Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

The Elaboration Likelihood Model and Psychotherapeutic Persuasion

Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

The Elaboration Likelihood Model and Psychotherapeutic Persuasion

Article excerpt

The psychotherapeutic process has long been considered a context for persuasion. The Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion provides an integrative framework from which to examine the process of persuasion in psychotherapy. Various source, message, recipient, and context factors interact in a complex manner to produce attitude change. Two routes to persuasion are presented and their relevance for psychotherapy are discussed. The central route requires more effort and more active cognitive processing on the part of the client, resulting in relatively permanent attitudes that are predictive of subsequent behavior. The peripheral route requires minimal cognitive effort, relying on cues in the situation or rather simple decision rules. Attitudes resulting from this route are relatively temporary and are not predictive of subsequent behavior. Both routes to persuasion are characteristic of the psychotherapeutic process. The role of affect in information processing and methods for encouraging central route processing are discussed.

It has been argued that evaluative processes are a fundamental dimension with which people relate and assimilate incoming social information to existing knowledge structures (Cacioppo, Petty, & Morris, 1983; Ferguson, Rule, & Carlson, 1983). Because clients evaluate and process information, it seems reasonable and practical to analyze the underlying processes of attitude change within a therapeutic environment. Thus the therapeutic relationship can be examined in terms of a social influence process of attitude development and change (see Craighead & Craighead, 1980; Strong, 1968; Strong & Claiborn, 1982). The underlying assumption of this article is that basic social psychological research and theory on persuasion is relevant for understanding and enhancing the cognitive psychotherapy process. We present a model of persuasion, the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) (Petty & Cacioppo, 1981, 1986), which suggests guidelines for applying persuasive influence within the therapeutic setting. Of course, we recognize that this area of research will not generalize in some superficial manner to all types of therapeutic relationships, but processes identified as robust in laboratory and analogue research can provide useful direction for clinical investigations and practice.

A considerable number of theories has been developed to account for the disparate effects that occur when source, message, recipient, channel, and contextual factors are varied in studies of attitudinal change (see Kiesler, Collins, & Miller, 1969; Petty & Cacioppo, 1981). The ELM evolved from an analysis of these effects and approaches and is outlined as a general framework for understanding persuasion (Petty & Cacioppo, 1981, 1986). This integrated model proposes that people are active processors of information; the focus is then to examine how this process can be influenced by various factors. These variables and their interactions determine a person's motivation and ability to carefully analyze the rationales and benefits of various appeals or recommendations. The term "elaboration likelihood" (EL) refers to the probability and extent of issue-relevant thinking with the goal of determining the merits of a position. Thus, we are concerned with the likelihood that person will elaborate upon, or carefully examine, messages concerning the issue of interest as well as search his or her memory for other relevant information.

In this article, we will examine how clients' abilities and motivation to consider information relevant to issues surfacing in therapy influence the type of cognitive processing that occurs. These "routes to persuasion" (Petty & Cacioppo, 1981) are characterized by predictable differences in how therapist characteristics, message factors, client characteristics, and emotions interact to elicit attitude and behavior change.


The ELM conceptualizes a person as an active processor of information. …

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