Richard E. Petty University of Missouri-Columbia
Timothy C. Brock Ohio State University
Now that the necessary background material has been covered and it is clear that attitudes and cognitive responses can be measured, some fundamental questions about persuasion may be addressed: How is attitude change studied experimentally? How can the cognitive response approach help in understanding the process of persuasion? What kinds of predictions can the cognitive response approach generate?" How can these hypotheses be tested? Consider the following two examples:
A man who is a heavy smoker is driving home from work. A public service message comes on the radio and discusses the undesirable consequences of smoking. The man is attempting to listen to the message, but at the same time he is watching the other cars on the busy freeway and trying not to miss his exit.
A woman who considers herself an agnostic is at an outdoor religious rally listening to a world-famous evangelist discuss the merits of Christianity and the Bible. Suddenly, it begins to drizzle slowly. Although the woman can clearly hear the message over the loudspeaker system, she is diverted from thinking about its contents to thinking about how to keep herself dry.
What these two situations have in common is that a person who is the target of a possible persuasive influence attempt is distracted by some external stimuli from paying full attention to, and thinking in any great depth about, the arguments in the persuasive communication. A researcher employing the cognitive