Why the whole world doesn’t read this blog – the elaboration likelihood model

I am often frustrated when clear, logical ideas with plenty of evidence are rejected out-of-hand. Why do people fail to properly understand and process so much of the information available to them?

I recently read a brief description of a model (called the elaboration likelihood model) explaining how people process and evaluate new information. Basically the model says that people use a combination of two basic routes to understanding and evaluating an argument:

  1. The central route – the thinking route. When processing information centrally people think carefully about the message and evaluate the arguments and implications. This is the way I wish everyone would process my ideas.
  2. The peripheral route – using heuristics. Rather than carefully assessing all the information, people will often use simple cues and rules-of-thumb (heuristics) to evaluate arguments. Things like the communicator’s physical appeal and charm become important. Does the information look professional or do we regard the communicator as an expert?
Central Route Peripheral Route
  • Does the argument make logical sense?
  • Is there evidence supporting the argument?
  • Does this information fit in with previous knowledge?
  • What is the impact of this information?
  • Is the medium (speaker or document) attractive?
  • Does the message feel right / good?
  • Is the source regarded as an expert?
  • Does the information look professional?
  • Is the communicator charming or charismatic?

In most cases we would use a combination of the two approaches to evaluate new information. I got to wondering why people so often lean heavily to the peripheral route. I reckon the reason is that the central route is ‘expensive’ in it’s requirements:

  • Time – Is there enough time to properly evaluate the information.
  • Information – Is there enough information available.
  • Ability – Does the recipient have the ability and knowledge to evaluate the message. Background knowledge might be missing.
  • Motivation – This is a biggy. Does the recipient want to invest the time and effort needed to process and evaluate the message centrally?

Because of these requirements/costs people seldom use the central route properly. It would be completely impossible to fully process all of the information that we get bombarded with on a daily basis, so we ‘cheat’ and use the peripheral route.

That makes sense and it’s something that I need to take into account when trying to get ideas across. I need to remember that:

  1. People are definitely going to, at least partially, judge my ideas on their presentation. Presentation is rightfully very important – I need to stop resenting that fact.
  2. I also need to tailor my communications according to the 4 factors in order to make the central route more likely. Keep things short, easy to understand, and interesting. Motivation is what I find the toughest – almost nobody cares (or wants to know) what Alistair Pott thinks!

I suppose if you read this far I must have gotten things right. Although, I’d bet that the motivation was handled by the fact that you know me!

  • Len

    There is an evolutionary psychology explanation for the preference for peripheral processing, which is related to your points. We are genetically programmed to choose the peripheral route, because those individuals who took the time to centrally process information got eaten.

  • Alistair

    Exactly – humans use heuristics for almost everything and that makes good sense (because of the costs of central processing).

    And there is only one way we could get that way – evolution

  • Pingback: The Law of Evolution | alistair.pott()