What is Persuasion? Definition, Factors, and Reactions on Persuasion

What is Persuasion?

Persuasion is the pressure to convince others to change their attitudes or behaviors. It is a form of social influence used in daily social life. The persuasion process goes on in the classroom, in religious affairs, in the political field, and in the media.

We often receive these messages from billboards, TV, radio, newspapers, parents, peers, speeches, magazines, advertisements, and public figures. In a sense, we all are the agents of social influences when we try to convince others to change their attitudes and behaviors. We are also the targets of social influence when others try to convince us to do what they want us to do.


The most important factors in the persuasion process can be explained through the question “who says what to whom by what means?” This question suggests that there are four factors involved in persuasion. These four factors interact with each other to create a persuasive effect. The “who” refers to the communicator, the person making the persuasive statement. The “what” refers to the message, its organization, and content. The “whom” is the audience, the target of the message. Finally, the “means” points to the importance of the channel or medium through which the message is conveyed such as television, radio, face-to-face communication, and so on.

Persuasion depends upon several factors. The process of persuasion, the communicators use to change the people’s attitudes or behavior are:

The credibility of The Communicators: Credibility has two components: expertise and trustworthiness. Expertise refers to a communicator’s qualifications and comes from the person’s training and knowledge. Trustworthiness refers to the audience’s evaluation of the communicator’s personality as well as his or her motives for conveying the message. Persons who are experts with respect to topics or issues they are presenting more influential than non-experts. Trustworthiness may be diminished when we know that the communicator wants to gain something from persuading us.

Physical Attraction: Physically attractive communicators are more persuasive than less attractive. Many advertisements contain male and female models that are often nice looking.

Indirect Messages: Messages that are not designed to change attitudes are often more successful to be persuasive than the ones that are planned to change. For example, the use of high-quality perfume by someone may convey many messages.

Distractions: People are more inclined to persuasion when they are distracted by some extraneous event than when they are paying full attention. For example, political leaders often arrange for spontaneous demonstrations during their speeches among audience members to enhance the acceptance of their points.

Fitting The Message To The Audience: The nature of the audience also influences how a message is structured. For less educated, uninformed audiences a one-sided message works best. In a one-sided message, only one side of the issue is presented and conclusions are drawn for the audience. For a well-educated, well-informed audience, a two-sided message works best. The more educated audience probably already is aware of the other side of the argument. It attempts are made to persuade them with a one-sided argument they may question the motives behind it. Also, well-educated audience members can draw their own conclusions.

The Power of Emotions: Emotional appeal works better with less educated or analytical groups. Persuasion can be enhanced by messages that arouse strong emotions especially fear in the audience. Fear makes a message more effective than an appeal to reason or logic. Psychologists found that an appeal containing a mild threat and evoking a low level of fear was more effective to grab’s peoples attention than a very high level of fear.

Social Power: People who speak rapidly are often more persuasive than persons who speak more slowly. Similarly, the attire, style, choice of words is equally important. The effectiveness of any persuasive effort also depends upon the timing of the structure and the situation of the message’s release.

Reactions To Persuasion: Conditions Related To Attitude Change

We feel greater irritation and hatred when someone forces us to change our attitudes. We resist, and show negative signs, and adopt opposite behavior which social psychologists called reactions to persuasion. We feel that the persuader reduced our freedom, independence, and decision-making power. There are different reactions we show when a persuader tries to change us.

Forewarning: The beforehand knowledge that a persuader is attempting to change our attitude is called forewarning. For example, television, political speech, taped messages, or written appeals are constantly aiming to change our views. But we are often less likely to be affected by it. Forewarning influences our cognitive processes in persuasion. Forewarning benefits us in two ways:

  • It provides us the opportunity to formulate counterarguments that lessen the message impact.
  • Forewarning also provides us with more time to go through past experiences, facts, and information that may be useful to prove a persuasive message false.

Selective Avoidance: Selective avoidance is a tendency to direct our attention away from information that challenges our existing attitudes. In selective avoidance, schemas guide the processing of social information and attitudes. For example, we surf the channel, mute the commercials, and turn off the television and try to ignore information, and engage in other activities when we have to face information contrary to our views.

Active Defense: We provide our own strong defense against efforts to change our attitudes. We also use a more active approach by arguing against our views. It helps to strengthen our observation and makes it more unforgettable reducing their impact to influence on our attitudes.

Biased Assimilation: We evaluate opposing information as less convincing and less reliable than our existing information which is called biased assimilation. This makes us difficult to change our views.

Attitude Polarization: In attitude polarization, our initial views become more extreme. It strengthens in such a way that it is difficult to change our information. For example, if someone holds views tending towards the east we will turn toward the west.

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