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Definition of Persuasion

Persuasion is a communication process where someone (the persuader) tries to convince another person (the persuadee) to take over the ideas and perspective of the persuader. In science, however, the exact definition of persuasion is more complex and elaborate.

Persuasion defined

According to Perloff (2003), persuasion is “” O’Keefe calls it: “A successful intentional effort at influencing another’s mental state through communication in a circumstance in which the persuade has some measure of freedom.” Note that both authors do not give clear guidelines on where to draw the lines of persuasion. How much intension should the persuader consciously have, and how much freedom is needed for the persuadee? Important to remember is that the lines of persuasion are fuzzy and not clear-cut. There is a (huge) gray area where communication-actions (messages) can be interpreted as either persuasion, or something else.

That clear, we can now investigate the two definitions. They share at least the following notions:

·         It’s an intentional effort of the persuader

In persuasion, the persuader is consciously trying to change the mind(s) of those he aims to reach with his message. Many people believe animals have ability to persuade, like a dog begging for a cookie. However, this is not persuasion in the way people persuade. The dog does not acknowledge that people are individually-thinking entities that have a (persuadable) mind they can mould to get cookies. The dog simply acts the way he did in the past and was received by a cookie. A dog (or any other animal, for that matter) cannot persuade because it cannot consciously attempt to change your mind. It can coerce you into complying with it’s needs, by giving you puppy eyes, but it’s not intentional, hence not persuasion.

People however, can intentionally seek out ways to change other peoples mind. This, then, is called persuasion, but only if the following two ingredients are also present.

·         It’s a process that takes place through communication between people

It’s hard to come up with situations where people do not communicate. Taking verbal and non-verbal communication into account, almost all behavior we do can be seen as communication. Even not talking is a form of telling people how you think/feel (hence, communication)!

To explain further, we need to know first a bit more about social influence. This is “A broad process in which the behavior of one person alters the thoughts or actions of another” (Perloff, 2003). Every communication attempt can be called a social influence-attempt. Its very hard to communicate without influencing others. Basically, it’s the whole idea of communication! But within this very broad range of communications, there is a category in which we are more interested: persuasion. As we saw earlier, this needs the first ingredient of intentionality from the sender’s part. The second ingredient here is that it needs to be transferred from sender to receiver, by means of communication.

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