Cognitive Dissonance Theory

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The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) developed by Petty and Cacioppo (1986) stresses the importance of cognition in mediating variables involved in the persuasion process. Elaboration refers to the degree to which an individual process the information that they are faced with. In this micro theory of communication, the model postulates that information processed through the two distinct routes, mainly the central or peripheral route, will ‘form the poles of a continuum to attitude change’ (McNeill, 1989). This essay seeks to compare the ELM and another micro theory, called the Cognitive Dissonance Theory, in explaining communication behavior. Thereafter, a review of the ELM would be done in the final section of the paper.

Cognitive Dissonance
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In the former, the theory suggests that ‘attitudinal changes [via the central route] tend to persist longer and are more predictive of behaviour than changes induced through the peripheral route’ (McNeill, 1989). With ability will and high issue involvement to serve as motivation, the individual’s central route processing will be engaged. This is the desired approach for persuaders because information will be rationally processed and more resistant to change. Thus, behavior can be predicted to achieve long-term goals of a certain campaign or movement. While elaboration under the peripheral route may cause a behavioural change, it is often to ‘produce only temporary changes’ (McNeill, 1989) and target the ephemeral goals. On the other hand, the theory of cognitive dissonance did not specify the persistence of behavioral or attitudinal changes experienced by individuals. Persuaders would find it difficult to ascertain the impact of these changes experienced by audiences and to predict behavioural changes in the long run. As such, the ELM illustrates the possible types of outcomes that might result, suggesting it to be more of a predictive theory as compared to the CDT, which focuses on the explanation of attitude change ‘when two elements of cognition are in obverse relationship to each other’ (Groyer,…show more content…
Given that motivation is subjective and varies amongst different people, it poses as a drawback for predicting behavioural changes in a community or society. Gotlieb and Swan (1990) espoused this argument, stating that ‘the ELM predicts that when high motivation occurs, the subject will carefully process the arguments in the message.’ The emphasis on the subject underscores the ELM’s limited predictive capabilities to only the individuals. Angst and Agarwal (2006) agreed that different recipients ‘will vary in how much cognitive energy they devote to the message.’ As a result, extending the theory for application to a wider range of audiences may not be accurate and representative of the masses. Although the ELM is a predictive theory, it is imperative to note that its strength is accentuated only when targeted at
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