How can our message affect other people?

Have you ever wondered why some messages stick in our heads for a long time while others do not? I have, especially when I am talking to my husband, and I feel that he will probably forget most of what I am saying very quickly. This phenomenon is similar to what scholars have been trying to understand since earlier studies of mass communication back in the 1920s: How can a message affect the audience?

In the mid-1970s, Richard Petty and John Cacioppo developed a theory called the elaboration likelihood model (ELM). The ELM suggests that the information we receive forms attitudes and changes our ideas. That is, during the message-processing, information can persuade the audience. More importantly, the theory examines how likely a person is to be affected by that information.

The name elaboration refers to your cognitive thinking when processing a message. The more elaboration, the longer the attitude change effect will last.

According to the ELM, there are two routes to persuasion: the central route and the peripheral route. The message from the central route is analyzed with facts, experiences, and knowledge. The central route requires more elaboration, and greater cognitive work to process the message. While in the peripheral route, there is lower cognitive effort to process the message and less elaboration. Individuals form attitudes based on other inferences other than the message itself, such as positive emotions.

Several factors interfere with which route we take when receiving a message, such as involvement, level of stress, distraction, mood, interest in the topic, relevance, etc. So, you could be very interested in a topic, but hungry at the same time. The hungriness could be distracting you from fully paying attention to the message.

Although it is possible to apply the ELM to any type of communication, the theory was developed to understand the effects the media has on the mass audience.

After watching a commercial about maternity leave rights for military people, if you are military and expecting, that commercial will most likely get your attention because you personally relate to that message, and that information will be beneficial to you. Now, if you are not pregnant or in the military, you will probably pay less attention to the message, and more attention to other things, such as how funny the commercial was.

The elaboration likelihood model can be beneficial not only when communicating with our partners at home, but especially when communicating with a large audience. Learning about the process of attitude change and the message process can help you create content and deliver messages more effectively.

So, when sending your messages out, make sure that you engage your audience through both paths by using facts, relevant information, creativity, and positive emotions.

I hope this article was helpful to you. Let me know in the comments if you have any other examples of how the elaboration likelihood model could be helpful in our everyday lives.

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Ludmilla D'Alessandro

Ludmilla D'Alessandro

Moved from the majestic coast of eastern Brazil, to the University of Florida. Trilingual. Pursuing a career in Global Communications.