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, March 8, 2013

speech analysis: I have a dream

“I have a dream” by Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most memorable speeches. Although much of the greatness of this speech tied to history context, an analysis on the persuasive tactics assists people’s to understand its huge influence over generations.
One of the lessons we can extract is a commonly used rhetorical device: anaphora, i.e. repeating words at the beginning of neighbouring clauses. Repeating the words twice sets the pattern, and further repetitions emphasize the pattern and increase the rhetorical effect. Eight occurrences of anaphora appeared in this speech, including the most often cited example: “I have a dream”. Moreover, key theme words were also repeated throughout the body of his speech. This is a more subtle ways to make speech more memorable. If we count the frequency of words, the most used noun is “freedom” (20 times) which is also the primary message of the speech. “We” used 30 times, “nations” used 10 times.   
Cacioppo and Petty (1989) demonstrates the effectiveness of repetition and responses to messages containing strong versus weak arguments affect differently by a moderate level of message repetition. Undergraduates assigned randomly to the cells of a 2 (Argument Quality: Strong vs. Weak) x 2 (Message Repetition: One vs. Three) between-subjects factorial design. Results revealed interaction on the measure of postcommunication attitudes, providing convergent evidence that moderate levels of message repetition can increase or decrease persuasion by enhancing argument scrutiny. Mere exposure effect also provides an explanation. As familiarization through repetition proceeds, the perceived affective account of the event tends to shift in the direction which parallels to the prior affective account (Greenwald and Leavitt, 1984).  
Just want to add that I personally think that the essence of “I have dream” all comes down to the voice. Luther had to stay rooted at the lectern with the microphones when delivering the speech, yet even if a nice stage area was available for him to ‘play’ non-verbal presenting skills, I found it hard to imagine his speech could be any more powerful. Toasted to Martin Luther’s spirit with 4 lines of poem:

Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Cacioppo, J.T., & Petty, R.E. (1989). Effects of message repletion on argument processing, recall, and persuasion. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 10, 3-12.
Greenwald, A.G., & Leavitt, C. (1984). Audience involvement in advertising: four levels. Journal of Consumer Research, 11, 581-592. 

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