The effectiveness of a communication depends on a variety of factors. Among those concerning organization and procedure, order of presentation forms one of the major factors that influence the impact of communication on an audience. It is to Carl I. Hovland and team’s credit that appropriate research questions and experimental designs have been developed to test and acknowledge this effect. “Order” refers to two aspects of variation: “(1) the order of presenting a series of communications, and (2) the order of presenting the various elements within a single communication” (Hovland 1957).
Order Effects In Successive Communication
For order effects in successive communication, the issue of the most advantageous position is of pivotal concern. We need to consider on the one hand the effects of being in first position, in terms of presenting our own communication before opposing arguments have an opportunity to reach the audience, and on the other hand the effects of being in last position, i.e., having the “final say.” Lund (1925) enunciated a law of primacy, stating that the side of an issue presented first will have greater effectiveness than the side presented afterwards. In a replication of the Lund experiment by Hovland & Mandell (1952), results indicated that only one of three groups showed a greater effectiveness for the side presented first (primacy), while two groups showed the second side to be more effective (recency).
In another experiment to test this phenomenon, Hovland & Mandell (1957) used topics of interest at the time. The order of presentation was counterbalanced. Half of the subjects received the affirmative arguments first and the other half the negative arguments first. Opinion questions were asked after the first and again after the second side had been presented. Three of four groups showed a recency effect and only one a primacy effect. The authors therefore concluded: “When two sides of an issue are presented successively by different communicators, the side presented first does not necessarily have the advantage.” The results of Hovland & Mandell raised serious questions about the generality of the law of primacy in persuasion for communication situations in which two sides of a controversial issue are successively communicated.
Further research on primacy or recency effects was stimulated by considering mediator variables. Primacy is found to be advantageous, particularly during the first stages in information processing. As attention wanes, however, the second side will increase its relative impact by prolonging attention (Tetlock 1981). Space as another moderating variable showed that shortening the interval between both sides favors primacy, while shortening the interval between the second side and the impact measurements favors recency. The spacing effects are more evident for recency and attitude change (Miller & Campbell 1959). Finally, if the communications are on a very controversial issue, the advantage of primacy is reduced. Summarizing, the primacy/recency effects clearly depend on mediating variables that facilitate either a primacy or a recency effect.
Order Effects In A Single Communication
The order of presentation within a single communication includes a series of possible variations. Only two pivotal aspects are referred to here: (1) the effectiveness of oneand two-sided messages, and (2) the effectiveness of explicit and implicit conclusions in persuasive messages. When communicating a persuasive message the sender has to decide whether to consider opposing viewpoints. A two-sided message is a message that not only presents arguments in favor of a position but also considers opposing arguments. A onesided message, on the other hand, presents only arguments in favor of a particular position.
Hovland et al. (1949) concluded from a series of experiments that two-sided messages show a greater effect for persons who reveal a personal opinion contrary to the one presented. For supporters of the position presented in the communication a one-sided message shows greater effects. The two-sided message is also more effective than the one-sided message when individuals subsequently are exposed to opposing propaganda. Two-sided messages provide an immunizing effect. Finally, intervening variables such as education and intelligence are found to moderate the effect. For an intelligent audience, two-sided messages are proven to be more effective.
Studies on persuasion continued to investigate the effect of oneand two-sided messages. Petty & Cacioppo (1981) find for advertising messages that a one-sided message is superior to a two-sided message if the advertised product is “well-liked, widely consumed, has few competitors, and enjoys loyal customers.” A two-sided message is more persuasive when “the audience is well-informed about a product and its alternatives, the product is not widely preferred, or the audience is likely to be exposed to advertisements for competitive products”.
More recent experimental studies differentiate between two types of two-sided messages: refutational and nonrefutational. Refutational messages mention counterarguments to the position advocated and then refute them. Nonrefutational messages only mention the counterargument, without offering a refutation (Lucas 1989; Allen 1991). These studies show that a two-sided message with refutation generates more favorable attitudes than a one-sided message. However, a one-sided message is more persuasive than a two-sided message with no refutation. The two-sided message with refutation generally appears to be more persuasive and independent of the favorability of the audience.
Studies have also addressed whether communicators may rely on implicit conclusion drawing by the audience rather than explicitly stating their own position. In an experiment on economic questions, Hovland & Mandell (1952) found supporting evidence for the relevance of explicitly stating conclusions: more than twice as many recipients are likely to agree with the opinion of the communicator when the message includes an explicit conclusion, compared with a message with an implicit conclusion. Audience members may require an explicit conclusion to understand a persuasive message. If the recipient of an implicit message reaches no conclusion, less attitude change occurs in the advocated direction. Conclusion comprehension is seen as a critical mediating variable between conclusion drawing and attitude change. Implicit conclusion drawing affords comprehension of the message. Accordingly, for complex issues implicit messages are expected to be less persuasive than explicit ones.
Another mediating variable is found in a recipient’s involvement. Implicit messages can yield a greater effect than explicit ones if recipients are highly involved (Kardes 1988; Sawyer & Howard 1991). The advantage of implicit messages for highly involved persons results from a greater comprehension of the conclusion and a greater persuasiveness of self-generated conclusions compared to conclusions offered by the communicator (“People don’t like to be told what to think”). But if recipients are involved only on a low level, stating explicit conclusions has an advantage. Explicit conclusions also seem to be more persuasive than implicit conclusions for recipients who initially are favorable to the message. For those who initially are unfavorable, no differences between explicit and implicit conclusions are observed (Thistlewaite et al. 1955; Fine 1957).
Concluding, explicit messages are found to be slightly more persuasive than implicit messages. But complexity of the message, and especially involvement, moderates the effects of explicit and implicit messages.
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