The Dynamics of Persuasion
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The Dynamics of Persuasion

Communication and Attitudes in the Twenty-First Century

Richard M. Perloff

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eBook - ePub

The Dynamics of Persuasion

Communication and Attitudes in the Twenty-First Century

Richard M. Perloff

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About This Book

Now in its seventh edition, this essential text continues to provide students with a comprehensive yet accessible overview of the study and practice of persuasive communication.

Attuned to the swift changes in the world of persuasion in the twenty-first century, this book covers how theories and research illuminate and adapt to our present digital era, with continued attention to ethical implications and today's big topics. This new edition features updated definitions of key terms in the field as they relate to present-day practice; an integration of persuasion theories and the ubiquity of online influence; new examples and cases to illustrate persuasive communication's approach to health campaigns, attitudes, communicator appeals, dissonance, and ethics; and a thorough reflection of the most current scholarship in the field.

The Dynamics of Persuasion, Seventh Edition provides a solid foundation for undergraduate students in communication studies and psychology to grasp the key concepts and practices of persuasive communication today.

The book is complemented by online resources for both instructors and students, including an instructor's manual, lecture slides, sample test questions, and links to relevant articles and videos illustrating concepts presented in the text. Please visit

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When you think of persuasion, what comes to mind? Advertising, perhaps? The ad for running shoes that pops up everywhere on your phone? Retail stores that electronically track your shopping patterns, then send a push notification on your smartphone promoting a product they know you like? Those ubiquitous social media influencers who peddle products to devoted online followers? That’s persuasion, right? Powerful stuff – the kind of thing that wields strong effects on society and spells success for its purveyors. But what about you? What does persuasion mean to you personally? Can you think of times when the media or attractive communicators changed your mind about something? Anything come to mind? “Not really,” you say. You’ve got the canny ability to see through what other people are trying to sell you.
Well, that’s perhaps what we like to think. “It’s everyone else who’s influenced, not me or my friends – well, maybe my friends, but not me.” But wait: What about those Levi’s jeans, UGG boots, Juicy Couture sweater, or Nike sneakers you bought? Marketing had to play a role in that decision somehow. What about the book you purchased on Amazon after reading all the favorable customer reviews? You have to admit that other people’s comments may have swayed you more than a smidgeon. And, if you search your mind, you probably can think of lots of times when you yielded to another’s pushy persuasion, only to regret it later – the time you let yourself get talked into allowing a car repair that turned out to be unnecessary or agreed to loan a friend some money, only to discover she had no intention of paying you back.
But that’s all negative. What of the positive side? Have you ever been helped by a persuasive communication – an antismoking ad or a reminder that it’s not cool or safe to drink when you drive? Have you ever had a conversation with a friend who opened your eyes to new ways of seeing the world or a teacher who said you had potential you didn’t know you had?
You see, this is persuasion too. Just about anything that involves molding or shaping attitudes involves persuasion. Now there’s another term that may seem foreign at first: Attitudes. Attitudes? There once was a rock group that called itself that. But we’ve got attitudes as surely as we have arms, legs, cell phones, or Facebook pages. We have attitudes about music, politics, money, sex, race, even God. We don’t all share the same attitudes, and you may not care a whit about issues that intrigue your acquaintances. But we have attitudes and they shape our world in ways we don’t always recognize. Persuasion is the study of attitudes and how to change them.
Persuasion calls to mind images of salespeople and manipulators, such as clever strategists on classic TV shows like Survivor – which prizes plying physical attractiveness and verbal manipulation (Murphy, 2018) – and con artists, such as the swindlers who devise false profiles on dating sites like These online crooks pilfer photos of attractive women and men from Instagram, allure lonely victims to click onto the site, sweet talk them, and hit them up for money (Murphy, 2016). Let’s also not forget the online prescription drug sites that deliver to your doorstep drugs promising to cure everything from public speaking anxiety to erectile dysfunctions, in the total absence of medical counsel from a licensed M.D. (Singer & Thomas, 2019). On a more whimsical note, persuasion brings to mind the hopelessly, worrisomely gullible people who fall prey to scams, such as those playfully perpetrated by Candid Camera television host Peter Funt: The Denver residents who believed they would be getting mail delivered via drone, and the folks from Scottsdale, Arizona who fell for the policeman’s story that he was enforcing a “2 m.p.h. pedestrian speed limit” (Funt, 2014, p. A21)!
There is another side too: Persuasion harnessed in the service of social change. Activists have doggedly employed persuasion to help change attitudes toward race, gender roles, and climate change. Consumer advocates have tirelessly warned people about dishonest business practices. Health communicators have launched countless campaigns to change people’s thinking about cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, and unsafe sex. Political leaders have relied on persuasion when attempting to influence opinions toward policy issues or when trying to rally the country behind them during national crises. Some of our greatest leaders have been expert persuaders – Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Franklin Delano Roosevelt come immediately to mind, as do the crop of current political persuaders, working in the thicket of the social media age (see Figure 1.1). And the health specialists who helped convince Americans to change their hygiene habits in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic certainly harnessed persuasion for the public good.
Figure 1.1 Steve Jobs, the Computer and Marketing Guru, Showcased the Ways That Persuasion Could Be Harnessed for Positive Purposes, Unleashing His Communication Skills to Develop and Promote Apple Computers, the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Like all people and professional persuaders, Jobs was imperfect: He was widely viewed as contemptuous and disparaging of others. Yet he was also a visionary whose ideas – and captivating persuasive abilities – revolutionized the world of products and technology
Image courtesy of iStock photos
Persuasion, alas, intrigues and repels us. We are fascinated by charisma, why some people have it and others don’t. We are riveted by courtroom trials, both in television fiction and in real life. Many women waited in line to watch the 2011 trial of Casey Anthony, charged with killing her two-year-old daughter, Caylee with chloroform and duct tape. Some curiosity-seekers longed to see if the prosecution could make the case that Casey killed her daughter because she grew frustrated with motherhood, which kept her away from the sybaritic life of cocktails and men. Others found themselves drawn in by the courtroom drama, intrigued by the strategies her lawyers ingeniously devised to poke holes in the prosecution’s arguments. At the same time as we are piqued by persuasion in cases like the Anthony trial, we recoil when reading about its horrific excesses, such as its use by charismatic cult leaders and terrorists who lure vulnerable young people into their lairs, only to later exploit their innocence in a deadly fashion. The power of persuasion – its ability to captivate and connive – fascinates people the world over.
In our own unprecedented era, where YouTube influencers recruit millions of followers through catchy, charismatic marketing of a personal brand and online provocateurs create false Facebook pages that can be difficult to distinguish from legitimate counterparts, influence intrigues and unnerves. We willingly give apps intimate information about our personal lives – body weight, pregnancy date, location of the fast food restaurant we binge at on weekends – only to discover these details have been shared with companies which hope to use this information to snooker us into buying their products. Our fascination with persuasion reflects realistic fears and hopes, as well as exaggerations about effects of the global, glitzy media. Sorting out the real from the fanciful and, more broadly, understanding the processes by which persuasion occurs is the focus of this book.
This text examines these issues, exploring them through the keen lens of social scientific theory and research. It delves into persuasive communications, their effects, and the dynamics of attitudes communicator hope to change. It takes you through theories, classic applications, and subtle implications of the persuasion craft. And on a more personal note, I endeavor to show how you can use persuasion insights to become a more effective persuasive speaker, a more critical judge of social influence attempts, and a more sensitive, ethical communicator.
This introductory chapter sets the stage for the chapters that follow, placing persuasion in its historical context and explaining, with examples that encompass LeBron James, “Make America Great Again,” and fake Facebook posts, the distinctive characteristics of persuasion today.

Persuasion: Constancies and Changes

The study and practice of persuasion are not new. Persuasion can be found in the Old Testament – for example, in Jeremiah’s attempts to convince his people to repent and establish a personal relationship with God. We come across persuasion when we read about John the Baptist’s exhortations for Christ. John traveled the countryside, acting as Christ’s “advance man,” preaching that “Christ is coming, wait till you see him, when you look in his eyes you’ll know that you’ve met Christ the Lord” (Whalen, 1996, p. 110).
Long before professional persuaders hoped to turn a profit from books on closing a deal, traveling educators known as the Sophists paraded through ancient Greece, charging money for lectures on public speaking and the art of political eloquence. Five centuries before political consultants advised presidential candidates how to package themselves on television, the Italian diplomat Niccolo Machiavelli rocked the Renaissance world with his how-to manual for political persuaders, entitled The Prince. Machiavelli believed in politics and respected crafty political leaders. He offered a litany of suggestions for how politicians could maintain power through cunning and deception.
In the United States, where persuasion has played an outsized role in politics and commercial sales, it should come as no surprise that communication campaigns are as American as media- advertised apple pie! The first crusade to change health behavior did not occur in 1970 or 1870, but in 1820. Nineteenth-century reformers expressed concern about increases in binge drinking and pushed for abstinence from alcohol. A few years later, activists committed to clean living tried to persuade Americans to quit using tobacco, exercise more, and adopt a vegetarian diet that included wheat bread, grains, fruits, and vegetables (Engs, 2000).
As they say in France: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (the more things change, the more they remain the same). Yet, for all the similarities, there are important differences between our era of persuasion and those that preceded it. Each epoch has its own character, feeling, and rhythm. Contemporary persuasion differs from the past in the following ways, encapsulated in Table 1.1.
Table 1.1 Key Ways Today’s Persuasion Differs from Previous Eras
1.Number of messages
2. Speed and brevity
3. A hybrid industry – part institutional, part gig
4. Subtlety
5. Complexity and digital mediation
6. Entwined with online and social media (exposure to short, metaphorical messages, with simultaneous message exchange among millions of strangers, that may confirm biases, as well as expand beliefs)
7. Spread of dark digitized falsehoods, aided by automated bots

The Number and Reach of Persuasive Communications Have Grown Exponentially

Online advertising, public service announcements, negative political commercials, and those daily interruptions from telephone marketers are among the most salient indicators of this trend. Eons ago, you could go through a day with preciously little exposure to impersonal persuasive messages. This is no longer true during an epoch in which there are countless persuasive appeals (Rhoads, 1997), and messages are conveyed through mediated channels, via colorful language, emoticons, and emoji. People frequently showcase persuasive messages on their bodies, on T-shirts, bracelets, and tattoos. Even tragedies have become fair game. Shortly after terrorists slaughtered 12 people in an attack on the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, in 2015, “Je Suis Charlie” (“I Am Charlie”) items began selling on Amazon, Etsy, and other online retail sites. Appearing at the Golden Globe Awards, the elegant Amal Clooney sported a black-and-white “Je Suis Charlie” button, all the more eye-catching since it fit with her black Dior dress and her white gloves; she and other communicators showed their affinity for a persuasive cause “by wearing it, literally,” on their sleeve (Friedman, 2015).
Persuasion’s reach extends well beyond the United States, to countries and communities linked into worldwide media marketing and attuned to sports celebrities. Some years back, a U.S. college student traveling in remote areas of China reported that, while stranded by winter weather, he came across a group of Tibetans. After sharing their food with the student, the Tibetans began to discuss an issue that touched on matters American. “Just how,” one of the Tibetans asked the young American, “was Michael Jordan doing?” (LaFeber, 1999, p. 14). In our own time, another basketball superstar – LeBron James, who famously played for the Cleveland Cavaliers – has become an international phenomenon, known for his basketball prowess worldwide.
While traveling in France several years back, a Cleveland newspaper columnist, Phillip Morris, spotted a man at a subway stop near Paris sporting jeans, headphones, and a LeBron James jersey, with the iconic number 23 that once graced James’ Cleveland Cavaliers jersey. Morris gave the guy a thumbs up and the man returned the sign, raising his thumb too. “Common ground between strangers had been established without a single word being exchanged. That is the power of sports and the undeniable global magnetism of LeBron James,” Morris (2018, p. E3) concluded, underscoring the iconic appeal of James – athletic superstar, graceful actor in a blockbuster movie, and bodacious, sometimes-controversial spokesperson for political causes, ranging from impassioned statements about police shootings of African Americans to an oddly unartful defense of the authoritarian Chinese regime in 2019.
James’ tweeted criticism of freedom of speech to oppose the Chinese government, which seemed to showcase pocketbook over principle since James has benefited handsomely from sales of his merchandise in China, became an immediate global cause celebre, destined to hurt him with Hong Kong’s anti-Chinese protesters, while increasing his cachet with the lucrative Chinese market. James’ appeal is emblematic of the power of a brand, the image of triumph in sports, the magnetism of celebrity, as well as its dark glare, all the symbol...

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Citation styles for The Dynamics of Persuasion
APA 6 Citation
Perloff, R. (2020). The Dynamics of Persuasion (7th ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2020)
Chicago Citation
Perloff, Richard. (2020) 2020. The Dynamics of Persuasion. 7th ed. Taylor and Francis.
Harvard Citation
Perloff, R. (2020) The Dynamics of Persuasion. 7th edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Perloff, Richard. The Dynamics of Persuasion. 7th ed. Taylor and Francis, 2020. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.