Talked into Accepting Tyranny: Covid-19 and the Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion

The great tragedy of our time is not a government seeking total control, but a population of willfully ignorant people refusing to turn off their televisions.

Cleon Skousen said in The Naked Communist that freedom for all men is achievable if enough people could study, and understand the world’s most pressing problem. What is the problem he was referring to? The Marxist’s quest to reshape humanity in their own image. Unfortunately, people have consistently shown that they’re more interested in being entertained than taking the personal responsibility required to maintain a free society. This is relevant in America as our lives revolve around television media. While there seems to be an awakening to the reality of “fake news” and a propaganda-driven agenda, too many Americans remain blissfully unaware of how their own behaviors and reactions to media messaging help shape and aid this agenda. The controllers behind the scenes spend countless hours analyzing our attitudes and opinions to understand the cognitive processes involved in their formation, and how to change them to gain compliance. Studying and understanding the problem of Marxism still holds great importance. However, it is the sophisticated science of studying human behavior – being applied to change our attitudes – which must be understood. Particularly when it comes to Covid-19.

There is a massive effort underway to understand how to change our attitudes, opinions, and behaviors through the psychology of persuasion. It could be theoretically argued that Americans are allowing themselves to be talked into accepting tyranny because of the way media frames the message, and how effectively social scientists can capitalize on our reactions. According to the book Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research, it isn’t the information being presented which influences persuasion, but how people respond to it. Social Scientists have been able to study the effects of mass media attitude change through the lens of a behavioral model called the Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion. As the name implies, this model examines the abilities of certain people to “elaborate on,” or think deeply about messages they are receiving from media sources. The Elaboration Likelihood Model was also used to determine the best way to frame messages, based on people’s reactions, to gain compliance with the Covid-19 agenda.

According to Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research, this model of persuasion focuses on two aspects of cognitive functioning which show how people respond to media messages. These are referred to as the central and peripheral routes of persuasion. The central route suggests that certain people can apply their own experiences, and carefully analyze the information as they receive it.  The central route is taken because people are thinking deeply about an issue, therefore, it is necessary to tweak the message based on the recipient’s current beliefs to achieve persuasion. The peripheral route suggests that some people cannot process information effectively, and all it takes is a simple “cue to action” to motivate a change in attitude. Interestingly, it has been shown that attitude change through the central route can be longer-lasting because of the effort put into the thought processes, this is known as effort justification. People justify their change in opinions, or behaviors, because of the effort required to make the change. The peripheral route produces change based on passive and reactionary processing, meaning that very little thought was put into it therefore, the change in opinion may not be as deeply rooted. It has been shown that important information, what people think about most, can be determined by the stories consistently presented by the media. If the media can control what is in the forefront of people’s minds, persuasion through the Elaboration Likelihood Model is almost a certainty.

According to an article entitled Persuasion amidst a pandemic: Insights from the Elaboration Likelihood Model, the study of persuasion and attitude change can provide useful guidance in effectively framing the Covid-19 message to gain more compliance with desired behaviors. This article echoes some of the same information previously mentioned. For example, people’s abilities to process information are broken down into two categories, high and low elaboration. When elaboration is high, it is more closely associated with the central routes of persuasion, and when elaboration is low, the peripheral route. The authors of this article state that the effectiveness of a persuasive message can be predicted by understanding the amount of elaboration the recipients are likely to put into processing it. Are they likely to investigate the merits of the information being presented, or just accept it?

Convincing the public to adopt behaviors that counter conventional logic, like wearing a mask all day, or getting a vaccine that has been “fast-tracked,” requires strong attitudes towards those behavioral choices. Attitudes tend to be stronger when there is a great deal of confidence behind them, how easily accessible the information is that shapes the attitude, and how important it is. According to the book Political Persuasion and Attitude Change, highly educated people tend to expose themselves to mass media communications at a higher rate and are more likely to receive the message. Most people consider the news to be a credible source of information, therefore, those so-called, highly educated individuals who trust the news can be deemed easily persuadable because they believe their attention to media contributes to their decision-making process. Their attitudes are strengthened because they believe they are making informed choices from credible sources. Creating the perception that people are making informed choices and coming to their own conclusions in the context of attitude change is essential in developing effective persuasive communications.

“Examining persuasion variables through such a framework is critical when considering how to effectively persuade the public in a context like the COVID-19 pandemic. When persuasive messaging is aimed at creating public safety attitudes that guide behavior, such messaging must be disseminated in a way most conducive to creating strong attitudes. Ensuring that this occurs requires understanding which persuasion processes tend to produce strong attitudes as well as how and when those processes are most likely to be elicited.”

Source credibility and perceived biases among message recipients are strong factors to consider when framing a message. Persuasion can be effective if a source generally perceived to be biased suddenly changes position. This gives people who are in the high elaboration category the impression that the biased source suddenly switched their position because of new and important information they have received. When it comes to Covid-19, information is always changing, and prominent people who are seen as biased by some have changed their positions several times. Is this done deliberately knowing that it increases the chances of attitude change?

Framing the message around the values and morals of those targeted for persuasion is also effective in producing attitude change. It is believed that behaviors and attitudes are centered around a person’s beliefs, therefore, if a position appears to be argued from the perspective of an individual’s moral worldview, they are more likely to change their attitudes. An article entitled Shifting Liberal and Conservative Attitudes Using Moral Foundations Theory shows how presenting leftwing issues within the moral framework of conservative values produces desirable behavioral change. For example, the issue of homosexual marriage was presented within the context of human freedom and individual choice, morals associated with conservative beliefs, and this prompted a more accepting attitude towards the issue. It has also been shown through various studies that message processing is more effective when a level of importance is placed on the issue. If a position is framed within the parameters of an audience’s morals it is viewed as being more important, therefore, the chances of longer-lasting shifts in attitudes are greater. The whole Covid-19 narrative has been presented through the lens of adopting behavioral changes based on the idea that they would save lives. This is a value that all people would assign great importance to.

All media communications concerning Covid-19 are created to produce behavioral changes which are conducive to the agenda. They are all formulated based on what is understood about human behavior, and our responses to their messaging. The authors of Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research state that it is necessary to separate the public into those who may have a genuine interest in the message, and those who do not, when it comes to crafting the information meant to influence our choices. The most important element is how the information presented is perceived to have a direct impact on the individual. Those interested, or concerned, about Covid-19 are going to be considered high elaboration targets, and the message will be tailored to create the perception that they are putting a great deal of thought into their decisions. News stories concerning Covid are going to be presented in a smart, credible way to produce the strongest results. Those considered to be low elaboration targets or people who do not think deeply about the issue, do not process the information effectively enough to be affected by this type of persuasion. They are believed to be motivated by cues to action, or stimuli, which prompts them to react. Ridiculous narratives like “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” or, “two weeks to flatten the curve,” are geared towards these people.

In summary, these studies have been going on for decades. One of the first major attempts to understand mass media and how it affects human behavior occurred after the 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds. Millions of people responded as if they believed Earth was being invaded by Martians. Hadley Cantril, author of the book Invasion from Mars: A Study of the Psychology of Panic stated this particular study would lay the groundwork for how all future studies concerning mass media, and our reactions to it, would be conducted. There are many parallels between that study and what was discussed in this article. (See this PDF) First, the perceived trust of those acting as news broadcasters played a tremendous role in people’s reactions to the broadcast. Secondly, they were able to separate people into those who had what was referred to as “critical ability” to do further investigations and those who simply responded based on the stimulus itself. Fortunately, not everything these researchers believe about our behavior is true. There are many people doing research for themselves and coming to radically different conclusions. This is putting a thorn in the side of those pushing this agenda and forcing them to adopt more coercive means. This isn’t to say that these methods aren’t effective. Many millions of Americans are adopting the behavioral recommendations simply because they have been persuaded into doing so. Cleon Skousen was correct in his assertion that a failure to understand the problem of Marxism would have dire consequences.  Failure to understand the efforts taken in manipulating our perceptions, and changing our attitudes, is perhaps of equal if not greater importance.

To learn more about this topic check out my book Without a Shot Indeed: Inducing Compliance to Tyranny Through Conditioning and Persuasion.





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