Elaboration Likelihood Model for effective communication

Updated on December 23, 2022

Looking to persuade your audience with your message?

Understanding the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) can be the key to delivering your message effectively.

This model outlines two routes to persuasion: the Central Route and the Peripheral Route.

In this blog post,

we’ll take a closer look at,

  • What the model says,
  • How it works,
  • and how you can use it to tailor your messages to your target audience’s motivation and cognition levels.

By understanding the ELM and the factors that influence which route your message recipients take, you can craft messages that truly resonate and drive lasting attitude change.

What the model says;

The Model says that we can persuade our message readers via two routes: The Central Route and the Peripheral Route.

The Central Route

When the reader changes their attitude by understanding the facts presented in the message without any outside help, the model says the reader has gone through the “Central Route”. Those readers are at a high degree of motivation and ability to process the information; in other words, they are at a high elaboration likelihood.

The Peripheral Route

On the other hand, when the message reader changes their attitude due to other factors associated with the facts, the model says the reader has gone through the “Peripheral Route”. Those readers are at a low degree of motivation and a lower ability to understand (cognition) the facts; in other words, they are at a low elaboration likelihood. If we know that our message recipients are at a lower elaboration likelihood, then we can use several methods to tailor the message. For example, a subject expert can appear in the message itself to deliver it. But, the problem with the peripheral route is that its impact will be short-lasting for attitude change, as we can understand. We have to get them into the Central Route.

What influences the route: Motivation level and the cognition level

As we can understand, according to this model, two reader elements influence what route the message recipient might travel to process the information presented: The motivation level and the cognition level. We can use several tactics to tailor our message to increase their motivation level and suit the message to different cognition levels as well. However, the bottom line is that we should have a very good understanding of the demographic and psychographic elements of our target audience, particularly their elaboration likelihood level.

In 1986, Petty and Cacioppo illustrated the above concepts as follows;

How to increase the motivation level of message recipients

Richard Petty et al. mention several methods to increase message recipients’ motivation levels;

  • Increase the number of peripheral cues in the message
  • Increase the personal relevance of the message
  • Making them feel personally responsible and accountable
  • Making them feel that they are in the minority; however, it should be supported with facts and the social norms theory comes into play here.

How to increase engagement with those who are having a lower ability to understand (lower need for cognition)

  • Adapting the message format; for example, the cartoon message format engages more message recipients with a lower ability to understand than the text-only format. On the other hand, the text-only format engages those with a higher ability to understand.
  • Tailoring the message’s argument to match the message recipients’ ability to understand. This is called “message tailoring”.
  • Message repetition

Elaboration Likelihood in a Continuum

Richard Petty et al. say that Elaboration Likelihood runs along a continuum. They suggest that many other theories of attitude change can roughly be placed along this continuum. For example, at the high end, we can place the Theory of Reasoned Action. At one end, we can put those at the lowest Elaboration Likelihood and the other end those at their higher Elaboration Likelihood. Some others can be in between depending on their motivation level and the ability to process the information presented in the message.

They use an example to explain this. If the HIV-related message source is a popular sports person, it will help those at the lower end of the Elaboration Likelihood to change their attitude. However, if the presenter has lived experience, it will be more helpful to cement their decision.

We need to keep in mind that the attitude changes by those who go through the central route are more resistant to counter-persuasive messages.

Does it matter?

Yes, it matters. Those who go through the Central Route are more determined to engage and continue in the desired behaviour than those who go through the peripheral route. However, most of the time, as we are busy, we tend to change our attitudes and then take decisions via the peripheral route.

Truth Initiative Anti-Smoking Campaign

How this campaign uses the model:

They use statistics and facts to appeal to individuals who are highly motivated and have high cognition levels while using celebrity endorsements and social media influencers to appeal to individuals who are less motivated and have lower cognition levels.

Who developed it? and when?

Richard Petty and John Cacioppo developed in 1980.

Other dual-process models

The Elaboration Likelihood Model is a dual-process model. There is another such model; The Heuristic – Systematic model. Both models have dominated in persuasion research. The common feature of both models is the reader invests some time to think about the message. Therefore, the message reader may change their attitudes after evaluation of the arguments.

Narrative transportation as an alternative to the dual -process models

Some researchers propose the narrative transportation theory as a good alternative the above mentioned cognition-based models. In contrast to the above models, the narratives can transport the reader temporarily into the narrative world that is created by the text. When the reader returns, they are likely to change their beliefs and attitudes.

More readings:

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