Different Factors Affecting Persuasion Success

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This essay will examine different factors affecting persuasion success as a means to determine why persuasion attempts are often unsuccessful. The first factor examined will be the invocation of fear used in health marketing in an attempt to increase compliance and persuasion success. After this, the effect of different forms of Non-Verbal Communication will be examined, specifically communication styles known as “eager” and “vigilant”. Finally, specific mechanisms that deflect persuasion attempts (such as avoidance and reactance) will be examined in order to gauge how their influences make persuasion attempts more likely to fail.

There are a lot of techniques that can be used to influence how effective a persuasive attempt is. Inducing fear in the target to increase their likelihood of compliance is one of these. There has been a large body of research conducted into the effect of fear on persuasion and many theories created on its influence. Witte’s extended parallel process model (EPPM) suggests that there is a curvilinear relationship between fear and persuasive success, so as fear in the target increases so does the success of the persuasive attempt – but once the fear reaches a certain point, the levels of persuasion decrease. However, alternative research suggests that using fear in a persuasion attempt, while sometimes being successful, is temperamental. 

This is due to the fact that it can lead to the implementation of maladaptive coping strategies, which in turn leads to failure of the attempt. Maladaptive coping strategies can be described as the opposite of adaptive coping strategies where, when confronted with fear inducing information, instead of taking advice and complying to persuasion attempts one will instead take up harmful behaviours such as avoidance of the threat. Although there is a lot of research into the use of fear in persuasion, a large majority of it uses health related stimuli which may restrict applications of the studies to this specific context. 

Examples of this include the use of stimuli such as messages about the illness letrolisus and information of the dangers of smoking. The use of these specific health related dangers may illicit a very different response in terms of persuasion success than more medial topics. They also all involve persuading people to make changes for themselves and their own benefit, so the data collected would likely vary significantly than research looking at persuasion in terms of altruistic acts. The wide range of possible scenarios in persuasive attempts provides an example as to why a large array of stimuli need to be used in research in order to reach valid conclusions.

Another factor that has an influencing effect on persuasion success is the source of the information and the way it is provided. Research has found Non-verbal communication (NVC) styles to have a significant impact on whether a persuasion attempt is a success or failure. The two different styles of NVC often used in persuasion research are often referred to as reflecting “eagerness” or “vigilance”. An NVC style that displayed eagerness could be described as more open and friendlier, whilst a vigilant style of NVC would feature more closed movements and a slower rate of speech. 

Cesario & Higgins argued that despite past research having found NVC styles closely related to the eagerness category as being more effective (due to the fact that they make the source of the information appear higher in confidence and credibility), the NVC style that is more likely to lead to persuasion success, or failure, depends on contextual factors such as the personality of the target. In order to test this theory, they devised two groups of participants in relation to what their regulatory focus was. 

Regulatory focus is a phrase coined by Higgins  to explain two different ways in which people experience motivation for their goals. The two categories used included people who have “Promotion-focus… who represent goals as hopes and aspirations” and people who have “Prevention-focus… who represent goals as duties and obligations”. Their findings showed people within the Promotion-focus category to respond better to an eager NVC style, and people in the Prevention-focus category to respond better to a vigilant NVC style. 

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The fact that NVC styles most associated with persuasion success were different within different contexts is further supported within research conducted by Fennis & Stel, showing the success of eager and vigilant NVC styles to vary depending on the way the information was presented. They used two well known persuasion techniques known as the Door-in-the-face (DITF) and the Disrupt-Then-Reframe (DTF) techniques. 

Their findings showed the DITF technique to be linked to higher persuasion success when coupled with eager NVC and lower success when paired with vigilant NVC. The effect was then reversed when working with the DTF technique. Together with the previous research, this study demonstrates the effect of the source of the information on whether a persuasion attempt will fail or be a success, and also shows the extent to which different factors interact within this process.

In addition to the aforementioned more general factors that can affect persuasion success, there are also more specific strategies that will cause persuasion attempts to fail. One example of these strategies is Avoidance. Avoidance can be described as the tendency for people to discount or ignore the information presented in a persuasion attempt. There are many different contexts in which avoidance can be used as a strategy to deflect persuasion attempts. One of these contexts can be seen within the concept of ad avoidance in multimedia marketing. 

Within this research, Ham examined the context to which people use avoidance as a strategy to resist persuasion attempts in online advertising. He found a high prevalence of ad avoidance within participants as well as a positive correlation between avoidance and other known strategies of persuasion resistance (such as forewarning and reactance). He also found correlational evidence linking ad avoidance to other more context specific factors, such as online privacy concerns. Overall this study informs on how people use strategies such as avoidance in everyday scenarios. It also shows how different strategies interact with each other to increase the likelihood of a persuasion attempt being unsuccessful. 

Although this study provides valid information on avoidance in persuasion, it can be criticised for applications being contextually bound to online advertising. Also, the advertising types used within this study were all specifically text based display adverts. This only represents a small percentage of online advertising, which expands into video and text advertising. Due to these limitations the study has a lowered external validity. In contrast to examining avoidance in terms of online advertising, Belk & Snell conducted research into the use of avoidance to deflect unwanted persuasion attempts in heterosexual relationships. 

They asked a sample of 152 undergraduate students to write a short essay on how they would turn down an unwanted persuasion attempt from an intimate partner and through content analysis, identified 24 different types of avoidance mentioned. This demonstrates the wide range of variable contexts in which avoidance can be found and also further represents the extent to which such strategies are used in day to day scenarios, making unwanted persuasion attempts fail.

In conclusion, although the applications of a large majority of persuasion research are context bound and closely related to the specifics of advertising, they can still provide us with evidence as to the different factors that have an effect on persuasive success. The evidence explored in this essay examined both broader influencing factors (such as the invocation of fear and the use of different styles of NVC), alongside specific methods (such as avoidance) implemented to resist persuasion. 

Looking at both simultaneously provides a more thorough understanding as to why persuasion attempts might fail. A common theme within the research was the finding that multiple influences often act together to increase or decrease the likelihood of persuasion success. This implies that the reason as to why a persuasive attempt might fail is due to a large interaction of many factors including those examined in this essay.

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