Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Source Credarrrrrbility . .

The above advert from the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR) utilizes Source Credibility to encourage recipients to accept it’s message.  An official blank background, large emblem and source at which participants can gain further information on the topic, all contribute to the official nature of the advert and believability of the message. Source credibility states that the source of the message has an affect on the perceived credibility of the message; we are more convinced by messages conveyed by a high than a low credible source (Hovland & Weiss, 1951).

Sternthal, Dholakia and Leavitt (1978) suggest however that cognitive factors can futher strongly influence source credibility. They suggest the original opinion of the receiver is a strong determinant on the influence source credibility will have. When a recipient hears a message which challenges their opinion, rehearsal occurs of both existing thoughts on the matter and also the argument presented to them. Recipients will reject the message, e.g. “Piracy is not a victimless crime,” if in being against the communicator’s advocacy make cognitive reviews themselves of the counterarguments available, i.e. “film corporations also exploit individuals”. Credibility of source denotes whether counterargument is inhibited or not. High source credibility prevents counterargument, and potential change in opinion whereas low source credibility allows counterargument and often leads to retention of original opinion.   

Sternthal, Dholakia and Leavitt (1978) used participants who had a favourable view to a position and presented them with an appeal to this position that had either a high or low credibility source. This was achieved by either presenting the identity of the communicator to participants before the message was conveyed or after. It was found that presenting the communicator (the source) after the message (low credibility) had less effect on changing participant standpoint, due to credibility being offered too late in participant’s cognitive processes and less association being attributed between message and source credibility, the communicator. Indeed in the above example, the Emblem of the IPR if first presented before the take home message. Other studies have replicated this finding of little effect of source credibility pending messages (Ward & McGinnies, 1974).

A common standpoint may be, especially amongst younger individuals, in modern society that piracy IS a victimless crime. A distinct amount of the potential audience for the advert above may begin their viewership with the contrary standpoint. It is therefore integral that the above advert exude high source credibility if changes in opinion are required.

This is achieved in part by presenting the IPR Emblem first. We first understand the message is coming from a highly credible source.

Interestingly the advert then presents its message as a ‘counterargument’ in itself, directly addressing the reader and offering little scope for the recipient to consider a counter-counter argument. As Sternthal, Dholakia and Leavitt (1978) suggest, Source Credibility is often only rejected when counterarguments can be made, however the obvious counter argument to the message above is the already held recipient standpoint that piracy is a victimless, ‘white crime’.

This leaves little room for further objection, and the advert ends by directing any further contention or counter argument the recipient might have to a large source or body of further information or knowledge, with which they may or may not wish to argue further.


Hovland, C. I., & Weiss, W. (1951). The influence of source credibility on communication effectiveness. Public opinion quarterly, 15(4), 635-650.

Sternthal, B., Dholakia, R., & Leavitt, C. (1978). The persuasive effect of source credibility: Tests of cognitive response. Journal of Consumer research, 252-260.

Ward, C., & McGinnies, E. (1974), "Persuasive effects of early and late mention of credible and noncredible sources. Journal of Psychology, 86, 17-23.

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