The Peripheral Route

The Peripheral Route “The receptive ability of the masses is very limited, their understanding small; on the other hand, they have a great power of forgetting.” The author of this cynical assessment of human nature was Adolf Hitler. Believing that human beings are incompetent processors of information, Hitler relied in his propaganda on the use of slogans, uniforms, swastika-covered flags, a special salute, and other symbols. For him, “meetings were not just occasions to make speeches; they were carefully planned theatrical productions in which settings, lighting, background music, and the timing of entrances were devised to maximize the emotional fervor of an audience”

Do these ploys work? Can the masses be so handily manipulated into persua- sion? History shows that they can. Audiences are not always thoughtful. Some- times people do not follow the central route to persuasion but instead take a shortcut through the peripheral route. Rather than try to learn about a message and think through the issues, they respond with little effort on the basis of super- ficial peripheral cues.

On the peripheral route to persuasion, people will often evaluate a commu- nication by using simpleminded heuristics, or rules of thumb. If a communicator has a good reputation, speaks flu- ently, or writes well, we tend to assume that his or her message is correct. And when speakers have a reputation for being honest, people think less critically about the contents of their communication. Likewise, we assume that a message must be correct if it contains a long litany of statistics or an impressive list of supporting experts, if it’s familiar, if it elicits cheers from an audience, or if the speaker seems to argue against his or her own interests. In some cases, people will change their attitudes simply because they know that an argument has majority support.

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