Soundbites, products placed at eye level or at the end of store aisles, bundled pricing,
college rankings, celebrity endorsements...why do things like this persuade us? Because
we're lazy. We love to conserve cognitive energy. We're miserly with our minds. We
outsource thinking. And propagandists exploit our laziness.
People are most often persuaded when they are in a mindless state, but can also be duped
even when they are thoughtful. This is because there are two routes to persuasion—
peripheral and central. In the peripheral route, persuasion is determined by simple cues,
such as attractiveness (celebrity endorser or well-designed product packaging). In the
central route, a message recipient engages (at least briefly) in a thoughtful consideration
of the information presented.
In a research study, when asked for a specific amount (37 cents rather than "a quarter" or
"spare change"), 60% more people contributed to an actor posing as a panhandler. Why?
When asked for "spare change," most people look at the appearance of the panhandler
and skirt him (peripheral processing). When asked for "37 cents," however, most people
are caught off guard and think (central processing) about the request. "Thirty-seven
cents? Hmm, maybe he needs a stamp. Or maybe he's thirsty and is only a bit short of the
cost of a cup of coffee..." Here, thinking leads to greater compliance.
Analyze messages (e.g., ads) to see if they are relying on peripheral or central routes to
persuading you. Be most wary of those who use peripheral as it may mean that they don't
think their message can stand up to logical analysis.
Which route is used most frequently in TV ads? Are there any "balanced" approaches?
Relevance determines the route to persuasion. If not highly relevant, the source matters
more (peripheral persuasion).
Propaganda generally uses of the peripheral route (sometimes adding simple soundbites
as a supplementary central route). The hope is that we will mindlessly accept a
proposition not for any good reason, but because it is accompanied by a simplistic
The study of Consumer Behavior is intended to help increase your ability to think about
Cognitive dissonance describes (and predicts) how humans rationalize behavior.
Dissonance occurs whenever a person holds two inconsistent cognitions (e.g., I am smart,
but I just made a dumb decision). Inconsistency is so uncomfortable that we attempt to
reduce the conflict.
For example, we all know that smoking is bad for us. Non-fatalistic smokers, then, must
either change their attitudes or behavior in regard to smoking, and the former is easier. It
is interesting to note that the people who are least likely to believe in the dangers of