Persuasion Glossary
the Lexicon with a Dash of Jalapeno Sauce

ABCs – Attitude Behavior Consistency or the observation that people often, but not always, act the same way they think, feel, and evaluate.  For those of you who like to count, the correlation ranges between .5 and .7 which is large in the world of social science.  It is a good thing that the ABC correlation is not perfect because there would be no reason to write grant proposals.

argument – crucial information of central importance about some object, issue, or person.  An argument can be any symbols that stimulate meaning:  words, images, gestures, sounds, scents, tastes, or touches.  “Crucial” and “central” are in the eye of the receiver and not the source.  In other words, it doesn’t matter what you think, it matters what the Other Guy thinks.

attitude – a person’s evaluative response (speech, thoughts, actions, feelings).  Attitudes express whether a person likes or dislikes something.  Attitudes are not emotions or feelings or moods, but rather “hot” thoughts and memories.

attribution – an explanation that assigns causality to events.  Attributions are either internal (the actor was internally motivated) or external (the actor was externally motivated).  Internal attributions are sometimes called person-attributions while external attributions are called situation-attributions.

behavior – concrete observable response a person shows in a situation.  “I” behave.  “You” show up on Funniest Home Videos.

belief – a proposition about the truth or falsity of a statement that does not depend upon the truth or falsity of reality.

beliefs, behavior- attributes of a behavior that a person believes on a “good-bad” scale.

beliefs, control – attributes of a behavior that a person believes on an “easy-difficult” scale.

beliefs, normative – attributes of a behavior that a person believes other important people accept on an “approve-disapprove” scale.

cascade – three stage sequence of Reception, Processing, and Response message must take receivers through before ultimate behavior change can occur.

central route – means of change that occurs when a person carefully and effortfully thinks about arguments to determine new beliefs and attitudes.  It requires “higher” WATTage, strong arguments, and production of cognitive responses (elaborations).  Compare to the Peripheral Route.

classical conditioning – begins with an existing stimulus-response relationship (unconditioned) and through repeated pairing of a new stimulus over time the organism will show the old response to the new stimulus (conditioned relationship).  It is also sometimes called respondent conditioning (compare to operant conditioning).  Ding-dong, Alpo.

comparison, scientific method – determining just how special your Special Sauce is.  Tough comparisons make for better theory development while easy comparisons make the boss’s kid look good and perhaps earn you a promotion, but it don’t move product.

conditioned stimulus/response – a learned connection (see also unconditioned stimulus/response).  The underlying dynamic for Magic Words.

contrast, principle – a message is more likely to be received when the message “stands out” in the location where the receiver is.  Based on the research of Gestalt psychology, something people don’t talk much about today because it is no longer the New New Thing.  I’m not saying that scientists are trendy – that would give the editor of Vogue heart failure – they just like New New Things.  New New Things are “interesting.”

control – perceived difficulty of performing a behavior.

control, scientific method – keeping your hands on all the moving parts during an experiment or study.

cue – a tactic that can change attitudes without requiring elaborative processing.  Any persuasion tactic that does not need an argument or argument processing.

dissonance – the thoughts and feelings you experience when you suffer for what you love, e.g. smiling and applauding during your kid’s awful recital; loving your spouse more while you’re cheating; closely followed by dissonance reduction, e.g. gee that kid’s actually pretty good; this will strengthen our marriage. When reality and your self-concept collide. The human nature that permits you to handle your bad consequences.

elaboration – a unique thought or cognitive response a person generates when thinking about something.

elaboration activity – the process of generating elaborations (cognitive responses).

elaboration likelihood – willingness and ability to think (WATT) and generate elaborations that ranges from “higher” to “lower.”

elaboration likelihood model (ELM) – Richard Petty and John Cacioppo’s model of persuasive communication that explains how messages produce belief and attitude change.  Compare and contrast with the Heuristic Systematic Model (HSM) by Shelley Chaiken.

elaboration moderator – a personality or situational characteristic that affects elaboration likelihood.

eliciting beliefs – research process of discovering which Theory of Planned Behavior beliefs drive the targeted behavior.  It is typically a two step procedure where first you determine the “universe” of all possible beliefs, then second compare “doers” and “nondoers” beliefs to discover which beliefs are most discriminating.

Heuristic Systematic Model (HSM) – persuasion theory developed by Shelley Chaiken.  Very similar to the ELM, but developed independently.  The ELM and the HSM were both created out of doctoral research programs by Petty and Chaiken at two different schools in the late 1970s.  Neither was aware of the other’s early research at the beginning, but of course, became friendly competitors after publication.

inoculation – weak attacks make for stronger attitudes and beliefs.  Inoculation is a tactic whereby you appear to be a tiger which scares the hell out of your target, but you only fight like a pussycat letting the other guy win a big victory.

intention – planned and thoughtful likelihood of future action.  Scientific studies demonstrate that intention is an extremely strong predictor of voluntary behavior, especially under the TACT Principle.  Intention is not a feeling, emotion, or action, but rather is a type of cognition.  People have conscious awareness of their intentions and can remember them.

“interesting” – a quality of an idea and its expression greatly valued and sought after by scientists.  To be “interesting” is better than to be beautiful, sexy, rich, smart, fast, funny or strong.  “Interesting” is a thought the receiver wishes she had generated.

laws, human nature – at present I believe there are three laws of human nature.  The law of Justification.  The law of Consistency.  The law of Explanation.  Everyone at all times is justified, consistent, and explained.

laws, persuasion – there are no laws of persuasion and if there were I wouldn’t tell you about them because then I wouldn’t be Queen of Tomorrow, uhh, King of Tomorrow.  Okay, Queen of Tomorrow.  Just so long as I’m on top.  I mean . . . you know what I mean.

message testing – a research process aimed at creating and validating messages that can change key beliefs.  It is typically a two step procedure where you first determine a wide variety of different arguments that seem plausible, then second test the various arguments on samples of your target receivers to determine the “best” arguments.  Sometimes hired creative teams recommend that you skip the second step since you’ve hired them, rendering the step irrelevant.

norms – descriptive (what is done) or prescriptive (what should be done) standards of action.  A norm can be held by an individual or a group and it may be actual or perceived.  A norm is not a feeling, emotion, or action, but rather is a type of cognition.  People have conscious awareness of norms and can remember them . . . even when they don’t follow them.

obedience – receiver compliance with source authority.  Power stems from hierarchy or organizational position.  Obedience to wise and true authority is a good thing, but the trick is seeing when the authority is unwise and untrue.  Both source and receiver have that problem.

operant conditioning – consequences drive behavior.  In situations (discriminative stimulus) organism emit behaviors (operants) that receive rewards or punishers (reinforcing stimulus).  In Primer parlance, the when-do-get.  Also known as reinforcement theory.

outcomes (of persuasion) – magnitude (amount of immediate change), persistence (how long a change lasts before it decays), resistance (how much of a change will survive future counter-arguments), and prediction (what future actions will the change produce).

peripheral route -  means of change that occurs when a person  reacts to cues to determine new beliefs and attitudes.  It requires “lower” WATTage and strong cues.  Compare to the Central Route.

persuasion – people using communication to change thoughts, feelings, and actions of other people.  (Compare to “persuasion, other terms”).

persuasion, other terms – propaganda, pressure, con, manipulation, misdirect, “PR,” spin, in other words, persuasion I mistrust.  Persuasion is an ethically neutral term that simply means using words to change people under voluntary conditions.

placement, principle – a message is more likely to be received when it is placed in locations where the receiver goes.  Messages for beer are well-placed in sports programming and poorly placed on PBS.  Messages for prestige image building are well-placed on PBS and poorly placed in sports programming.  It all depends on what you’re selling.

processing – the act of attending to, comprehending, elaborating on, and storing persuasive information and cognitive responses.  The second stage in the Cascade.

randomization – where all objects have an equal chance of being selected and the selection of one object in no way affects the selection of another object.  Using fair dice and fair throws to pick your team from the kids in the neighborhood even if it means getting that kid who can’t hit his butt with either or both hands.

reactance – a perceived unfair restriction on one’s freedom.  Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, let’s tax him behind that tree.  Reactance sometimes motivates you strangely to protect your doofus kid brother or sister when somebody else is tormenting them because, hey, that’s YOUR brother.

reception – making a message available to receivers; getting the message.  The first stage in the Cascade.    Reception is driven by the Principles of Placement, Repetition, and Contrast.  Large scale persuasion interventions should aim at 80% reception rates in the target group of receivers.  If you can’t hit 80% reception in a large scale intervention, you should instead use your media budget to throw a big party for opinion leaders, your boss, and your boss’s boss.

repetition, principle – a message is more likely to be received when it is repeatedly (time and space) placed in locations where the receiver goes.  Repetition is enhanced when elements of the message are varied to make the message look “new” even though it says the same thing.

response – belief change in behavior, norm, or control beliefs that a message generates in a receiver.  The third stage in the Cascade.  In behavior theories, a response is something that is elicited by a stimulus.

social marketing – a poet’s persuasion; using a metaphor for measurement when you’ve got a ruler in your hand; an experiment involving whiskey and gorillas.

stages of change – the five step Transtheoretical Model that says people move from Precontemplation, Contemplation, Planning, Action, and Habit as they acquire a new behavior.  A great tool for TACTful defining.

standard model – a persuasion engine that drives behavior change.  The Model takes the general stages of the Cascade and details them with specific concepts and operations for planning, implementing, and assessing persuasion.  Steve’s gift to posterity, the Office of Management and Budget, and everyone else.

stimulus – something that elicits a response . . .  a ringing bell, a flashing light, a curvy hip.

strategic persuasion – larger goals a change agent wants to accomplish that can be achieved, in part, through successful tactical persuasion.  Most often strategic persuasion is best thought of as the behavior you select for change.  If you change that behavior something else you want falls into place.

subliminal – a message that operates below the receiver’s conscious awareness.  What you don’t see is what you get.  The Queen of Tomorrow knows all about this and will someday rule the world as soon as she gets a big enough tachistiscope.  This really could happen, but then monkeys might fly out of your butt, too.

TACT – Target, Action, Context, Time or Who does What Where and When.  The TACT principle specifies in detail the target behavior change and is the crucial first step in planning persuasion.

theory of planned behavior -  Icek Aizen’s model of human behavior (based on the Theory of Reasoned Action) which says that volitional behavior is driven by intention and that intention is, in part, driven by behavior, norm, and control beliefs.

theory of reasoned action -  Martin Fishbein and Icek Aizen’s model of human behavior which says that volitional behavior is driven by intention and that intention is, in part,  driven by behavior and norm beliefs.  In the next 20 years everyone will forget about this theory like they have with Gestalt principles because they’ll be using fMRI machines to produce real scientific studies that demonstrate the same principles as TRA and think they’ve discovered something important this time.

two step – message tactic that requires two sequential requests with the first request functioning as a setup and the second request functioning as the true target.  When the setup elicits a “Yes!” response, the two step is called foot-in-the-door (FITD).  When the setup elicits a “No!” response, the two step is called, door-in-the-face (DITF).  Consistently applied the two step generates about a 10% improvement over control compliance rates.  Also known as Sequential Message Requests Tactics by people who don’t make a living doing persuasion.

unconditioned stimulus/response – a pre-existing stimulus-response relationship.  “Pre-existing” is a freaky term because it implies that some force made this happen a Very Long Time Ago which either makes evolution really old or else makes religious theorizing reasonable.   See also conditioned stimulus/response.

WATT(age) – Willingness and Ability To Think (a clever acronym for elaboration likelihood that Rich and John missed because they are Serious Guys who don’t score as high on the Humor Orientation scale as I do).  This is the mental state of the receiver and is usually categorized as “higher” (that produces central route processing of arguments) or “lower” (that produces peripheral route processing of cues).  WATTage can change rapidly (in a few seconds), but people tend to persist in one mode (central or peripheral).