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The process by which a person’s attitudes or behaviour are, without duress, influenced by communications from other people. One’s attitudes and behaviour are also affected by otherfactors (for example, verbal threats, physical coercion, one’s physiological states). Not all communication is intended to be persuasive; other purposes include informing or entertaining. Persuasion ofteninvolves manipulating people, and for this reason many find the exercise distasteful. Others might argue that, without some degree of social control and mutual accommodation such as that obtainedthrough persuasion, the human community becomes disordered. In this way, persuasion gains moral acceptability when the alternatives are considered. To paraphrase Winston Churchill’s evaluation of democracyas a form of government, persuasion is the worst method of social control—except for all the others.
In the universities of Europe during the Middle Ages, persuasion (rhetoric) was one of the basicliberal arts to be mastered by any educated man; from the days of imperial Rome through the Reformation, it was raised to a fine art by preachers who used the spoken word to inspire any number ofactions, such as virtuous behaviour or religious pilgrimages. In the modern era, persuasion is most visible in the form of advertising.
The process of persuasion can be analyzed in a preliminary way bydistinguishing communication (as the cause or stimulus) from the associated changes in attitudes (as the effect or response).
Analysis has led to the delineation of a series of successive steps that aperson undergoes in being persuaded. The communication first is presented; the person pays attention to it and comprehends its contents (including the basic conclusion being urged and perhaps alsothe evidence offered in its support). For persuasion to be effected, the individual must yield to, or agree with, the point being urged and, unless only the most immediate impact is of interest, must...