The president awakens one morning to headlines announcing that research using laboratory animals has proven that a popular food additive causes cancer. Realizing that he will be questioned about the issue, the president quickly calls a breakfast meeting of his cabinet. At breakfast, he admits that he personally enjoys many of the foods that contain the additive and that, due to habit, his initial reaction is to support the continued use of the additive in foods.
The secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services immediately suggests that the president reconsider his position. The secretary argues that the food additive be banned immediately for reasons of public safety. Citing statistics from the study reported in the newspaper, the secretary offers many reasons for this recommendation. The secretary ends by stating that the president would do best politically and morally to ban the additive.
The president attends carefully to the secretary's presentation, trying to comprehend and remember the secretary's advocacy and arguments. From the president's expression, the secretary's appeal about the political benefits of the recommendation is weighing heavily in his decision. The president pauses, thinks of the issue, his old attitude toward it, and the new attitude and arguments that have been offered. As the president rehearses and learns the new attitude and arguments, the issue becomes more powerfully linked to them than to his old attitude. The president has been persuaded. The food additive is banned.
This scenario of communication and attitude change exemplifies the message- learning approach championed by Carl Hovland and his colleagues at Yale University in the 1950s ( Hovland, Janis, & Kelley, 1953). In this chapter, we discuss the influence of the Yale Communication and Attitude Change Program and their message-learning approach to the study of attitudes and persuasion.
The Yale group never proposed a formal "theory" of attitude change, but rather they were guided by "working assumptions." These assumptions were loosely translated from principles of how people learn verbal and motor skills.