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Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2004, Vol. 86, No. 2, 251–264

Copyright 2004 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0022-3514/04/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.86.2.251

Relevance Override: On the Reduced Impact of “Cues” Under HighMotivation Conditions of Persuasion Studies
Antonio Pierro and Lucia Mannetti
Universita di Roma, “La Sapienza”

Arie W. Kruglanski andDavid Sleeth-Keppler
University of Maryland

This research addressed the reduced impact of cues under high processing motivation of persuasion experiments. The results of 3 studies suggested that such reduced impact is due to a relevance override whereby any more subjectively relevant information swamps the effects of any less subjectively relevant information, given the recipient’s sufficientmotivation to process both. Because, in much persuasion research, cues may have been perceived as less relevant to the attitudinal judgments than message arguments, the relevance override hypothesis provides a general explanation of the reduced cue effect.

Often, while forming a judgment or reaching a decision, people confront distinct items of information with contrasting implications for theissue at hand. When this occurs, they typically give more weight to information perceived as more relevant to the judgment or the decision, that is, information whose implications appear to them more credible or secure than those of its alternative. Suppose that last week’s weather report asserted a high likelihood of rain for tomorrow, whereas tonight’s forecast predicted a sunny day. One mightconsider the latter report as more relevant than the former because of its greater recency (hence, temporal closeness to the target date) and leave the umbrella at home. Had one not been able to avail oneself of tonight’s forecast, however, blissfully unaware of its contents, one might have placed one’s trust in last week’s report, packing that umbrella as originally suggested. Of course, whatappears to be the more relevant information need not be the more recent information (as in the example above). Suppose that following one’s own exhaustive research of the financial markets, a friend hotly recommended a stock offering that one’s own analysis identified as deficient. Most probably, one would refrain from accepting the friend’s advice in these circumstances and put greater stock in one’sown understanding, treating it as a more relevant basis for one’s decisions than the friend’s enthusiasm. Matters of relative relevance, recency, and information awareness touch on a puzzling phenomenon in persuasion research sometimes referred to as the reduced effect of cues (Petty, 1994, p. 232) under high motivation/capacity conditions of persuasion studies. The present article reports threeexperiments specifically designed to address it.

Reduced Impact of Cues
Persuasion studies often find that peripheral or heuristic cues exert their persuasive effects under conditions of low processing motivation or cognitive capacity whereas message argument information does so under high motivation and capacity (see, e.g., Maheswaran & Chaiken, 1991; Petty, Cacioppo, & Goldman, 1981). A majorpuzzle lies in the fact that the brief and early presented information, consisting of cues in much persuasion research, is apparently quite compelling under low motivation or capacity conditions but is divested suddenly of its persuasive powers under conditions of high motivation and capacity. A major purpose of the present work was to investigate this puzzle. Our point of departure was Petty’s(1994) cue-weighting hypothesis advanced as a possible explanation of this reduced cue effect. As Petty put it,
the cue weighting hypothesis [italics added] assumes that the peripheral cues have relatively little impact on attitudes under high elaboration conditions because when people are highly motivated and able to process all relevant information, although they are aware of the cue, they do...
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