Grab the Head and the Heart will Follow
Zeitgeist. Spirit of the times. The air you breath. The fish bowl you don’t notice as you swim. Watch movies from the 1950s and the Zeitgeist jumps off the screen. Everyone smokes. Everyone drinks gin martinis. The men wear hats. The women speak with high class accents. Good guys win. Bad guys lose. Good girls don’t, bad girls do.
Social science lives in a Zeitgeist, too. If you were reading a circa 1950s Primer you’d be reading metaphorically extended behaviorism. Instead of mere “learning” a la Skinner, you would have “message learning” a la Hovland. The theories would feel mechanistic, animalistic, and driven. See the greytones.
Today the spirit of the times is cognitive. Everything sounds like a user manual for a new Microsoft product. Programming. Systems. Flow. Schema. Template. Functions and Procedures. It’s counted, quantitized, and mathed-up. Computational linguisitics. Computational psychology. Computational life. And, it’s all in the head. See electric orange and lime green.
Today’s Zeitgeist reminds me of a John Hershey novel, “The Child Buyer.” (Hershey published the novel at a time of one Zeitgeist, but like all interesting writers, he wrote about a new Zeitgeist.) See, a really smart, but unpopular kid lives with very poor parents and this guy, a Child Buyer, comes to town one day looking for the kid because the kid is so smart. The buyer wants the kid’s brain. Literally. The buyer works for an unspecified corporation that deals in national security problems. This corporation wants to create a 1950s supercomputer, but since they hadn’t solved all those technical problems the way we have, so instead of using silicon, they use the wet stuff, grey matter, your brains. And they want this kid’s brains.
While this dark and menacing story is interesting for its style, theme, and technique, it is more interesting for its emphasis upon the brain. The world loves brains and everything about brains shapes our Zeitgeist. We think about brains today through the computer metaphor. Sometimes you can’t tell whether our brains are biological things or computation things we’ve so strongly blurred those differences.
All of the concepts in this section rely upon a cognitive orientation to persuasion. You think, therefore you are; thus, to change, change the way you think. We begin with Attribution which explains why explanations are so important to persuasion. We then take a closer look at two theories we sketched out in the Standard Model section: the Elaboration Likelihood Model and the Theory of Planned Behavior.