Social Psychology

Student Learning Program

Chapter 7: Superficial and systematic routes to persuasion: From snap judgments to considered opinions (pp. 238258)

Ask Yourself?

In this topic

  1. Superficial Processing: Persuasion Shortcuts (pp. 235245)
    1. Attitudes by association
    2. Moods as heuristic cues: If I feel good, I must like it
    3. The familiarity heuristic: Familiarity makes the heart grow fonder
    4. The attractiveness heuristic: Agreeing with those we like
    5. The expertise heuristic: Agreeing with those who know
    6. The message-length heuristic: Length equals strength
  2. Systematic Processing of Persuasive Communications (pp. 245249)
    1. Processing message content
  3. Superficial and Systematic Processing: Which Strategy, When? (pp. 249258)
    1. How motivation influences superficial and systematic processing
    2. How capacity influences superficial and systematic processing
    3. The impact of capacity on heeding health-related messages
    4. How personality differences influence superficial and systematic processing
    5. How moods and emotions influence superficial and systematic processing
Superficial Processing: Persuasion Shortcuts

Even when you are processing superficially, some information is getting through. Simple pieces of information are associated with, and activate, positive and negative evaluations, and can act as persuasion heuristics.

Attitudes by association

Adding positive associations to an attitude object can boost its evaluation (evaluative conditioning).

Moods as heuristic cues: If I feel good, I must like it

Your actual feeling tells you if you like the attitude object.

Case study: Heuristics: When it feels good, I must like it. Positive affect in advertisements

The familiarity heuristic: Familiarity makes the heart grow fonder

The more often you have contact with an attitude object, the more positive your evaluation will be (the mere exposure effect). Familiar stimuli can be more persuasive, irrespective of whether they are true or not.

The attractiveness heuristic: Agreeing with those we like

We agree with people we like.

The expertise heuristic: Agreeing with those who know

An expert has the knowledge and can be trusted. A message that is delivered rapidly is also more credible. Trustworthiness is an important characteristic for a credible communicator.

The message-length heuristic: Length equals strength

The longer the message, the more valid it appears to be.

Systematic Processing of Persuasive Communications
Processing message content

There are four steps involved in systematic processing:

Research activity: Systematic processing

Superficial and Systematic Processing: Which Strategy, When?
How motivation influences superficial and systematic processing
How capacity influences superficial and systematic processing

Drugs and alcohol reduce the capacity to process systematically. Therefore, people are more sensitive to superficial cues.

How personality differences influence superficial and systematic processing
How moods and emotions influence superficial and systematic processing

There are mixed results of emotions on the way people process. Sometimes emotions increase persuasion, but sometimes they make persuasion less likely.

Positive emotions:

Negative emotions:

Anxiety can lead to less cognitive space being available, resulting in superficial processing.

Feelings of guilt make us more susceptible to persuasion.

So what does this mean?

When people are targets of persuasion, often they do not give persuasive communications much thought. In this case various superficial aspects of the persuasive appeal, like persuasion heuristics, can lead to attitude change. The mere exposure effect can make people feel more positively about objects they have frequently encountered. Sometimes people do carefully consider the content of arguments presented in a persuasive communication.

When people pay attention to a message, understand its content, and react to it (a process called elaboration), systematic processing can change attitudes. Attitudes resulting from such careful consideration last longer and are much more resistant to later change than most attitudes produced by superficial processing. People process messages systematically only when they have both the motivation and the cognitive capacity to do so. Messages that match people's motivational goals and their capacity states are most persuasive. Positive and negative emotional states influence persuasion because they have motivational and capacity consequences.

Next topic

Defending attitudes: Resisting persuasion

In this chapter

  1. Chapter 7 introduction
  2. Attitudes and their origins
  3. Superficial and systematic routes to persuasion: From snap judgments to considered opinions
  4. Defending attitudes: Resisting persuasion
  5. Chapter overview (PDF)
  6. Fill-in-the-blanks
  7. Multiple-choice questions