Martin Fishbein University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Icek Ajzen University of Massachusetts-Amherst
Information is the essence of the persuasion process. Receivers are exposed to a persuasive communication in the hope that they will be influenced by the information it contains. The effectiveness of the message depends in large measure on the nature of this information. It is therefore somewhat disconcerting to find that message content has rarely been the focus of much attention. Construction of an effective message has been left largely to the intuitive devices of the investigator, whereas most communication and persuasion research has been devoted to the discovery of factors that influence the effectiveness of the message as constructed. To be sure, order of presentation, type of appeal (e.g., high versus low fear appeal), and other global features of the message have not escaped scrutiny; but few attempts have been made to take account of the items of information actually contained in the message.
The purpose of the present chapter is to draw attention to the decisive role played by the content of a persuasive communication. In the first section we note that a message can be designed to influence different kinds of target variables, and we propose to distinguish between belief, attitude, intention, and behavior as potential targets of a communication. We discuss the differential determinants of these variables and demonstrate that the choice of a given target sets the stage for the selection of information that must be made part of the message in order to bring about the desired change. The chapter's second section turns to a consideration of the cognitive processes that mediate the effects of a message. The structure of a typical persuasive communication is described, and a distinction is made between acceptance of arguments contained in the message, yielding to those