I ended up doing a livestream today as part of my personal sorting out of this Substack situation. A friend passed along some information about the structure behind managed behavior change – Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion. I then found a paper from BehaviorWorks Australia that provided more detail, and it explained so much about what I think happened that I wanted to share it with you in the context of impact finance and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presidential campaign.
The feature image is from Celia Farber’s post, to which the comment was made that drew me into her crosshairs. Her advice to the Kennedy campaign was to foreground his Catholic upbringing, which is important given the Vatican’s role in the coming era of social impact finance, especially since many of the donors to RFK Jr.’s long-time former employer, Natural Resources Defense Council, were involved in building out third sector stakeholder capitalism since the 1990s.
The first part of the stream lays out how ELM works. I also revisit Paul Glimcher and the field of neuroeconomics with respect to Substack and gamified social relations. I discuss Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his ties to Vantage Point Capital, energy, free-markets, Tom Steyer, and the Catholic church towards the end. This morning I pulled the final hour of the stream where I focus on RFK Jr.’s candidacy and the implications of an “above critique” health freeDOM leadership class. I’ve also been asking myself if the whole “movement” was maybe a simulation gone live where many were pulled in as unwitting agents to be gamed. I think that’s definitely something worth mulling over. Here’s the link to that final hour for sharing with those who don’t yet have the stamina for my long talks.
I pulled the four-minute clip below, which was filmed at a progressive event in Houston in 2012. It offers interesting insights into what may be coming with a distributed cybernetic “optimization” energy grid. It hints at smart home infrastructure and impact finance for the common good. Don’t forget LEDs are used for optogenetics! I was surprised to hear NRDC played a pivotal role in restructuring energy policy in California in the 1980s. He’s big on free markets, but neglects to bring up Enron’s role in the California Energy Crisis. I wonder if he would consider energy arbitrage crony capitalism, or just part of the game?
This is my reference list. I’m sorry, but somehow the video got blurry after it posted. I hope it clears up. If you want to look at the materials directly, you can find them here. Just click on the circle to open the sidebar with the source material links.
Here’s the stream. Below it are a few notes I made, and excerpts I highlighted on the BehaviorWorks paper.
My thoughts after reading:
Central route thinking is higher order and more persistent. Peripheral is almost automatic. We were kind of talking about this before. They want people stuck in peripheral thinking – listening to influencers and defending teams rather than thinking about substance.
My call to think for yourself and do your own research is a central route approach. As long as they can keep people in the peripheral route and steering them they are golden. Peripheral is the ant computer. In fact there is a TV show people keep telling me to watch that is Peripheral.
There is another part about motivation that drives how you think – it’s the reward system. Influencer culture is about being approved of by the queen bee. Independent thinking is not rewarded.
Excerpts from the document: The Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion
This is the closing line – think “the medium IS the message”: Models such as the ELM highlight how mass media and other forms of influence involve a complex web of determinants, variables and processes, and that the extent and nature of a person’s thought responses to external information can at times be more important than the information itself (Petty, Briñol, et al., 2009).
Under low elaboration conditions, persuasion variables are likely to function as simple cues rather than strong arguments, as people are unlikely scrutinise the message-relevant information for its merits related to the advocated position or behaviour. Any evaluation that is formed is therefore likely to result from simple associations or inferences that do not require much thoughtful effort.
The elaboration route used to form or change an attitude has a number of ramifications, as attitudes shaped by the central route will have different consequences and properties compared to those shaped by the peripheral route. In general, attitudes that result from central route processes tend to be more stable over time, resistant to counter-arguments, are likely to guide (and bias) thinking in a pro-attitudinal way, and perhaps of greatest importance, lead to attitude-consistent behaviour. Taken together, these enduring and durable outcomes are considered to represent features of a “strong attitude”. As a result, attitudes produced through central route processes increase the chances of eliciting sustained behaviour change (Petty, Barden, et al., 2009; Rucker & Petty, 2006; Wagner & Petty, 2011).
Despite the obvious benefits of shaping attitudes through the central route, they are typically more difficult to achieve given the higher elaboration demands that are placed on the target audience. As such, the temptation exists to focus on producing attitudes through the less demanding peripheral route. However, such attitudes are sometimes described as a “hollow victory”, as the elaboration short-cuts that are taken to create these attitudes mean that they tend to be less enduring, are vulnerable to counter arguments, and are less likely to lead to attitude-consistent behaviour (Rucker & Petty, 2006). While peripheral approaches can be quite powerful in the short term, especially when an immediate change is all that is required, the problem is that over time emotions dissipate, people’s feelings about sources can change, and cues can become disassociated from the message (Wagner & Petty, 2011). In combination, these factors can undermine the basis of weaker-natured attitudes shaped by the peripheral route.
Where people fall along this continuum is determined by considering their motivation and ability to process the message presented to them. A person’s motivation can be influenced by several variables, such as the perceived personal relevance of the issue, general enjoyment of thinking (some people simply like thinking more than others!), and being personally responsible for processing the message. For example, if a person has a family history of cancer, he or she might be particularly motivated to carefully consider information on new cancer screening technologies, especially if they are charged with passing this information on to other family members looking for guidance. Ability refers to an individual needing the resources and skills to understand and attend to a message. Several factors impact on this ability, such as intelligence, time available to engage in the message, a person’s level of actual or perceived knowledge (e.g., an individual is likely to elaborate and respond more to messages when they are aligned to pre-existing knowledge structures), the amount of distraction in the communication environment (e.g., a noisy environment might inhibit a person’s ability to think), and the number of message repetitions (i.e., with increasing amounts of message repetition, people are better able to comprehend, scrutinize and recall the arguments conveyed in a message) (Rucker & Petty, 2006; Wagner & Petty, 2011).
The first step is to consider whether recipients of the message are likely to scrutinize and attend to it carefully or process it more peripherally.
After estimating the target audience’s elaboration level, the second step considers what elements should be built into a persuasive message and whether they will serve as strong arguments, simple cues, or both. In other words, this step examines the available options for developing and communicating a message that fits with the audience’s elaboration level. These options may involve, for example, developing substantive arguments that can withstand intense scrutiny, or components that can serve as simple cues such as a credible and engaging message source.
The third step (although it could be argued that this should be the first step) involves being clear about whether the goal of a message is to produce an enduring or immediate change in attitude (and ultimately behaviour)
The fourth step looks at the level of fit between the three preceding steps. This involves examining whether there is alignment between the audience’s elaboration level, the components contained in the message, and whether this might create the type of attitude (and ultimately behaviour) change that is desired.
Then test message effectiveness. This step involves experimentally examining the effectiveness of the message in persuading the target audience, and should involve several common evaluation themes.
Evaluate message effectiveness/ Finally, it is important to make an overall determination about whether the message was effective. With the data from the previous step on attitudes, certainty, and beliefs, it is possible to explore whether the message had the intended effects. For example, did people attend to and process the strong arguments? Did people rely on cues? Were the resulting attitudes held with certainty? Depending on the answers to these questions, the message might be ready for a broader roll-out, or instead need some further fine-tuning before this takes place (Rucker & Petty, 2006).
First, although some attitudes are based on effortful thought processes where externally provided information is deemed as personally relevant and integrated into internal and stable belief structures (through central route processing), other attitudes are formed as a result of relatively simple cues contained in a message and the persuasion context. Second, any one persuasion variable (e.g., source expertise, mood) is capable of achieving persuasion by either the central or peripheral route in different situations by serving one or more roles (i.e., affecting motivation or ability to think, biasing thinking, affecting thought confidence, serving as an argument, operating as a peripheral cue).
Taken together, if the goal of a mass media campaign is to produce durable changes in attitudes with behavioural-consistent consequences, the central route to persuasion would be the preferred persuasion strategy. But as noted previously, one of the most important determinants of motivation to process a message centrally is its perceived personal relevance. However, most mass media messages that people are exposed to are probably not perceived as directly relevant or have few immediate consequences in their eyes. As such, many of these messages are given cursory attention or processed primarily as peripheral cues.
Frameworks such as the ELM can offer a means of diagnosing past mass media campaigns, especially in situations where certain messages did not deliver the scale of expected attitude and behaviour change. According to the logic of the ELM, there are a number of reasons why this might be the case. First, the information contained in a message might have been perceived as irrelevant, or might have led to unfavourable rather than favourable reactions.
Second, despite achieving desirable attitude changes, people might lack confidence in these changes, and if they were triggered based on simple peripheral cues rather than more elaborate processing, they are not likely to persist over time. Finally, even if central attitudes were produced, the ability of people to act on these attitudes might be restricted by a lack of skills, resources or opportunities, or undermined by competing social norms (in other words, attitudes are just one component of a bigger picture of determinants related to behaviour change) (Fishbein & Ajzen, 2010; Petty, Briñol, et al., 2009).