Category: Analysis

Weird reasons negative political ads work – even when the message is weak and the source isn’t credible

Why do negative political ads work, even though we can't stand them and we know they're paid for by people whose interests are not objective? Well, blame the psychology of persuasion in communication. A message never stands alone on its merit (or non-merit). An intricate system of factors such as perceived source credibility, the medium, the timing, heck -- even the way the communicator's voice sounds and how he or she looks, for example -- all go into a cauldron, swirling around to produce a concoction that affects each of us differently. Such effects can range from the straightforward: a strong message and a highly credible source are the most persuasive, to the counter-intuitively complex: a low credibility source is sometimes more persuasive than a high credibility source depending on when the source is mentioned. So what about that "Paid for by ...." bit that, by law, must be included at the end of political ads? (more…)

Why some political smears work, even when they’re lies

A little known, counter-intuitive communication phenomenon called "the sleeper effect" means that outright lies can become more persuasive over time even when they come from a source who isn't credible, according to decades of academic research. Under the right conditions, researchers say the effect can make shaky stories even more believable than trustworthy ones, particularly if the message is shocking enough to have a strong initial impact on a person’s attitude and the source isn't revealed until after the message is delivered. So imagine hearing something that makes a strong impact on you ... only to learn the source is someone you don't find credible or whose intentions may be tainted. The sleeper effect means that as time passes, you may be likely to become more, not less, persuaded by what you heard, regardless of your feelings about the source. (more…)