Course description

Persuasion and Influence in Society


Building on previous exposure to consumer theory, students will learn how to craft a persuasive message aimed at the wider stakeholder arena. The course is first and foremost theory-based, in that students will gain in-depth knowledge into theories of social psychology and cognition, as well as audience information processing and decision-making. We will adapt these theoretical underpinnings to the communications of stakeholders such as political and social organizations and movements, as well as activists and non-governmental organizations, to both better understand their sense-making and adequate forms of addressing them. The course is thus intended to extend student’s prior knowledge in consumer behavior, to both expose them to further theoretical depth as well as to show and discuss further, stakeholder-oriented applications of these theories.

Course content

1. Introduction
Introduction into persuasion and the course, as well as communalities to the practice of consumer behavior. A definition of persuasive communication as well as several examples of persuasion, which will all be elaborated upon in more detail in the upcoming lectures, will be provided.

2. Information Processing
Essentials of human perception, bounded rationality and mental models. Discussion how schemata and heuristics are used to process information, and the link to what this means to political and social persuasion.

3. Attitudes
Why attitudes help explain social decision-making, and their embeddedness in associations. Means of measuring attitudes and opinions, and thoughts on the consistency of attitudes and the desire to achieve cognitive balance.

4. Models of Behavior
Theories of decision-making, ranging from the Theory of Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior to the Elaboration –Likelihood Model and other approaches to explain how stakeholders examine persuasive messages.

5. Conformity and Influence in Groups
On the difference between coercion and persuasion, group dynamics that lead to often-unintended decision making processes, and how group pressure might force people into action.

6. Source Factors
How the social attractiveness of a persuader influences message effectiveness, how to put communicator characteristics to use and how to use endorsements to persuade.

7. Audience Factors
How, depending on who listens to a message, the persuasive effect might be different (depending on variables such as need for cognition, self-monitoring, etc.). Ways of conceptualizing stakeholder audiences and identifying pathways for engagement.

8. Message Factors
Choosing the contents of a persuasive message, especially with regards to the use of language in persuasion and order effects to make arguments the most persuasive.

9. Interpersonal Influence
Discussion of a collection of techniques that are used in dyadic encounters to persuade better and to gain influence – also in regards to campaigning strategies.

10. Nonverbal Persuasion
How body-language, visuals, music, architecture and other techniques are used to influence audiences in politics.

Learning outcome knowledge

  • Students will obtain an understanding of the role of theory in persuading stakeholders, and will get acquainted with up-to-date research and methodology to plan and frame political and social communication strategies.
  • Participants will gain an understanding of theories of social psychology as well as of stakeholder perception and decision-making, ranging from both classical theoretical insights to ways of engaging audiences with modern means such as storytelling and new media.
  • To this end, strong emphasis will be laid on methodological concerns and a fundamental understanding of the nature of human cognition and group decision-making –combined with the discussion of engagement strategies and campaign elements.
  • On completing the course, students should be able to understand the main concepts and models of influence and persuasion, as well as the sometimes unconscious processes underlying persuasion. Additionally, they should understand the ethical dilemmas of persuasion.

Exam organisation

  • Written exam: 100%