe, D. J., & Jensen, J. D. (2006). The advantages of compliance or the disadvantages of noncompliance? A meta-analytic review of the relative persuasive effectiveness of gain-framed and loss-framed messages. Communication Yearbook, 30, 1-43. [available at] [a review of research on gain-loss appeal framing]

            Dale, A., & Strauss, A. (2009). Don’t forget to vote: Text message reminders as a mobilization tool. American Journal of Political Science, 53, 787-804. JSTOR stable url: [an example of the potential influence of simple prompts]

            O’Keefe, D. J. (in press). The relative persuasiveness of different forms of arguments-from-consequences: A review and integration. Communication Yearbook, 36. [available at] [a review of research concerning persuasive effects of variations in consequence-based (“pragmatic”) arguments]



3.3 Fear appeals


Read:  O’Keefe, Persuasion, pp. 224-229.

            Pechmann, C., Zhao, G., Goldberg, M. E., & Reibling, E. T. (2003). What to convey in antismoking advertisements for adolescents: The use of protection motivation theory to identify effective message themes. Journal of Marketing, 67(2), 1-18.  JSTOR stable url:


For further reading:

Milne, S., Orbell, S., & Sheeran, P. (2002). Combining motivational and volitional interventions to promote exercise participation: Protection motivation theory and implementation intentions. British Journal of Health Psychology, 7, 163-184. [an example of message design based on protection motivation theory and implementation intentions]

Simons-Morton, B. G., Hartos, J. L., Leaf, W. A., & Preusser, D. F. (2006). Increasing parent limits on novice young drivers: Cognitive mediation of the effect of persuasive messages. Journal of Adolescent Research, 21, 83-105. doi: 10.1177/0743558405282282 [an example of message design based on protection motivation theory]

Prentice-Dunn, S., McMath, B. F., & Cramer, R. J. (2009). Protection motivation theory and stages of change in sun protective behavior. Journal of Health Psychology, 14, 297-305. doi: 10.1177/1359105308100214 [an example of message design based on protection motivation theory]




4. Research-informed content analyses of messages


For further reading:

            Smith, S. L. (1997). The effective use of fear appeals in persuasive immunization: An analysis of national immunization intervention messages. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 25, 264-292. doi: 10.1080/00909889709365481 [content analysis guided by “fear appeals, message design logic, and health persuasion theory”]

            Kline, K. N., & Mattson, M. (2000). Breast self-examination pamphlets: A content analysis grounded in fear appeal research. Health Communication, 12, 1-21. [content analysis guided by fear appeal research]

            Abraham, C., Krahe, B., Dominic, R., & Fritsche, I. (2002). Do health promotion messages target cognitive and behavioural correlates of condom use? A content analysis of safer sex promotion leaflets in two countries. British Journal of Health Psychology, 7, 227-246. [content analysis guided by research identifying “the strongest cognitive and behavioural correlates of condom use”]

            Abraham, C., Southby, L., Quandte, S., Krahé, B., & van der Sluijs, W. (2007). What’s in a leaflet? Identifying research-based persuasive messages in European alcohol-education leaflets. Psychology and Health, 22, 31-60. doi: 10.1080/14768320600774405 [content analysis emphasizing the theory of planned behavior (TPB)]

            Rhodes, N., Roskos-Edwoldsen, D., Eno, C. A., & Monahan, J. L. (2009). The content of cigarette counter-advertising: Are perceived functions of smoking addressed? Journal of Health Communication: International Perspectives, 14, 658-673. doi: 10.1080/10810730903204262 [content analysis based on advertising themes (e.g., “industry attack, the health consequences of smoking”) and message sensation value]

            Lwin, M. O., Stanaland, A. J. S., & Chan, D. (2010). Using protection motivation theory to predict condom usage and assess HIV health communication efficacy in Singapore. Health Communication, 25, 69-79. doi: 10.1080/10410230903473540 [content analysis guided by protection motivation theory]

            Paek, H. J., Kim, K., & Hove, T. (2010). Content analysis of antismoking videos on YouTube: Message sensation value, message appeals, and their relationships with viewer responses. Health Education Research, 25, 1085-1099. doi: 10.1093/her/cyq063 [content analysis based on message sensation value and general appeal type (“threat, social, and humor”)]




5. Some ethical issues


Read:  Viscusi, W. K. (1990). Do smokers underestimate risks? Journal of Political Economy, 98, 1253-1269. JSTOR stable url:

Katcher, M. L. (1987). Prevention of tap water scald burns: Evaluation of a multi-media injury control program. American Journal of Public Health, 77, 1195-1197. available at:

            Webne, S. L., & Kaplan, B. J. (1993). Preventing tap water scalds: Do consumers change their preset thermostats? American Journal of Public Health, 83, 1469-1470.

available at:


For further reading:

            Guttman, N., & Ressler, W. H. (2001). On being responsible: Ethical issues in appeals to personal responsibility in health campaigns. Journal of Health Communication, 6, 117-136. doi: 10.1080/108107301750254466 [discuses ethical implications of “personal responsibility as a persuasive appeal in public health communication campaigns”]

            French, S. A., Story, M., Fulkerson, J. A., & Hannan, P. (2004). An environmental intervention to promote lower-fat choices in secondary schools: Outcomes of the TACOS study. American Journal of Public Health, 94, 1507-1512. [illustration of influence through changing aspects of the behavioral context]

Lundborg, P., & Lindgren, B. (2004). Do they know what they are doing? Risk perceptions and smoking behaviour among Swedish teenagers. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 28, 261-286. doi: 10.1023/B:RISK.0000026098.84109.62  [research akin to Viscusi (1990)]

            Waisbord, S. (2007). Beyond the medical-informational model: Recasting the role of communication in tuberculosis control. Social Science & Medicine, 65, 2130-2134. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.06.023 [discusses limitations of information-based TB campaigns]

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