What is Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM)?

What is Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM)?

Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) is a theory that defines attitude change in people. The developers of the theory, Richard E. Petty and John T. Cacioppo intended to provide a better understanding of persuasive communications in the society. According to the model, two paths toward persuasion exist, central path and peripheral path. One uses the central path when he or she has the motivation and the ability to think about the message. If the receiver is concerned about the message and accesses it with a lot of ease, then he or she is likely to elaborate on it. Lasting persuasion is likely to take place if the receiver has favorable thoughts about the message.

In case the message is ambiguous but attitudinally neutral or if the receiver lacks the motivation to listen to it, then the receiver will explore a peripheral route. There are several peripheral cues, which the receiver may explore. They include using communication strategies that links the persuasive message with positive things that the receiver has in mind. The receiver may also use an expert appeal or contrast with positions that he despises.

Main assumptions of Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM)

The basis of Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) is that attitudes play an important role in decision-making and in shaping the behavior of people. Even though one can develop certain attitudes because of various reasons, persuasion remains a major source of influence. Theorists behind the model argue that central and peripheral routes, which a receiver of a message takes, arise because of ample information as compared to simplistic and negative associations with the object or situation.

The principle variable is this process is involvement. For example, the extent to which the receiver is willing and able to think about the persuasive message and the evidence accompanying it. Elaboration is always high where people are motivated to think about the message content. Elaboration encompasses several processes like evaluation, critical judgment, recall and inferential judgment.

Central persuasion route is likely to occur whenever there is high elaboration on the content of the message. On the other hand, a peripheral route occurs when elaboration is low. When there is low elaboration, persuasion may also occur.

Real life applications of ELM

Over the years, researchers have applied the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) in a range of fields, including healthcare, advertising, consumer behavior and marketing among other areas. In this section, we shall discuss some of these ways in which ELM is useful in our daily lives.

In the area of advertising communications, advertisers widely employ this model since the effect of an ad is not limited to the message contained in the advert but also the appeals present. For example, many manufacturers use celebrities to endorse products and service in a bid to woo the public.

The media widely uses ELM to manipulate the masses. This is common in advocacy messages that advocate for behavioral change. For instance, for the public to shun smoking because of an appeal in the media, the messenger must elaborate the effects of smoking. With clarity, the message takes the central path as the receiver is persuaded to agree with the opinion being advocated.

Critiques of Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM)

While elaboration likelihood model (ELM) finds application in an array of facets in life, some researchers hold divergent opinions on the model. For example, Kruglanski and Thompson have been criticized for misinterpreting the theory. They opine that the processing of central or peripheral paths depended on the type of information that influences the persuading power of the message.

A second misinterpretation states that processing of the central path only involves thinking about the content of the message and not the issue at hand. According to Petty and Cacioppo (1981), elaboration cannot occur in case there is an important issue to the receiver but there is no argument. Thus, the central path still involves thinking about the issue, which is vital for the receiver to think about the content of the message. The last misinterpretation by Kruglanski and Thompson is that they ignore the model’s quantitative dimensions with a biased focus on the qualitative dimension.

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