THE FUNCTION OF ELABORATIVE RESPONSES IN THE
PROCESSING OF A PERSUASIVE COMMUNICATION
JOHN W. VANN
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN
PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS
FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
John W. Vann
To my parents
Flora H. Vann and Russell F. Vann
I want to thank the experimental team who worked so hard in
assembling the paraphernalia used in the experimental sessions. Terry
Armstrong, Meegan Carol, Peter Gold, Sally Krusing and Alan Moore not
only worked hard physically, but also carried out the experimental
procedures smoothly and tactfully handled all subject problems which
Mary B. Faricy and Barbara S. Probert were also very helpful,
not only through their role of securing subjects as principals of
Central Florida Research, but also through their help in the preparation
for and conduct of the experimental sessions.
Thanks are also due my committee. Professors Barry R. Schlenker
and William L. Wilkie provided useful observations and discussion
regarding the conceptualizations which were used in this dissertation.
My committee chairman, Professor Joel B. Cohen, provided useful, critical
reading of and feedback on all parts of the dissertation. In addition,
as director of the Center for Consumer Research, he along with Professor
Wilkie, the principal investigator of Experiment 1 described in Chapter
5, provided the opportunity and the subjects for my experiment.
A very special thanks is due my wife, Carolyn. She labored
many, sometimes very late, hours typing the dissertation in its various
forms. As an intelligent and thoughtful reader, she helped me to purge
many of the logical and grammatical errors which I created. Most
importantly, she believed in me. Her support and encouragement
kept me going throughout this endeavor.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ONE INTRODUCTION......................................... 1
TWO THEORETICAL BACKGROUND ON COGNITIVE STRUCTURES
AND PROCESSES ........................................9
Text Processing ...................................19
Message-Belief Discrepancy: Consistency and
Change in the Conceptual Structure................28
Message Recall Over Time: A Structural View
of Memory........................................... 34
Message Recall Over Time: A Processing
Processing Limitations ............................41
Views of the Elaborative Process..................49
THREE THE INTERVENING ROLE OF SUBVOCAL RESPONSES IN THE
PROCESSING OF PERSUASIVE COMMUNICATIONS.............62
An Elaboration Model of Message Processing........ 64
Relationships Portrayed by the Model...............67
Structural Criterion Variables ...................142
Reported Results of Studies Examining the
Relationships Portrayed in the Elaboration
Model ........................................... 145
FOUR SOURCES OF VARIANCE IN THE CRITERION VARIABLE:
IMPLICATIONS AND CONTROL........................... 180
Requirements for Valid Causal Inference.......... 180
Random Effects ...................................198
Generality of Research Findings ..................200
Control .......................................... 204
Persistent Sources of Experimental Artifacts.....226
FIVE HYPOTHESES AND METHODS..............................258
Hypothesized Relationships Between Elements of
the Elaboration Model ............................ 258
Plan of the Experiment............................ 264
SIX RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS..................................283
Effects of Discrepancy.................................283
Reported Elaboration--Post Cognitive Structure
Further Suggestions For Improved Research of the
Relationships Portrayed in the Elaboration Model
of Message Processing ................................. 303
Other Suggested Research Based on the Elaboration
Model of Message Processing............................304
Background Reading for Formula-Based Cleaning
Ability Rating System [High Credibility Version].......306
Letter from the Manufacturer [High Credibility
Thought Listing Questionnaire .........................313
Formula-Based Rating System Questionnaire..............318
Criteria Used by Judges for Coding Protocol Responses
LIST OF REFERENCES ................................................328
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................................346
LIST OF TABLES
1 Components of Distraction Settings ......................81
2 Distraction Manipulation Checks.........................91
3 Dependent Variable Timing, Time Limits and
Collection Mode...................................... .110
4 Protocol Coding Approaches............................. 124
5 Main Effects of Distraction on Structural
6 Main Effects of Distraction on Measures of
7 Effects (Other than Distraction) on Measures of
8 Elaboration-Structural Relationships...................171
9 Cell Means for the Proportions of All Protocol
Statements Positive and Negative.......................285
10 Cell Means of Detergent Ratings........................287
11 Cell Means for the Proportion of the Distance to the
Excellent/Grade AA Category which the Brand was
12 Cell Means for the Likelihood of a Brand's Excellence..290
13 Correlations of Reported Elaboration with Structural
14 Correlations of Measures of Communicator Credibility
and Information Assailability with Reported Elab-
oration, Detergent Ratings and Acceptance Measures.....298
15 Cell Means for the Likelihoods Associated with
Message- and Test-Specific Factors.....................325
16 Cell Means for Communicator Credibility Manipulation
Check Measures....................................... 326
17 Cell Means for Background Information Assailability
Manipulation Check Measures (Test Evaluations).........327
LIST OF FIGURES
1 An Elaboration Model of Message Processing.............3
2 "The Memory Schemata View of the Human Information-
Processing System".................................... 11
3 "An Outline of Stages of Comprehension in Reading,
the Memory Traces Arising from these Processes, and
their Selection for Encoding in Memory"...............23
4 "Analysis of Shadowing with Two Secondary Tasks"......45
5 An Elaboration Model of Message Processing............66
6 The Relative Allocation of Processing Resource and
the Resultant Performance Curves When Attending to
the Distractor is Perceived as the Primary Task.......74
7 Relative Allocation of the Processing Resource and
the Resultant Performance Curves When Elaboration is
Perceived as the Primary Task.........................76
8 An Elaboration Model of Message Processing...........259
9 Experimental Design.................................. 266
"...only when science has reached the stage where it can say 'there are
no minds' will it have accounted adequately for mind."
Brodbeck 1966, pp. 57-58
"As the well known saying goes: psychology first lost its soul, later
its consciousness, and seems now in danger of losing its mind altogether."
Feigl 1959, p. 121
"For isn't it stupid to hoot at people whose only fault is that their
ancestors bequeathed them a shabby mesh of associative nerve fibers."
Pitkin 1932, p. 8
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
THE FUNCTION OF ELABORATIVE RESPONSES IN THE
PROCESSING OF A PERSUASIVE COMMUNICATION
John W. Vann
Chairman: Joel B. Cohen
Major Department: Marketing
The purpose of this dissertation is to further understanding of the
role of elaborative responses in the processing of persuasive commun-
ications. A theoretical background of information processing is pro-
vided with special attention given to the nature and role of sub-vocal
responses. A review of the persuasion literature which presumes an
intervening role of elaborative responses is presented with a focus upon
those studies which examined the effects of distraction on persuasion.
Methodological guidance is provided for doing experimentation in the
realm of elaborative responses.
The experimental approach consisted of experimentally manipulating
the assailability of the pre-message information (high and low), the
credibility of the message source (high and low) and the discrepancy
between the pre-message position and the position expressed in the
message (low, moderate and high). Verbal protocols of reported elabor-
ation were elicited along with measures of message acceptance. A manip-
ulation check revealed that the manipulations of assailability and source
credibility were deficient. Consequently, causal conclusions regarding
the effects of these variables may not be made. Increasing discrepancy
from low to moderate increased those negative protocol statements as a
proportion of all protocol statements. High discrepancy resulted in a
significant shift in pre-message position when compared with a no-
message control. Correlational analysis indicated that coded protocols
were significantly related to other criterion measures, with the pro-
portion of negative statements being the best predictor.
An internal analysis examined the relationship between manipulation
measures and criterion measures. This correlational analysis indicated
that the criterion measures which were relevant to the message were
related to source credibility, while those relevant to the background
information were related to assailability. However, the expected cross-
relationships were not observed. Suggestions for further research in
the area are presented.
Probably everyone has had the subjective experience of images being
aroused by a written or spoken communication or of silent dialogs
carried on with the communicator. Sometimes these subvocal responses
embellish the message--adding associated ideas or logical extension.
Sometimes they may refute a part of the message or deprecate the commun-
icator. There may be some responses of this nature that a person is not
even aware of or cannot recall immediately after they have passed
fleetingly through the person's mind. All of these responses are called
elaborative responses and are the focus of the present study.
Elaborative responses are important because there is evidence that
they play an essential role in integrating message content into the
message recipient's cognitive structure. Through this integrative
function, elaborative responses influence the message-topic position of
the message recipient as reflected by his or her post-message cognitive
structure. This impact on post-message cognitive structure suggests
that an understanding of the role of elaborative responses has direct
relevance to a more complete understanding of message-induced per-
suasion. (In this case persuasion would be considered to be a shift in
the message recipient's position such that the position held after the
communicative episode is closer to that espoused by the communicator
than was the pre-communication position.)
The purpose of this study is to contribute to the understanding of
the role of elaborative responses in the processing of persuasive com-
munications. However, the focus here is on cognitive changes which may
result from a communicative episode, not on behavioral manifestations of
A thorough understanding of the role of elaborative responses in
message processing should include knowledge of the antecedents as well
as the consequents of elaborative responses. A model which portrays the
integrative role of elaborative responses in message processing is
presented in Figure 1. This model also illustrates antecedent variables
which may be expected to influence elaborative responses, and, sub-
sequently, the post-message cognitive structure.
The central role of elaboration in this model sets it apart from
models of persuasion which view the message recipient as a passive
participant in the persuasive process--who needs only to receive and com-
prehend the message to be persuaded. Instead, this model views the
recipient as an active, subvocal participant in a dialog with the
sender. The cognitive residue of the communication, rather than being
seen as a copy of the message as it was sent, is seen as a complex
mosaic resulting from the interaction of message content and the
sometimes-verbal elaborative responses of the recipient. This
complex, post-message, cognitive representation of the communicative
episode will reflect the influence of the variables which impinge upon
elaboration in the model. Because of this influence, there are
important implications of the model for anyone concerned with persuasive
communications. For example, the model suggests that marketers should
concern themselves with message variables such as the number and order
of arguments used in a message.
Another important influence on elaboration, as presented in the
model, is the sum of all variables which provide the context within
Figure 1. An Elaboration Model of Message Processing
which the message is presented. The message medium, source char-
acteristics, as well as concurrent surrounding stimuli are all seen as
contextual variables which influence message elaboration. The impact of
source credibility can be especially important to advertisers, who,
because of their vested interest in the persuasive outcome, may suffer
from chronic low credibility as perceived by the message recipients. A
low-credibility source would be expected to engender more negative
responses, and, hence more negative post-message cognitive structure,
during elaboration than would a high-credibility source.
An important consideration to both marketers and those involved in
setting public policy is the limitation in time and processing capacity
which must be allocated among competing cognitive tasks. Thus, an
important aspect of the context within which the message episode occurs
is the presence or absence of distracting stimuli which compete with the
message for processing resources. There is evidence that, under some
circumstances, distracted message recipients are more easily persuaded.
Public policy makers may be concerned that the use of distractors in
advertising may take unfair advantage of the consumer's processing
limitations. The literature relevant to the impact of distraction on
elaboration and persuasion is reviewed in Chapter 3.
The prior cognitive structure of the message recipient is also seen
as an important influence upon elaboration. The pre-message position of
the recipient is shown as influencing elaboration and thereby the
recipient's post-message position. This suggests that a marketer should
consider the beliefs and values of his target market prior to message
preparation. The discrepancy between the position expressed in the
message and the positions held by the recipients would be shown in the
elaboration model as an interaction between message and prior-
cognitive-structure variables. Because of the influence of discrepancy
on elaboration marketers may find it useful to prepare different
messages for market segments which hold divergent message-relevant
The present study represents an attempt to manipulate some of the
antecedent variables which were hypothesized to influence the elabor-
ative process. However, methodological problems arose in the oper-
ationalization of two of the antecedent variables involved: the credi-
bility of the message source (a contextual variable) and the assail-
abilty of the information upon which the respondents based their pre-
message position (a prior cognitive structure variable). Manipulation
check measures taken during the experimental sessions revealed that the
manipulation of assailability was completely ineffective. The manip-
ulation of source credibility was deficient in that only one dimension
of a multidimensional variable was affected. Consequently none of the
questions regarding the influence of these two varaibles on elaboration
or on persuasion may be answered in a causal sense. Because of the
methodological problems in the experiment, it seemed appropriate to play
down the experimental results and to focus instead on the theoretical
and methodological issues associated with the research problem.
This study will be presented in three parts. Part one (Chapters 2
and 3) presents a review of the literature relevant to the theoretical
background of information processing and then examines studies of the
relationships portrayed in the elaboration model. Chapter 2 provides
the theoretical background for the study of message processing. This
background includes discussions of different theoretical positions
regarding both cognitive structures and cognitive processes. Methodo-
logical issues associated with the study of cognitive processes are also
Because of the central role in message processing proposed for
elaborative responses in the model, the literature relevant to the
existence of the functions of and the limitations on elaborative
responses are examined extensively. Elaborative responses are presented
as a major determinant of the representation of message content as it is
stored in memory. The extent of elaboration is presented as a key
factor influencing the duration of time over which the message content
may be recalled. Limitations of processing capacity are also presented
and the implications of restricting elaboration are discussed. The
chapter ends with a consideration of possible ways of monitoring the
occurrence and content of the elaborative process.
Chapter 3 presents a review of studies which have examined the
relationships portrayed in the elaboration model. The greater part of
this chapter deals with studies of the effects of distraction (a con-
textual variable). These studies involve the use of distractors which
may limit the processing capacity that may be allocated to message-
relevant elaborative responses. Other studies reviewed in this chapter
include some which have examined the effects of message, prior-
cognitive-structure and contextual variables (other than distraction) on
reported elaboration. Some other studies reviewed have examined the
relationship between reported elaboration and measures of message
acceptance. The large literature which has examined verbal protocols as
measures of elaboration is also examined in this chapter. The findings
of all of these studies are examined to see if they corroborate the
relationships represented in the model.
Some of the variables represented in the elaboration model involve
variables which may be manipulated and observed directly (such as the
number of arguments in a message). Others require some response by an
experimental subject for their manipulation (such as the perceived
credibility of a source) and may not be directly observed. Part two
(Chapters 4 and 5) examines the methodological issues surrounding the
manipulation of experimental variables and attempts to determine the
causal nature of relationships such as those depicted in the elaboration
Chapter 4 examines some of the methodological problems which may
arise in trying to manipulate unobservable variables such as those
employed in the present study. This chapter also presents other sources
of variance which may intrude upon attempts to establish the causal role
of experimental variables (such as the antecedent variables in the
elaboration model) as well as methods for controlling these sources of
variance. Chapter 5 presents the hypotheses and methods employed in
the present study.
Part three (Chapter 6) will present the results of the study as
conducted. None of the hypotheses involving the credibility or assail-
ability variables could be tested because of the faulty manipulation of
those two variables. However, the results of the third predictor
variable (discrepancy) which was manipulated orthogonally to credibility
and assailability will be presented. Two additional analyses will be
presented. The first will examine correlations between various
criterion measures and the second will involve an internal analysis.
This internal analysis will examine the correlations between the
measured indicants of perceived source credibility and perceived
information assailability with the criterion variables. "Such an
cannot prove a causal relationship, any more than a correlational
can outside the context of an experiment, but it can be extremely
as a source of information for guiding future experimentation"
(Carlsmith, Ellsworth and Aronson 1976, p. 37). The chapter will
with suggestions for future research into the role of elaboration
THEORETICAL BACKGROUND ON COGNITIVE
STRUCTURES AND PROCESSES
There have been many persuasion studies, both from a psychological
and a marketing viewpoint which have presumed a mediating role of
subvocal (i.e., elaborative) responses in the persuasion process (e.g.,
Festinger and Maccoby 1964; Brock 1967; Greenwald 1968; Wright 1973a,
1974b, 1975). Some of these studies have even purported to measure
these subvocal responses (e.g., Brock 1967; Greenwald 1968; Wright
1973a, 1974b, 1975). These studies will be the focus of Chapter 3.
However, these studies are an applied part of a broader field of
study--the study of cognitive structures and processes. There are many
substantive issues which have been examined in the history of this field
and these issues should be considered in the evaluation of the per-
suasion studies reviewed in Chapter 3. The purpose of this chapter (2)
is to present the theoretical and methodological issues associated with
the study of cognitive structures and processes. This material will
then comprise the conceptual framework within which studies which have
examined the relationships in the elaboration model may be evaluated.
The present chapter is concerned with how people extract infor-
mation from oral and written communications, how a person may transform
this verbal material and how it would be stored in and retrieved from
memory. In short, it is concerned with cognitive structures and
The discussions herein relate to word recognition, memory
structure, sentence comprehension, text processing, sub-vocal processes,
the resolution of message-belief discrepancies, message recall, and pro-
cessing limitations. The role of subvocal processes (i.e., elaborative
responses) is presented as lying primarily in the stage of transfor-
mation of verbal material with implications for persuasion, storage and
retrieval. The chapter ends with a consideration of how elaborative
processes may be monitored.
Word recognition, whether from spoken or written material, requires
that a person compare the word or symbols of each word with some stan-
dard in memory so that the word meaning can be established (Norman
1976). The set against which the incoming words are compared has been
variously called a mental thesaurus (Cofer 1976; Tulving 1972), a sub-
jective lexicon (Conrad 1974), a lexicon (Kintsch 1975), and a semantic
memory (Norman 1976; Tulving 1972).
On occasion, words must be referenced against memory for specific
episodes (episodic memory) in which incidental use of the words is
recalled (LaBerge and Samuels 1974). Norman and Bobrow (1976) suggest
that presentation of a word can result in the activation of a schema.
Schemata are "...semi-independent procedures that analyze the data sent
to them and return results to some common data pool..." (1976, p. 119)
(see Figure 2).
These schemata are comparable to Schneider and Shiffrin's (1977)
"nodes" which "may consist of a complete set of informational elements,
including associative connections, programs for responses or actions,
and directions for other types of information processing" (1977, p. 2).
S Communication and decision maKing
"The memory schemata view of the human information-processing
system. Incoming data and higher-order conceptual structures
all operate together to activate memory schemata. Short-term
memory consists of those schemata that are undergoing active
processing. There is no set of sequential stages: the limits
on processing capability are set by the total amount of pro-
cessing resources available to the system." (From Norman and
Bobrow, 1976, p. 118).
The semantic memory to which messages are referred can be con-
sidered as a set of interrelated descriptions (Norman and Bobrow 1976).
These descriptions define concepts by linking concepts with their
properties. Concepts become linked with their properties through
repeated exposure to occurrences of the concept and properties accom-
panying each exposure to the concept. In this sense semantic memory is
derived from episodic memory and is, therefore, ultimately based upon
sensory images (Norman 1976, p. 189; Lindsay and Norman 1977, p. 399).
However, this means that our representation of reality may be faulty.
"Not only shall I insist that subjective experience cannot provide the
true foundation of our knowledge, but I shall insist that our knowledge
has no foundations in the traditional sense.... I simply mean that there
is no such thing as an indubitable foundation, on which knowledge of any
sort can rest" (Aune 1967, p. 38).
The concomitant occurrence of some concepts and properties is
random. These properties are eliminated over time as the concept des-
cription is refined. Other properties occur simultaneously with the
concept only under certain circumstances--thus the term "context-
dependent descriptions" (Norman and Bobrow 1976, p. 127). Subsequent
events or propositions are identified and assigned to the appropriate
conceptual categories (i.e., perceived) according to which properties
are present. Assignment rules include: a) the requisite properties;
b) the way in which properties must be combined; c) the weights assigned
to the various properties; and d) the acceptable range of dimensional
values of the properties (Bruner 1957, pp. 131-132).
When a context-dependent description is so unique as to include
linkages to a specific time and place, then the representation of that
concept is considered the record of an event and a part of episodic,
rather than semantic memory (Tulving 1972). Lindsay and Norman (1977,
p. 397) list action, agent, conditionality (e.g., "only if" or
"because"), instrument, location, object, recipient, time, and truth as
parts of an event. As instances of a concept occur in more and more
contexts, it becomes relatively context-free (Norman and Bobrow 1976;
Ausubel 1963, p. 218).
The descriptions can include linkages between concepts and proper-
ties implying "...something positive or negative, something strong or
weak, something active or passive. There exists a large literature
concerned with this problem using the semantic differential as an
instrument (Osgood, Suci, and Tannenbaum 1957)..." (Kintsch 1974,
The linkages between a concept and its properties may reflect some
uncertainty. A method of expressing this uncertainty for noun-type
concepts is included in several attitude models (Fishbein and Ajzen
1975; Ahtola 1975). In these models, the linkages are called beliefs
and are expressed as subjective probabilities. (See Jones and Gerard
1967, p. 160, for an equivalent, syllogistic treatment of attitude as a
derivative of this linkage).
The property-concept linkages need not be present in memory to be
used by a person. They may be potentially derivable from existing
linkages through inference rules. Descriptions of more general concepts
are assumed to apply also to those concepts that are subordinate, unless
otherwise specified (Lindsay and Norman 1977, pp. 386-388). The
inference process can be represented as a syllogistic one: All As have
Bs; a C is an A; therefore, Cs must have Bs. Of course, this process is
dependent upon the is a linkage as part of the description of a C (Jones
and Gerard 1967, p. 160; Lindsay and Norman 1977, p. 388). Concepts can
also be linked to higher order concepts through a similar process: All
As are Bs; all Bs are Cs; therefore, all As are Cs (Kintsch 1974,
Because of the extensive implications derivable from general
concepts to subordinate concepts, changes in schemata (descriptions) for
general concepts will result in greater overall change in the cognitive
structure (extending to all subordinate concepts) than will changes in
descriptions that are limited to a subordinate concept. Changes that
are implied in one part of the cognitive structure by changes in another
part may not take place immediately. This reflects a characteristic
called "cognitive inertia" (McGuire 1968, p. 153). However, the very
interrelatedness of concepts in semantic memory protects descriptions
from change induced by incoming information (Tulving 1972, p. 391).
Consequences as properties. Some descriptions refer to actions.
Lexically, these would be expressed as verbs. The description for the
verb-type concept HIT includes "...slots for an agent, an object, and an
instrument..." as well as possible consequences of the actions (Kintsch
1977, p.343). Consequences of actions are also concepts.
One classification scheme for consequences has been developed by
Rokeach (1968a, 1968b, 1968c). These properties of actions are divided
into terminal values (end states) and instrumental values (appro-
priateness of a mode of behavior). Rokeach (1968a) considers the degree
of interconnectedness of a value in the cognitive structure is a measure
of its centrality. Those values that have more interconnections within
the structure are considered more central. In this way, centrality is
comparable to generality as more general concepts are directly connected
to all of the subordinate concepts, while each subordinate concept is
only directly connected to the general concept.
Rokeach equates centrality with importance. "The parts are con-
ceived to be arranged along a central-peripheral dimension wherein the
more central parts are more salient or important, more resistant to
change, and if changed, exert relatively greater effects on other parts"
(Rokeach 1968a, p. 117).
Rosenberg (1956) developed an attitude model that related the
linkage between actions and consequences in a probabilistic fashion
similar to that linking noun-type concepts and properties in the models
discussed earlier. Wright (1973b) points out that attitudes toward
noun-type concepts ultimately rest on the consequences linked to the
properties that are linked with the noun-type concept. This chaining is
an example of what Jones and Gerard called a vertical attitude structure
(1967, p. 184). While such chaining would maintain internal cognitive
consistency and may describe an inferential process, evaluative linkages
need not be formed in this manner.
A particular schema is activated when cues are present which match
the "context-dependent description" appropriate to that schema (Bobrow
and Norman 1975, p. 133; Norman and Bobrow 1976, p. 127).
If the physical and contextual elements that are present do not
uniquely describe a particular memory schema for a word, then ambiguity
will exist and several schemata may be activated (Bobrow and Norman
1975). These schemata can be activated either by external stimulation
or by a person's expectations. The activation is considered data-driven
to the extent that the schemata are activated by external stimulation.
Activation which is internal is considered conceptually-driven. "Con-
ceptually driven processing tends to be top-down, driven by motives and
goals, and fitting input to expectations; event driven processing tends
to be bottom-up, finding structures in which to embed the input" (Bobrow
and Norman 1975, p. 140). Communications involve both data-driven and
conceptuallly-driven processing (as will be discussed further in the
section on text processing).
A similar "logogen" model was proposed by Morton (1969; see also
Keele 1973; and Posner and Warren 1972). Morton called a logogen a
"device" which collects information in the form of auditory, visual, and
semantic (contextual) attributes. When the number of attributes exceeds
a threshold level, then the logogen makes its output available. Keele
suggests that this output can be "...the name of the stimulus, the
meaning of the stimulus, or an appropriate response to the stimulus"
(Keele 1973, p. 88). All other logogens for which the attributes are
appropriate accumulate those attributes, but unless the threshold is
reached, no output is forthcoming. In all cases the context of the
communication influences what word is perceived. The context includes
grammatical, situational, and cultural cues as to what words will be a
part of the communication.
Another, similar model has been proposed by Hayes-Roth (1977). Her
model proposes that our cognitive structure is composed of elementary
memory units or cogits, "...the smallest information structure
perceptually or cognitively delineated. Each cogit is identified with a
discrete memory representation" (p. 261). These cogits are assembled
into larger configurations through association. These configurations
can become so strongly associated that they become unitizedd." "A
unitized assembly may be reconstructively activated in an all-or-none
fashion by a stimulus that includes a subset of the information repre-
sented in the assembly or by activation of the internal representation
of such a stimulus" (p. 262). This activation is essentially comparable
to schema or logogen activation.
Contextual stimulation of a category in memory makes that category
more accessible because of expectations regarding "...likely transitions
and contingencies of the environment" (Bruner 1957, p. 135). Bruner
suggests that the more category accessibility is increased, the less
additional input is required for categorization into a given category
(as in the logogen model). "...The wider the range of input character-
istics that will be 'accepted' as fitting the category in question
[and]...the more likely that categories that provide a better or equally
good fit for the input will be masked" (Bruner 1957, pp. 129-130).
Once a particular memory referent has been activated, it can in
turn activate others (Norman and Bobrow 1976). "A word is more than an
arbitrary written or spoken sign, it is all that it carries in asso-
ciations as well" (Cherry 1966, p. 72). These associations, in turn,
can generate expectations of subsequent words, as well as enriching the
meaning of the presented word.
An important property of the initial word identification process is
its automaticity for familiar words (Deutsch and Deutsch 1963; LaBerge
and Samuels 1974). This property has also been called "effortless
retrieval" (Posner 1973, p. 40). It is significant because it does not
interfere with other cognitive processes. This property will be covered
in more depth in the discussion of interference and distraction.
The Use of Redundancy in Sentence Comprehension:
Words that have been identified can be retained for a short period
of time in memory without rehearsing them (10 20 seconds). This is
long enough for an entire phrase to be completed. While reading or
listening to prose material, it is not necessary that every word be
processed since the receiver uses various strategies that depend on the
semantic constraints that govern word possibilities and on redundancies
that exist in spoken and written prose (Kintsch 1977). "'Redundancy'
means additional signs or rules which guard against misinterpre-
tation..." (Cherry 1966, p. 33). "The redundancy contained in an
average sentence...provides an important safety factor in the processing
of information. We can miss one part of a message but still retrieve
the whole because some of the message could have been reliably predicted
from the rest of it" (Jones and Gerard 1967, p. 135; see also Bruner
1957, p. 132).
Syntatic Aids to Sentence Comprehension:
Some other strategies are based on frequent patterns that occur in
English. One such strategy is assuming that the first noun-verb-noun
phrase to occur is the main clause of the sentence, unless the phrase
includes "...a cue word such as that, who, whom, or which..." to
indicate that the main clause is to follow (Kintsch 1977, p. 313).
Another strategy is assuming that the order in which events have
occurred is the same as the order of presentation in a sentence (Kintsch
1977, p. 314).
Grammar is another aid in prose comprehension which helps readers
or listeners anticipate the order of occurrence of parts of speech, even
in the nonsense sentence: "The ventious crapests pounted raditally"
(Cherry 1966, p. 121).
Linguistic Relativity and Determinism:
Language has another effect on the processing of verbal messages.
It limits the content of messages by the constraints it places on what
can be said in a particular language and culture. The language
restricts the categories used in describing the world, as well as how
these categories are subdivided. As Cherry (1966, p. 73) states,
language determines what people "...are free and able to think." This
principle is called linguistic relativity and determinism, or sometimes
the "'Whorfian hypothesis'"(Slobin 1974, p. 120). A more widely
accepted, weaker form of the hypothesis suggests that language primarily
affects our epistemology by predisposing us to respond in certain ways,
rather than rigidly determining our responses. "One is not fully a
prisoner of one's language; it is just a guide to thought and other
sorts of behavior" (Slobin 1974, p. 122). "...We tend to say things
which can be fairly conveniently encoded and we frequently assimilate
experience to the categories of the linguistic code" (Slobin 1974, p.
Text processing involves the extraction of the overall meaning
expressed by a series of interrelated sentences. However, any
explication of this process requires a conceptual description of textual
Meaning Expressed in a Text:
Kintsch (1977) has also developed a representational system for
prose. The semantic structure of prose is represented as a text base.
"The text base consists of a sequence of propositions; propositions in
turn are composed of concepts. Each proposition consists of one
relational term and one or more arguments [all of which are concepts]
(Kintsch 1977, p. 342). An example of a text base with four propo-
sitions would be (Kintsch 1977, p. 343):
(1) (HIT, GEORGE, JOHN)
(2) (APOLOGIZE, GEORGE, (HIT, GEORGE, JOHN))
(3) (VICIOUS, (HIT, GEORGE, JOHN))
(4) (TALL, JOHN, GEORGE)
Proposition (1) could be expressed by the words George hit John.
The text could be: Even though John is taller than George, George hit
John viciously. Later he apologized. Of course, there are many other
combinations of sentences that could express the same underlying
Internal coherence within a text base is achieved through the
repetition of the same argument in multiple propositions as with the
repeated occurrence of GEORGE in the example or through the embedding of
one proposition as the argument of another, as with the embedding of
(HIT, GEORGE, JOHN) in proposition (3).
The advantage of using the text base system of specifying the
underlying propositions of a text is twofold: first it provides a means
of specifying the meaning that a communicator intends to transmit. This
means that researchers are freed from using sentences as a measure of
content in an intended message. This is especially important since many
times part of the content in the text base is not included in the text,
but must be inferred by the reader or listener (Kintsch 1977, p. 359).
Secondly, the resultant text base of the listener or reader can be
compared with that intended by the communicator as a means of measuring
the accuracy of the communicative process. In most situations, the goal
of the reader or listener is to understand the gist of the text as
represented by the text base, rather than to retain the surface
structure of the message. For example, in listening "...while we
generally remember quite well what we have just heard, we often cannot
repeat it in the same words in which it was given. Apparently we
quickly unravel the meaning and forget the syntax" (Slobin 1974, p. 31).
Using disconnected sentences, Begg and Wickelgren (1974) found that
semantic information is both better learned initially and is lost at a
slower rate than is lexical/syntactic information. "Sentences are the
vehicles by means of which information is transmitted. The vehicle
itself is less important than what it contains" (Kintsch 1977, p. 333).
This suggests that any insistence on verbatim recall as evidence of
communicative success could result in understating the degree to which
the intended text base has been received by the reader or listener.
There are also cultural influences on text processing. Not only
does culture influence comprehension through the effects of linguistic
relativity and determinism, but also through story schemata that are
shared within the culture.
Many non-conversational communications such as stories, folk tales,
fables, and scientific articles tend to follow accepted, consistent
patterns in a given culture. These patterns provide readers or
listeners with an outline which guides comprehension as appropriate
information is gleaned from the text (Kintsch 1977, p. 379). These
patterns have been formalized by several writers. Rumelhart (1975)
provides a story grammar in his discussion of a schema for stories.
This grammar can be used to represent both the semantic and syntactic
structure of stories.
The Role of Rehearsal in Text Processing:
Figure 3 illustrates the differing extent to which text material
can be processed. Processing may be limited to a very elementary level.
In reading, the "...meanings of familiar words and word groups may be
activated automatically, leaving attention free to wander to other
matters" (LaBerge and Samuels 1974, p. 320). A similar phenomenon is
found in listening. Often a preoccupied person may hear what someone
has said and not realize that the message has been processed. Yet upon
asking the speaker to repeat what he said, the "listener" realizes that
he knows what was said after all and repetition isn't necessary. This
is called the "Oh, Yes" phenomenon (Glucksberg and Cowen 1970, p. 150).
Messages processed to this elementary level are lost quickly, unless
further processing is performed or unless they are rehearsed by simply
repeating them to oneself-- maintenance rehearsal (Craik and Watkins
1973; Craik and Lockhart 1972; Postman 1975). "...maintenance rehearsal
is described as a 'telephone strategy', one like the operations per-
formed to keep a new telephone number in mind from the time one gets it
until it can be dialed on the telephone" (Norman 1976, p. 119). If the
person is sufficiently motivated, the attentional demands allow it, and
the material is amenable, more extensive processing may take place.
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Craik and Lockhart (1972, p. 675) propose a continuum of processing
from "...a series of sensory stages to levels associated with matching
or pattern recognition and finally to semantic-associative stages of
stimulus enrichment." (See also Postman 1975, p. 303; Norman and Bobrow
1976). More extensive processing is called elaborative rehearsal (Craik
and Watkins 1973; Norman 1976, p. 127) or constructive rehearsal
(Postman 1975, p. 301). This can occur at the word level or at the
sentence or text level. "...after a word is recognized, it may trigger
associations, images or stories on the basis of the subject's past
experience with the word" (Craik and Lockhart 1972, p. 675). LaBerge
and Samuels (1974) suggest that the same process can occur in reading
Elaboration is a process of relating the incoming message to
existing knowledge in semantic memory and to event-based memory.
Event-based memory is called episodic memory. "The remembered
episodes...are autobiographical events, describable in terms of their
perceptible dimensions or attributes and in terms of their temporal-
spatial relations to other such events" (Tulving 1972, p. 387). "Most,
if not all, episodic memory claims a person makes can be translated into
the form: 'I did such and such, in such and such a place, at such and
such a time'" (Tulving 1972, p. 389). Postman (1975, p. 325) points out
that we can recall many aspects of an event. Not only can we recall
what, when, where, and how, but also how frequently an event has
The role of implications in the elaboration process:
Elaboration also requires the assumption of certain facts implied
in the text. Lindsay and Norman (1977, p. 485) illustrate that the com-
prehension of the phrase: "Person P borrows object 0 from donor D"
involves at least nine implications such as "Person D had possession of
object 0", "D knows that P has 0", and "D gave permission for P to have
0." These implications are drawn from semantic memory. Drawing impli-
cations is essentially a decomposition process in which concepts are
decomposed into more basic underlying concepts. For example: "The
semantic elements of GIVE are DO, CAUSE, and TRANSFER; other words such
as trade or sell require additional semantic elements for their use, and
are, therefore, more complex semantically" (Kintsch 1977, p. 351).
Implications may be compared with memory for events that are stored
in episodic memory. For example: "I was with D when he lost object 0"
or "I saw P take object 0 without asking D." Comparison with any of
these episodes would require additional elaboration to allow the state-
ment to be comprehended. It may require updating the schema relating
the loss of object 0: "D must have found object 0 since I last saw
him." It may instead result in the rejection of the veracity of the
phrase, or its timing "I don't believe P borrowed object 0 at all,"
or "Perhaps P borrowed object 0 before D lost it." Another possibility
is the rejection of one or more of the implications of the concept
borrow. This would be unlikely for well-known concepts, but would be a
possibility in the earlier stages of concept learning. "We propose that
information received early in the growth of a cognitive category is more
influential than later information in shaping that category and is less
shaped by it" (Jones and Gerard 1967, p. 141).
For communication to occur successfully, the speaker and listener
must agree on the implications of words. Consider the kidnappers in The
Princess Bride (Goldman 1973): the Sicilian (the leader and thinker),
the Turk (the man of force), and the Spaniard (the deft artisan with a
sword). They have kidnapped Princess Buttercup (the most beautiful
woman in the world) and are sailing across Florin Channel to safety.
The Sicilian, feeling cocky, speaks up:
"We are miles ahead of anybody and safe, safe, safe."
"No one could be following us yet?" the Spaniard asked.
"No one," the Sicilian assured him. "It would be incon-
"Absolute, totally, and in all other ways, inconceivable," the
Sicilian reassured him. "Why do you ask?"
"No reason," the Spaniard replied. "It's only that I just
happened to look back and something's there."
And there was a ship behind them with a lone man dressed in black
at the tiller. In discussing the man's purpose, the Sicilian concludes:
"...he is definitely not, however much it may look like it,
following us. It is coincidence and nothing more."
"He's gaining on us," the Turk said.
"That is also inconceivable," the Sicilian said. "Before I
stole this boat we're in, I made many inquiries as to what was the
fastest ship on all of Florin Channel and everyone agreed it was
"You're right," the Turk agreed, staring back. "He isn't
gaining on us. He's just getting closer, that's all."
"It is the angle we're looking from and nothing more," said
When they have scuttled their ship at the base of the Cliffs of
Insanity, and Fezzik, the Turk, has climbed a rope seven hundred of the
thousand feet up the Cliffs, carrying the other three, the man in black
begins climbing after them.
"I can feel him," Fezzik said. "His body weight on the rope."
"He'll never catch up!" the Sicilian cried. "Inconceivable!"
"You keep using that word!" the Spaniard snapped. "I don't
think it means what you think it does." (pp. 88-92)
Effects of elaboration:
Associating an incoming message with existing schemata has several
effects. One effect is to provide a means of more fully understanding
the meaning and implications of the message. The existing schemata
provide what Ausubel calls ideationall anchorage" (1963, p.220) "...and
make possible the perception of insightful relationships (p. 218). "The
meaning of a proposition ...is the set of hypothetical statements one
can make about attributes or consequences related to that proposition"
(Bruner 1957, p. 126). These attributes or consequences of a propo-
sition are inferred from memory for relationships or events. "According
to this view, the cognitive system interprets each new situation as
being similar to some previously encountered situation, except for
specifically noted differences" (Norman and Bobrow 1976, p. 130).
A second effect is to provide the organization that allows the
message to be incorporated into the overall cognitive structure.
Readers have a greater likelihood of processing propositions that relate
to propositions processed earlier (Kintsch 1975, p. 98). Norman (1976,
p. 224) notes that such a system is economical as it does not necessi-
tate learning new material from scratch, but just requires the relating
of it to previously existing schemata. "The more we comprehend the
past, the better we apprehend today" (Cherry 1966, p. 73).
A third effect is the distortion of the incoming message. The
constructive aspect of the elaboration process results in additions to
and deletions from the initial text base. "...The cognitive system uses
the first parts of the incoming information to select an appropriate,
existing schema as a basis for interpreting the stimuli; as more and
more information accumulates, either the new information is fit into an
appropriate spot in the existing schema or the schema is modified"
(Norman and Bobrow 1976, p. 130). This process corresponds to Piaget's
"assimilation" and "accommodation" processes in which information is
admitted to the cognitive structure and then changes are made in the
message or in the existing schemata to make the two compatible (Mayer
1977, Ch. 8). Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968, p. 115) have called elabor-
ation a coding process--"a select alteration and/or addition to the
information...as a result of a search of the long-term store."
The important point is that this process is not a passive one
resulting in accurate representation of incoming messages, but an
active, constructive one which produces a representation that is highly
dependent on prior information structures schemass) that are stored in
memory (see Howe 1970, p. 218; LaBerge and Samuels 1974, p. 320; Cofer
1976, p. 10; Posner 1973, p. 36; Norman and Bobrow 1976, p. 130; and
Brockway, Chmielewski, and Cofer 1974, p. 207).
Message-Belief Discrepancy: Consistency and Change
in the Conceptual Structure
A person who is confronted with a persuasive message is likely to
find that portions of the message are discrepant with beliefs that
he/she holds. Both of the discrepant positions cannot be correct
simultaneously. The recipient could believe both, change his/her
position, or distort the meaning of the message. The choice involves
two recurring themes regarding the overall conceptual framework in
memory: there is a need for internal consistency and there is a need to
update the system to include adaptive changes necessary for survival in
a changing environment.
The Need for Consistency:
The need for internal consistency is one that has been heard from
many quarters. Hovland, Janis and Kelley (1953) mentioned that as early
as 1925 Lund was postulating a striving for consistency (Lund 1925). In
discussing Piaget's stage-independent views of cognitive structure,
Mayer said: "We have a constant need for our representation of the
world to be well-organized, internally consistent, and orderly..."
(1977, p. 175). "The basic principle of human information processing is
that the cognitive system attempts to create a cohesive structure of the
data presented to it" (Norman and Bobrow 1976, p. 130). Rokeach (1968a,
p. 164) considered that "...consistency with self-esteem is probably a
more compelling consideration than consistency with logic or reality."
McGuire echoed the assumption of consistency: "I assumed that the
conceptual system at any moment was highly interconnected and also in a
state of internal harmony that might reasonably be called 'consistency'"
(1968, p. 140). "...Inconsistency...threatens basic needs for a stable
self concept and a coherent and predictable environment" (Kelman and
Baron 1968, p. 332).
Norman (1976, p. 73) stated: "the aim of cognitive processes is to
form a meaningful interpretation of the world. Sensory information at
any moment must be gathered together and interpreted in terms of a
Internal coherence or consistency within the cognitive structure
minimizes conflicting response tendencies to stimuli occurring in the
environment. The result is an "unequivocal behavioral orientation...
When the time comes to act, the great advantage of having a set of
coherent internally consistent dispositions is that the individual is
not forced to listen to the babble of competing inner voices" (Jones and
Gerard 1967, p. 181).
These needs for consistency suggest that if a message contains
information inconsistent with the existing cognitive structure, the
elaboration process would result in either the modification of the
incoming information or of the prior structure. The problem is which to
modify to attain consistency.
Modifying the prior structure has a cost, as changes in one part
will result in compensating changes throughout the system (Rokeach
1968b, p. 22). Because the implications of changes in central or more
general concepts extend to subordinate concepts, the more central or
general the concept changed, "...the more widespread the repercussions
in the rest of the belief system" (Rokeach 1968a, p. 3; see also Ableson
1968, p. 716). It has been suggested that some discrepancy will be
tolerated without requiring any change if the discrepancy is below a
threshold level. McGuire calls this concept "spatial inertia" (McGuire
1968, p. 158; see Sherif and Hovland 1961 for the related concept,
attitude of acceptance).
Abelson (1959) suggested that reality, as well as the overall
belief system, determine the boundaries of distortion. Distortions
which result in beliefs which are contradictory to the evidence of
reality as the recipient confronts it are probably difficult to
Another constraint on cognitive distortion is reality as it is
socially defined. Social comparison theory (Festinger 1954a) considers
an individual's dependence on others for a concensual representation of
The cost of changing the prior structure is increased if the change
will result in public awareness of the temporal inconsistency of these
beliefs (Tedeschi, Schlenker and Bonoma 1971; see also Hovland, Janis
and Kelley 1953, p. 127).
The Need to Update the Cognitive System:
Modifying the content of the message also has associated costs.
With a changing environment "...we have a need to bring in new infor-
mation which will disrupt the internal organization but will help us
better to survive and to adapt to the reality of the external world"
(Mayer 1977, p. 175). Maintaining the existing structure in the face of
conflicting evidence is maladaptive and would leave the individual with
inappropriate response schema.
Some studies of dissonance theory examine the problem of persons
confronted with information that is dissonant (inconsistent) with the
individual's existing cognitive structure. Kiesler, Collins, and Miller
noted that "...one of the basic postulates of the theory is that a
person will actively attempt to avoid situations and information that
would increase dissonance" (1969, p. 223). Yet some studies show that
the usefulness of the potentially dissonant information moderates the
avoidance tendency (see Sears and Freedman 1967). This is consistent
with the adaptive value of updating one's cognitive structure.
However, the negative consequences of inappropriate responses based
on outmoded or unsuitable schemata are not always greater than the cost
of changing the cognitive structure (see Cohen and Goldberg 1970; and
Cohen and Houston 1972). If the cost of changing the cognitive
structure exceeds the perceived risk accompanying an inappropriate
response, then the discrepant information should be avoided or rejected
(see Kelman and Baron 1968).
The Effect of Uncertainty in Discrepancy Resolution:
Another dilema confronting a person who must resolve a message-
schema discrepancy is which is more likely to be correct, the incoming
information or the schema. This is equivalent to the hypothesis testing
dilemma facing researchers. They can make an error by saying a relation-
ship exists when it doesn't or they can make an error by saying that a
relationship doesn't exist when it does (see Mayer 1977, Chapter 2 for a
hypothesis testing approach to concept learning). Thus, a person can
make an error by rejecting incoming information when it is true or by
modifying his cognitive structure when the incoming information is
false. The resolution of this dilemma should depend on the confidence
the person has in his own representation compared to the confidence he
has in the source of the message. Kelman (1961) proposed that the
perceived credibility of the source depends upon the trustworthiness and
the expertise that the source is perceived to have. Of course, the
content of the message itself (i.e., phrasing, logic, arguments) also
affects the perceived likelihood of its correctness.
Isolation of Inconsistent Beliefs within the Cognitive Structure:
Kelman (1961) suggests an interesting property of a person's cog-
nitive structure that is in line with the context-dependent-description-
view of memory schema suggested by Bobrow and Norman (1975). This
property is the ability for someone to keep responses separated by the
context to which they are appropriate. Thus, inconsistencies refer only
to the subsystem within which the response resides. One response may be
inconsistent when viewed within the person's total value system, yet may
be perfectly acceptable given that it is expressed within the context of
gaining the favor of someone with the reward and punishment power.
Similarly, some responses may only be consistent within the context of
establishing a self-defining relationship between the individual and a
group or another individual. Kelman (1961) suggests that as the
generality of the affected schema increases to include the person's
value system, credibility of the source of information becomes the
criterion for judging the veracity of the information. Kelman states
that the relevant source variables differ depending upon the context
within which the schema is relevant. If the schema is relevant within
the context of seeking rewards and avoiding punishments, the reward and
punishment power of the source is the relevant variable. If the context
is one in which the schema establish a self-defining relationship, then
the attractiveness of the target individual or group is the relevant
variable. Tedeschi and Lindskold (1976, p. 336) add status as a
relevant source variable.
Given these source variables, a person has another alternative when
confronted with information that is inconsistent with his cognitive
structure. In addition to the elaboration options of modifying the
incoming information or the existing schema, he can also deprecate the
power, attractiveness, credibility, or status of the source. This could
justify maintaining the prior structure in the face of discrepant infor-
mation. Another option would be to switch relevant contexts: "Sure, I
said that; but I don't really believe it. I just said it so he
would...etc." Or, "I just behave that way around my fraternity
Message Recall Over Time: A Structural View of Memory
After a person has been exposed to a message, what will be
recalled? Many researchers of memory have used a classification scheme
that assumes three separate memories: iconic or short-term sensory
storage; short-term or active memory; and long-term storage. (See
Atkinson and Shiffrin 1968; Neisser 1967; and Lindsay and Norman 1977.)
This approach assumes that information longevity depends on the memory
in which it resides--only a few seconds in iconic storage; about 20
seconds in short-term memory unless the material is rehearsed; and an
indefinite time in long-term storage. It is further assumed that the
information has a different form in the three memories: a sensory
image, corresponding to the mode of presentation (i.e., acoustic,
visual, tactual, kinesthetic) in short-term sensory storage; primarily
verbal in short-term or active memory; and primarily conceptual
(semantic) in long-term memory. It is postulated that information can
be accessed from long-term memory (LTM) and rehearsed in short-term
memory (STM) along with information that has been converted from iconic
to verbal form. Rehearsal is then considered a necessary activity to
transfer the contents of STM to LTM. "We shall use the term memory cell
to refer to a set of memories which are activated and then stored
together within the long-term memory of the subject. The items within a
memory cell may include those which have been presented to the subject
from the external world and those associated thoughts which are
activated from the subject's own long-term memory" (Posner 1973, p. 29).
Message Recall Over Time: A Processing Viewpoint
Another approach to memory phenomenon eliminates the strictures
associated with presuming three separate structures. This other
approach views memory persistence as a result of the extent of
processing, rather than as a result of which memory structure the
information resides in. As originally formulated, this approach
considered memory retention to be a function of depth of processing:
"...processing levels may be more usefully envisaged as a continuum of
analysis. Thus, memory, too, is viewed as a continuum from the tran-
sient products of sensory analyses to highly durable products of
semantic associative operations" (Craik and Lockhart 1972, p. 676). In
1975, Craik and Tulving offered a slightly different view: "A more
promising notion is that retention differences should be attributed to
degrees of stimulus elaboration rather than to differences in depth" (p.
279). This view has empirical support for recall of words (Craik and
Tulving 1975) and for sentences (Triesman and Tuxworth 1974; Mistler-
Lachman 1974). Norman and Bobrow (1976, p. 128) offer a similar view.
"A description based on the physical features of the item works only as
long as those physical cues are relevant to the addressing structure of
the memory.... Some description of the contents or meaning of the items
appears to be necessary for future retrieval." (See also Kintsch 1977,
Slobin offers an interesting footnote (1974, p. 129) that relates
the effect of language on the focus of research efforts and is relevant
to the competing views of memory: "In a similar vein, consider the many
nouns used by psychologists--'mind', 'behavior', 'cognition', 'rules'...
Our vocabulary can lead us astray here as well, promoting an endless
search for psychological 'entities' where we ought to seek understanding
of processes and dynamics, equilibrium and disequilibrium, and other
more 'verb like' notions."
Whichever approach is most appropriate, the conclusion is the same:
elaboration of an incoming message by relating it to existing memory
schemata facilitates long-term retention, and memory for physical
properties of the stimulus will be short unless those properties were
unusual. (See Kolers and Ostry 1974; and Bobrow and Norman 1975, p.
The Role of Elaboration in Memory:
A cue representing any part of the composite, elaborated memory
unit will allow access to the entire unit (Craik and Tulving 1975, p.
291; Keele 1973, p. 46; Hayes-Roth 1977, p. 262). Unless physical
features of a stimulus are unique, physical cues access so many memory
units that a single memory unit cannot be accessed unambiguously. On
the other hand, extensive elaboration provides many cues that may access
the memory unit. Simultaneous description of the memory unit by multiple
associations also makes that unit more highly differentiated and makes
designation of the unit less ambiguous when recalled. "Each 'deeper'
description disambiguates the item further from a wider range of
possible retrieval contexts" (Norman and Bobrow 1976, p. 129; see also
Kintsch 1977, p. 361).
Elaboration also organizes information within memory. "An
integrated or congruous encoding thus yields better memory performance,
first because a more elaborate trace is laid down and, second, because
richer encoding implies greater compatibility with the structure, rules,
and organization of semantic memory. This structure, in turn, is drawn
upon to facilitate retrieval processes" (Craik and Tulving 1975, pp.
291-292; see also Keele 1973, pp. 44-45).
The initial processing of a message thus determines whether the
content can be unambiguously recalled and the contexts within which the
content may be recalled (Cofer 1977, p. 336; LaBerge and Samuels 1974,
p. 320; Craik and Tulving 1975; Craik and Lockhart 1972, p. 678; Lindsay
and Norman 1977, pp. 374-375; Bobrow and Norman 1975, p. 133; Shiffrin
and Schneider 1977, p. 157; Posner 1973, p. 30; Norman 1976, p. 127).
What people recall is not what occurred--"...not what was 'out
there' but what they did during encoding" (Craik and Tulving 1975,
p. 292). "...The record is not of the order of external happenings, but
rather of the order of our own thoughts at the time" (Posner 1973,
p. 29). This event-based memory can also influence semantic memory,
resulting in what Posner calls "parallel storage." "New input is always
embedded within the context of contiguous external and internal events
which are active in memory....When time is available, considerable
cross-filing and referencing of stimulus information may take place.
Thus new input can be incorporated in the hierarchical structures..."
(Posner 1973, p. 36).
However, as similar events occur in more and more contexts they can
take on more of a conceptual and less of an event-based representation.
"Although the stability of meaningful material is initially enhanced by
anchorage to relevant conceptual foci in the learner's cognitive
structure, such material is gradually subjected to the erosive influence
of the conceptualizing trend in cognitive organization. Because it is
more economical and less burdensome to retain a single inclusive concept
than to remember a large number of more specific items" (Ausubel 1962,
Reconstructive Processes in Recall:
Earlier in this chapter, the constructive nature of the encoding
process was discussed. However, recall is also reconstructive. That
is, if individuals are called upon to recall a situation or story, they
recall the overall theme or gist and fill in the detail with "plausible"
reconstructions (Kintsch 1977, p. 363). Bartlett (1932) wrote a very
influential book in which he reported numerous studies of remembering
along with his "Theory of Remembering" (Chapter 10). This recon-
structive phenomenon was very prevalent in his observations, and "In the
many thousands of cases...collected...literal recall was very rare"
(Bartlett 1932, p. 204) (See both Mayer 1977, p. 112; and Norman 1976,
p. 223 for a discussion of Bartlett's work.) Bartlett does not see this
as maladaptive: "In a world of constantly changing environment, literal
recall is extraordinarily unimportant" (Bartlett 1932, p. 204).
Recall for prose is not limited to reconstruction. It is
"...neither reproductive or constructive nor reconstructive, but all
three..." (Kintsch 1977, p. 363). Reconstruction, as does construction,
appears to be largely an inferential process. Franks and Bransford
(1972) found that sentences that could be inferred from a presented text
were recognized as having appeared even when they had not. Griggs
(1976) reports similar findings. (See also Dooling and Cristiaansen
1977, p. 428.) Kintsch (1977) reports that reconstruction increases as
the time since the presentation of a message increases. Reproduction
decreases during this period.
Howe (1970) reported another interesting time effect with repeated
exposures. Errors that appeared in initial attempts to reproduce a
prose passage were not corrected when Ss were given playback of the
prose passage immediately after the reproductive attempt. Their errors
persisted in subsequent reproductive attempts. "In the case of verbatim
recall scores, even incorrect additions are, on the average, two or
three times more likely to recur on the succeeding trial than are
previously nonrecalled items to be reproduced correctly" (Howe 1970,
Reconstruction and generalized schemata:
Reconstruction may often depend on frameworks that exist prior to
exposure to a message. "The most dramatic instances of reconstructions
that we have observed in our work occurred when we gave subjects texts
to read about topics [with] which they were quite familiar..." (Kintsch
1975, p. 99). In addition to frameworks based on personal familiarity,
many frameworks are culture-based. (See the earlier discussion of the
influence of these frameworks in the comprehension process.) Culture-
based frameworks exist for many types of communications in a society.
They consist of a set of expectations of the order and content of the
communication. In his discussion of natural narratives, Kintsch (1975,
p. 106) calls "...these expectations a narration schema." Thus, there
could be lecture schemata, conversation schemata, scientific article
schemata, story schemata, advertisement schemata, etc. Given the
framework and the topic, Ss could probably do an admirable job of
reconstructing the message with no exposure.
As it is, reconstruction probably contaminates many attempted
measures of verbatim recall. "If a person remembers the concepts
communicated in a text and how they were related as well as some
stylistic features of the passage...it would not be difficult for him or
her to produce in recall a number of sentences which look as if they
have been taken verbatim from the passage but which in fact have been
constructed from knowledge of the gist of the passage in the same way as
those recalled sentences whose structures deviate from the style and
form of the input" (Cofer, Chmielewski, and Brockway 1976, p. 197). The
greater the familiarity with the material presented and the more stan-
dardized the cultural framework for the type of passage, the more likely
is reconstruction to occur. Increasing the delay since presentation and
the length of the text should also increase reconstruction (Kintsch
1977, p. 364). It seems that this effect could be measured by asking
control Ss to produce what they think a message would have contained,
given a topic and source. The content of their responses could be
examined to determine the underlying propositional base as suggested in
the earlier discussion of comprehension (Kintsch 1974 and Kintsch 1977).
This propositional base could be compared with that extracted from
protocols collected from Ss exposed to the message. Both of these
propositional bases can be compared to the text base of the message.
In summary, recall can be expected to be strongly influenced by
elaboration and laced with reconstructions to fill in any bare spots in
the propositional framework that the person holds for the message.
Since elaboration is so crucial to the communication process, anything
that interferes with elaboration will have a drastic effect upon
retention of a message. Because of this importance, interference and
processing limitations will be discussed next.
Many persuasion studies which have presumed the intervening role of
subvocalizations in the communication process have utilized distracting
tasks to partially preoccupy the message recipient and, thereby, prevent
subvocalizations which may be counter to the intent of the message. To
properly evaluate these studies, the limitations on message processing
must be examined.
Attentional Requirements for Message Processing:
Examination of the problem of interference requires an under-
standing of different types of processing--those that require attention
and those that do not. Many schemata in memory contain entire pro-
cedures that, when activated, can run their course as a standardized
response. Other responses are the result of the activation of new,
unique combinations of schemata. Standardized responses are lower level
responses such as word recognition or the extraction of the physical
features of stimuli. These lower level responses are automatic. That
is, they do not require attention (LaBerge and Samuels 1974, p. 295;
Craik and Lockhart 1972, p. 672; Shiffrin and Schneider 1977, p. 159).
Their activation is called "effortless" (Posner 1973, p. 40). Higher-
level, non-standardized responses require attention--they are "effort-
ful" (Posner 1973, p. 40).
Attention has been used to refer to several different concepts in
the cognitive psychological literature: alertness; selectivity of
information source; and a "limited central processing capacity" (Posner
and Boies 1971, p. 391). It is the processing capacity limitation
concept which applies here. "Basically, the literature from
experimental psychology on attention indicates that the central high-level
cognitive mechanisms have a limited processing capacity" (Bobrow and
Norman 1975, p. 138). "Task performances that deteriorate under
simultaneous conditions are said to demand attention" (Keele 1973,
p. 4). So attention is defined in terms of interference. If two
processes interfere with each other, they both require attention or a
part of the limited processing capacity.
Automaticity, in turn, is defined in terms of attention. "Our
criterion for deciding when a skill or subskill is automatic is that it
can complete its processing while attention is directed elsewhere"
(LaBerge and Samuels 1974, p. 295). Automaticity increases with the
familiarity of the stimulus and the number of repetitions of the
response (Shiffrin and Schneider 1977, p. 159; LaBerge and Samuels 1974,
Degree of elaboration and attention:
The greater the depth of processing, the less likely is the
processing to be automatic and, therefore, the more likely it is to
require attention (Bobrow and Norman 1975, p. 143). Thus, while
accessing the meaning of familiar words in memory may be automatic, the
deeper elaborative processing necessary to extract the propositional
underpinning of a sentence requires attention (Posner 1973, p. 139).
How extensive is the interference between two processes that
require attention? "In general, one does not err much by assuming that
only a single high-level task can be performed at any given time"
(Bobrow and Norman 1975, p. 139). A person cannot carry out the
elaborative process and another high-level process at the same time
(Posner and Boies 1971, p. 391).
Speaking interferes with listening unless the phrases spoken have
little content as in "carrier phrases such as 'Hello' and 'This is'"
(Broadbent 1952, p. 272). However, it is possible to perform one
high-level process and others which are automatic at the same time
(LaBerge and Samuels 1974, p. 295). Pintner (1913) used vocalized
counting to occupy the speech musculature and, thereby, prevent
articulation of the text during reading. "At first there were many
hesitations and interruptions, but gradually, the process became
automatic" (Pintner 1913, p. 140). Thus, his Ss were able to read
"silently" while speaking the numbers. (See also Sokolov 1969, p. 539.)
Interference and elaboration:
Shadowing an oral message, on the other hand, requires a great deal
of attention. While listening to a tape recorded reading of a prose
passage, "...the listener is instructed to repeat what he hears con-
currently, in a subdued or whispered voice" (Cherry 1966, p. 281). So
much attention is required to perform this task that the content of
simultaneously presented messages cannot be recalled. In fact, the Ss
may not be able to state if the the non-shadowed material was in English
or in some other language (Posner 1973, p. 126).
Memory is not just a problem for non-shadowed material following
the shadowing task. The task is so demanding that Ss are unable to
elaborate on the shadowed material. As a result, recall of the shadowed
material is poor, "...especially if it is at all 'deep' or difficult"
(Cherry 1966, p. 281; see Norman 1976, p. 19 for a related discussion).
Norman and Bobrow (1975) distinguish between data-limited and
resource-limited processes in their discussion of processing capacity
limitations. Processes such as signal-detection in which a person must
only decide if a light is on or not are considered data-limited and
require very little of the available processing resources. However,
"...the more conceptually based the decision process the more processing
effort required: here, the resource limitation can severely limit the
performance capability" (Bobrow and Norman 1975, p. 143).
Figure 4 shows the relationship (proposed by Norman and Bobrow
1975) between the portion of the limited processing resource devoted to
a task and performance on that task. In this figure, L represents the
upper limit to the processing resource. This upper limit may increase
with arousal (Bobrow and Norman 1975, p. 140). The resource-performance
curves for three tasks are represented in the figure--shadowing, word
recognition, and tone recognition. These curves are depicted as
becoming less resource limited and more data limited as they progress
from shadowing to tone recognition. If shadowing were perceived by an
individual as the primary task and RPRIMARY were allocated to it, then
RSECONDARY could potentially be allocated to a secondary task such as
word recognition or tone recognition. The figure shows the level at
which these two secondary tasks could be performed if RSECONDARY were
allocated to their performance.
Thus, performance of a conceptually-based task may leave enough
available processing capacity to simultaneously perform a simple signal
detection task, but not enough to carry out another high-level, con-
ceptually-based task. (See Reitman 1974, p. 375 for the effect of
"surreptitious rehearsal" on signal detection performance.) In addition
to requiring a part of the limited processing capacity (space);
elaborative processes also require time (Posner 1973, p. 93; Keele 1973,
p. 3; Norman 1976, p. 100).
Word recognition -->
R r Resource
= L Resources
"Analysis of shadowing with two secondary tasks. (after
Norman and Bobrow, 1975)" (from Kintsch 1977, p. 138).
The processing of a message may interfere with reception of sub-
sequent portions of that same message. "The performance of transfor-
mations upon current input may preempt the processing capacity so that
the storing of raw data is neglected" (Posner 1973, p. 146; see also
Norman 1976, p. 126; and Keele 1973, p. 37). The higher the rate of
presentation, the greater the deficit (Posner 1973, p. 34).
Message compression (see MacLachlan and La Barbera 1978), in which
the rate of speech in a message is artificially increased, should
decrease elaboration because of time pressures. Craik and Lockhart
(1972, p. 670) suggest that in such circumstances, the decrease in the
degree of elaboration will decrease long-term recall, but will have
little effect on immediate recall. Presenting a speech-compressed
message with pauses between phrases may allow intermittent elaboration
and, hence, greater recall with no increase in overall message pre-
Interference is somewhat mode-specific. That is, two verbal tasks
interfere with each other more than a spacial and a verbal task inter-
fere with each other (Posner 1973, p. 141; Brooks 1968, p. 354).
Processing strategies for coping with limited processing capacity:
Given a limited processing capacity, how can people extract and
process significant information from the melange of stimuli impinging on
their senses? Several strategies are used.
One of the most intriguing strategies is characterized as the
"cocktail party problem" (Cherry 1966, p. 279). This is the ability of
people to select one from among many simultaneous converstaions at will.
People use such cues as directionality, voice quality, context, and
transitional probabilities to help them in following one of the
conversations (Cherry 1966, p. 280). However, stimuli that have high
importance to an individual may intrude upon, i.e., interfere with, the
conversation that is being monitored by the individual (Broadbent 1952,
p. 271). That is because all stimuli impinging upon the senses are
processed to determine their pertinence to the individual. Deutsch and
Deutsch (1963, p. 85) suggest that only those stimuli which indicate an
importance which is above the current threshold for the individual will
interfere with other attention-demanding processes. This threshold may
become lowered, thus exposing more stimuli, when the individual is
aroused, making it difficult to process information from any of them.
Deutsch and Deutsch further propose that important messages increase the
general arousal level of the individual. As a result, "...messages
which would not have been heeded before will command attention if they
follow in the wake of a more important message" (1963, p. 85).
In addition to selectivity, switching or alternating between
stimuli is another strategy that can be employed to overcome processing
limitation. Since processing resources can be allocated to different
stimuli by choice, an individual may switch back and forth, sampling
information from alternate stimuli. How much information is lost
depends upon the presentation rate and the predictability of the
messages (See Bobrow and Norman 1975, p. 139; and Shiffrin and Schneider
1977, p. 156).
Conceptual processing without attention:
The lack of recall of messages presented while processing resources
are directed elsewhere is somewhat misleading. There is evidence that
the non-attended message modifies the perceived content of a shadowed
message even when the non-attended message cannot be recalled (Makay
There is also evidence that some higher-level cognitive processes
can proceed without conscious attention being directed toward them. An
example is the incubation phenomenon in which problem solutions appear
to evolve during a period in which attention is directed elsewhere
(Slobin 1974, p. 100; see also Norman and Bobrow 1976 for an anecdotal
illustration of the process). However, it may be possible that the
incubation process, though unconscious, requires part of the limited
processing capacity but is serially alternated with other conscious-
attention demanding procedures. Since incubation is an unconscious
process, it is very difficult to study, although some inconclusive
attempts have been made (Fulgosi and Guilford 1968; Murray and Denny
1969; and Silveira 1971). This phenomenon and others such as the
tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon led Norman and Bobrow to state: "Thus, we
believe that just as the lowest levels of sensory and perceptual
processing operate subconsciously by autonomous schemata, so too do the
higher-level schemata form and process without conscious directions"
(1976, p. 129).
Spelke, Hirst, and Neisser (1976) reported a study in which Ss were
trained over seventeen weeks to extract meaning from dictation with no
decrement in simultaneous reading. Their results suggest that
processing capacity limitations may not be fixed, but may be expanded
through specific training.
Summary of effects of interfering with elaboration:
Summing up, it seems clear that the elaboration process is one
which requires part of the limited processing capacity. Except under
special circumstances (see Spelke, Hirst, and Neisser 1976), only one
higher-level process such as elaboration can be performed at one time.
If attention is directed toward another high-level process during
message presentation, the elaboration process will be disrupted. With-
out elaboration, recall of propositions presented in the message will be
poor or impossible (Keele 1973, p. 56). "...The concept of capacity is
to be understood in terms of a limitation on processing; limitations of
storage are held to be a direct consequence of this more fundamental
limitation" (Craik and Lockhart 1972, p. 674). However, the selective
ability exhibited in the "cocktail party problem" allows individuals to
direct their attention to a message, even though confronted with another
potentially distracting stimulus.
As extraneous tasks increase in complexity from simple signal
detection to a high degree of elaboration, the greater will be the
attentional deficit for the primary task. Non-attended stimuli may
modify the individual's cognitive structure--even though presentation is
Views of the Elaborative Process
Given that the elaboration process is so crucial to message
processing, it would be very useful to monitor the elaboration process
in some way. Monitoring this process would allow experimentation that
could examine the effect of various independent variables on the
elaboration process and the role of elaboration on persuasion. However,
monitoring the elaboration process requires an understanding of its
nature. Is elaboration a verbal process? Are there operational
measures that can provide access to the process?
There is a long-standing disagreement about the nature of thinking.
In Theaetetus, Plato equates thinking with speaking to oneself: "'The
soul when thinking appears to me to be just talking--asking questions of
itself and answering them, affirming and denying...I mean, to oneself
and in silence, not aloud or to another'" (Sokolov 1972, p. 34).
Watson states that: "The behaviorist advances the view that what
the psychologists have hitherto called thought is in short nothing but
talking to ourselves" (1966, p. 10). Definitions of rehearsal share
this notion of verbal inner speech. "Define the term rehearsal to be
conscious purposeful subvocal repetition of the items to be retained"
(Reitman 1971, p. 186). "Rehearsal is a type of inner speech by which
we maintain a limited amount of material in memory indefinitely" (Norman
1976, p. 100).
There are two issues that are involved here. The first is that the
currency of thought is language. The second is the subjective exper-
ience of inner speech. "We must be careful to remember the distinction
between language and speech" (Slobin 1974, p. 99). The relationship
between inner speech and thought will be discussed in the next section.
Is Thinking a Language Process?:
Must thinking utilize words? "To divorce thought from language
obviously verged on the absurd and this philosophy was completely
rejected by Kant, Hegel and the linguists who followed them, Humbolt and
Steinthal, for whom language was the principal actor or 'spirit', no
thought being able to exist without language" (Sokolov 1972, pp. 18-19).
Others, however, see a more flexible role for language in the
thought process. "We cannot necessarily put all our mental experience
into [existing] words" (Cherry 1966, p. 79). "Has not every one of us
struggled for words although the connection between 'things' was already
clear" (Einstein 1954). "Surely we learn nonverbal experiences without
any recourse to words" (Norman 1976, p. 98).
For some writers, words play the role of fixing ephemeral thoughts
that may or may not have occurred in verbal form. Sokolov (1972, p. 19)
relates the Hamiltonian analogy that compares thinking to digging a
tunnel in sand: "Hamilton points out that when digging a tunnel in sand
one cannot advance without securing every inch of the tunnel with an
arch of brick, and that the same occurs in thinking: each step of the
thought process has be to fixated with words, so that no forward move-
ment of thought is possible without words." "The only way to pin down a
thought before it can slip away and fly out the window is to jump on it
with both verbal feet, to pin it down with language, by diagrams, or by
mathematical symbols--though such language may be inadequate" (Cherry
1966, p. 79).
John Locke (1690) also relates the inequality between word and
thought: "'When we begin to fix by means of words...abstract ideas...
there is a danger of error. Words should not be treated as adequate
pictures of things; they are merely arbitrary signs for certain
ideas--chosen by historical accident and liable to change'" (Cherry
1966, p. 70; see also Cicourel 1974, p. 67 and Pylyshyn 1973, p. 7).
However, the reader should recall the earlier discussion of linguistic
relativity and determinism as it relates the effect of language on the
codification of events (see Slobin 1974).
Cognitive representations of experience and knowledge occur as
motor programs, imagery, and as language (Slobin 1974, p. 110); see also
Lindsay and Norman 1977). It is likely that we respond to messages by
activiating each of these on occasion. "Like all word concepts,
turbulence is defined in a person's lexicon, both by stating its
relationship with other word concepts and by means of appropriate
sensory imagery and motor programs" (Kintsch 1975, p. 91; see also 1977,
Pylyshyn (1973) discusses the possibility of another cognitive
"language" which may serve as a transitional representation between
imagery and verbalization: "the need to postulate a more abstract
representation--one which resembles neither pictures nor words and is
not accessible to subjective experience--is unavoidable" (p. 5).
In summary, it appears that thinking, and thus elaboration, is
sometimes a verbal process, but that is not necessarily verbal.
Can the Elaboration Process be Monitored?:
Centralists vs peripheralists:
Is it possible for a researcher to examine the elaboration process?
There are two distinct viewpoints reflected in answers to this question.
One is that held by the centralists and the other is held by the peri-
pheralists. "Crudely put, the centralist theory says that thinking
occurs only in the brain, while the peripheralist theory holds that
thinking necessarily involves muscular movements" (McGuigan 1966,
pp. 4-5). The implications are that if the centralists are correct,
some thinking may take place with no measurable physical responses
occurring, whereas if the peripheralists are right, thinking can be
monitored by measuring the appropriate motor discharges (McGuigan 1966,
p. 294). "...we shall consider the major (priority) definitional
indicator [of thinking] as the composite of bodily activities that
necessarily occur following the presentation of a language stimulus"
(McGuigan 1973, p. 346).
Watson is the epitomy of a peripheralist (behaviorist): "A whole
man thinks with his whole body in each and every part" (1920, p. 88).
Watson was exasperated with the introspectionists whom he thought were
concerned with merely attacking each other's definitions and training
when they should have been concerned with the introspectionist approach
itself (1913). "The time seems to have come when psychology must
discard all reference to consciousness; when it need no longer delude
itself into thinking that it is making mental states the objective of
observation" (Watson 1913, p. 163). Watson's approach was not new.
Pintner (1913, p. 132) reported Stricker's (1880) view that: "Ideas of
words consist of nothing else than the consciousness of the excitation
of those motor nerves that are connected with the articulatory muscles."
Some of the peripheralists believe that muscular responses play an
organizing role during thinking. "It may be that the speech muscle
activity generates a linguistic code that is carried to the brain...
[and] these afferent neural impulses may help integrate the various
verbal regions of the brain" (McGuigan 1973, p. 372). Again Pintner
showed that this was not a new idea as he quoted Bawden (1900): "There
must be this return wave of kineasthetic imagery to select and organize
the visual and auditory perceptions before they can have meaning"
(Pintner 1913, p. 134; see also McGuigan 1970, p. 309). (See McGuigan
1970, pp. 321-322 for descriptions of intermediate, as well as
extremist, positions in the centralist--peripheralist controversy).
Approaches to monitoring inner speech:
Historically, there have been numerous ingenious techniques
invented to measure responses accompanying and indicating thinking.
Most, especially the earlier approaches, assumed that thinking is a form
of covert (inner) speech. This is a peripheralist viewpoint and
presumes that the use of language as units of thought will be
accompanied by inner speech as a locus of thought (see Slobin 1974, p. 99).
"From the psychophysiological point of view, internal speech is defined
as latent and reduced articulation of words accompanied by heighted
tonus of the speech musculature or by disconnected bursts of speech
motor activity and sometimes by entirely obvious movements of the speech
organs" (Sokolov 1969, p. 568). Others, such as Watson, believed that
the loci of thought process extended to responses involving the whole
body. "...I believe that we do [think with our whole bodies], when one
considers the massive amount of evidence that implicates the eyes, arms,
GSR, heart, etc., in thought processes" (McGuigan 1973, p. 374).
Measurement approaches to thought-related responses have included:
a) observation, in which lip movements and audible whispering were
recorded (see Pintner 1913); b) various pneumatic devices in which
rubber bags or bulbs were placed in the mouth or against the larynx and
resulting changes in air volume were transferred to mechanical recording
devices; c) a modified glass into which the tongue was inserted--
resultant movements were then mechanically recorded; d) a suction cup
which was on the end of a lever was attached to the tongue and the lever
amplified tongue movements (see Thorsen 1925, pp. 3-4; Lyon and Waengler
1976, p. 15; and Sokolov 1972, Ch. 2 for a description of these mech-
In the 1920's Jacobson, in collaboration with two engineers at Bell
Telephone Laboratories, developed a neurovoltmeter which could measure
fractions of a microvolt. This was then used to monitor muscular stim-
ulation that accompanied covert mental events (Jacobson 1973). It was
found that the particular muscles stimulated were highly task-specific
"...and occur in the part of the body that one would use should the
response have been overtly made" (McGuigan 1970, pp. 314-315).
Many studies have been done which have utilized this type of equip-
ment with needle, suction cup, or wire grid electrodes (see Lyon and
Waengler 1976; and Hardyck, Petrinovich, and Ellsworth 1966). The
specificity of response allows researchers studying covert speech
phenomena to monitor speech-related musculature (see McGuigan 1973,
1966; and Sokolov 1972 for reports of numerous studies).
Other measures of thought-related events:
Additional indicator measures include electroencephalography for
monitoring central nervous system events (McGuigan 1966; Krugman 1971);
and pupilometry (Hess 1968), electrocardiography and electrodermal
measures for autonomic events (McGuigan 1966 and 1973).
Evidence from electromyographic research:
What insight do electrophysiological measures provide about mental
events? Electromyographic (EMG) indications of covert verbal activity
have been found to accompany both known covert speech, listening to an
oral presentations and reading (see Sokolov 1972; McGuigan, Keller, and
Stanton 1964; McGuigan 1970, 1966, 1973; Lyon and Waengler 1976).
Sokolov's account of when speech motor impulses occur sounds much like a
description of elaboration: "They...occur when the subject analyzes the
meaning of perceived speech (e.g., in picking out the main point, in
reformulating the sentence, etc.)" (1969, p. 555). Here, at last, it
would seem, is a measuring technique that will provide a means of moni-
toring the elaboration process. Two assumptions are needed: that the
elaboration process utilizes covert speech and, thereby, language; and
that all speech-oriented thoughts will have associated electrical
activity that can be detected by the use of electromyographic equipment.
These assumptions are not justified.
First, some types of elaboration may consist of non-language
responses. Secondly, EMG indications do not always accompany language-
based phenomena--thinking or listening. In fact, Hardyck, Petrinovich
and Ellsworth (1966) were able to train Ss to extinguish subvocalization
during reading by giving feedback of covert speech activity detected by
"...mesh electrodes placed over the thyroid cartilage" (p. 1467). This
negative result was also found with observational and mechanical
measurement approaches (see Slobin 1974, p. 118; and Thorsen 1925).
Determinants of EMG indications of thought processes. The regis-
tration of covert verbal activity seems to depend upon how difficult or
novel the thoughts are and whether the response is one that has become
automatized (Sokolov 1969, p. 569). For listening, a "...significant
difference was found for covert lip activity on graded verbal stimuli.
As test passages increased in difficulty, mean passages increased in
difficulty, mean phasic muscle activity for the lip showed a corres-
ponding increase" (Lyon and Waengler 1976, p. 7).
In reading, textual difficulty also affects measured covert speech
activity (McGuigan 1973, p. 364; 1970, p. 317). It also appears that
there are individual differences in exhibited covert speech activity
during language tasks. More proficient readers exhibit less covert
speech activity (McGuigan 1973, p. 364). "...One's ability to use
language may be an important factor in determining whether covert speech
activity at the articulators is present for extracting meaning" (Lyon
and Waengler 1976, p. 20). LaBerge and Samuels' (1974, p. 306) dis-
cussion of reading suggests why this may be the case: "If he is reading
easy material at a fast pace, he may select as visual units words or
even word groups; if he is reading difficult material at a slow pace, he
may select spelling patterns and unitize these into word units at the
phonological level." This may be a case in which the musculature or
acoustic imagery can aid in the thinking process, just as when reading
very difficult material, it may help to read the material aloud.
Autonomic indicators of thought processes:
An autonomic indicator with thought monitoring potential is pupil
dilation (Hess 1968). Pupil dilation has been found to accompany
emotional responses as well as the solving of difficult problems (see
Blackwell, Hensel, and Sternthal 1970 for a review). However, pupil
dilation seems to be too generalized to be a useful indicator. "The
authors' current impression is that pupillary dilations probably accom-
pany any substantial increase in mental activity, regardless of the
pleasantness of this activity" (Blackwell, Hensel, and Sternthal 1970,
Another measure that may be useful in monitoring central nervous
system events accompanying thought processes is the electroencephalogram
(EEG) (McGuigan 1966, p. 294; Krugman 1971).
In summary, it appears that thought processes sometimes utilize
language and sometimes result in measureable concomitant psychophysio-
Verbal report of thought processes:
One remaining avenue of monitoring the elaboration process is to
use the Ss as observers of their own thought processes. Through intro-
spection, the Ss try to recall the thought process and to give a verbal
report of it. This record is called a verbal protocol (Lindsay and
Norman 1972, p. 502). For this to be an accurate rendering of what
occurred, the process must: a) be observable by the subject; b) be
recognized as a significant part of the thought process; c) be verbal-
izable; d) be recallable.
Self-awareness of one's thought processes:
For a mental event to be observable by the Ss, it must be one of
which he is aware. There is some evidence that some thought processes
are not observable. One recurring phenomenon is incubation. There are
many introspective reports of problem solutions that have "popped into a
person's head" after a period in which no conscious attention was
directed to solving the problem (see Norman and Bobrow 1976, pp. 115-116
for a personal account of the phenomenon). In these cases, the process
was not observed by the Ss and could not be described.
Another example is "highway hypnosis" (Williams 1963). In this
situation, Ss report driving for miles without being aware of the myriad
decisions that must have been made to keep the car under control. These
are both examples of automaticity. The first is a high-level, con-
ceptually-driven process and the second is a low-level, data-driven
process. Norman and Bobrow (1976, p. 129) suggest that the first
(incubation) is a result of high-level schemata communicating directly
with each other within our cognitive structure, without conscious
attention. The second, a series of automatized responses, also occurs
without conscious attention. However, lack of awareness means that no
report of the processes can be made--that there is no "...introspective
knowledge of them" (Natsoulas 1970, p. 92; see also Broadbent 1958, p.
Recognition of significant mental events. Since some processes are
not observable, those that are may take on undeserved significance.
"While most psychologists are willing to concede that not all important
psychological processes and structures are available to conscious
inspection, it is not generally recognized that the converse may also
hold: that what is available to conscious inspection may not be what
plays the important causal role in psychological processes" (Pylyshyn
1973, pp. 2-3).
In the 1800's introspectionist researchers trained Ss to recognize
significant mental events and to describe their thought processes.
However, the results of the introspective process depended upon the
particular training that the Ss had received. In attacking the tech-
nique, Watson (1913, p. 163) sums up the typical diatribe between
introspectionists: "If you fail to reproduce my findings, it is not due
to some fault in your apparatus or in the control of your stimulus, but
it is due to the fact that your introspection in untrained." Never-
theless, the fact remains that Ss may not report some mental events that
played a role in the elaboration process. Training, on the other hand,
may only standardize reports (see the discussion of linguistic relati-
vity and determinism) and lead to reports of events that the Ss think
should have occurred. "...The instructions can impose on the reports an
artificial, non-spontaneous character including support for the pre-
conceptions implicit in the instructions...[the] instructions may [also]
interact with individual characteristics (like intelligence)" (Natsoulas
1967, p. 253).
Verbalization of mental events. Another requirement for accurate
reporting of mental events is that they be verbalizable. Slobin (1974,
p. 100) discusses the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon. In this situation
an individual cannot verbalize a word to express a concept. Yet it is
apparent that the thought of the word has occurred since Ss recognize
the word if it is presented and can often tell what letter it begins
with and how many syllables it has!
People often have difficulty expressing thoughts in words when the
thoughts did not occur in words. Images, emotions, and intuition must
be transformed before they can be reported (see Slobin 1974, p. 101;
Cherry 1966, pp. 71, 78-79; and Cicourel 1974, p. 67).
Recall of mental events. Another limitation to the accuracy of
verbal reports of mental events is the inability to recall exactly what
transpired. This limitation was recognized as early as 1882 by John
Stuart Mill. Boring (1953, p. 171) reports: "It is not strictly
immediate, Mill thought, for it involves memory--immediate memory,
perhaps; yet immediate memory is not the datum itself and comes with a
chance for error in it" (see also Bakan 1954, p. 109).
The very process of reporting what had occurred would prevent
maintenance rehearsal of other thoughts that had occurred. The same
interference could result from listening to the instructions for
reporting the episode. Thoughts would, thus, have to be retrieved from
memory or reconstructed (see the earlier discussion of reconstructive
process in memory). The individual could work backwards from the
present belief structure to infer and reconstruct the elaborative
responses that must have occurred to reach that state (see Bartlett
1932, p. 187).
Boring describes the typical introspective episode in Titchener's
labs in the 1800's: "It could take twenty minutes to describe the
conscious content of a second and a half and at the end of that period
the observer was cudgeling his brain to recall what had actually
happened more than a thousand seconds ago, relying, of course, on
inference" (1953, p. 174).
The greater the elapsed time between the thought episode and the
report, the less likely is verbatim recall of any verbal portion of that
episode, and the greater is the likelihood of a rephrasing of the under-
lying propositional base of that thought sequence (Kintsch 1977,
The major shortcomings of introspective accounts are that the
report is distinct from the event (Bakan 1954, p. 107; Natsoulas 1967,
p. 251; Boring 1953, p. 184), and that the Ss as an observer is a source
of error: because the event was not observable; because the Ss did not
recognize significant events; because the Ss cannot verbalize his
thoughts; or because he cannot accurately recall the character of his
Conclusions regarding verbal reports of thought processes. Is it
then necessary to agree with Nisbett and Wilson? "The evidence reviewed
is then consistent with the most pessimistic view concerning people's
ability to report accurately about their cognitive processes.....Such
reports, as well as predictions, may have little value except for
whatever utility they may have in the study of verbal explanations per
se" (1977, p. 247).
It is unlikely that any verbal protocol will exactly mirror the
elaboration process. Its value lies in its ability to provide insight
into the product of that elaboration. Verbal protocols that reflect
reconstructions based on inferences from the present state or upon
rephrasings of the underlying propositional base of elaborative
responses can provide evidence of the nature in which a message was
coded--of the underlying propositional representation of the content of
the message as it was perceived by the receiver.
THE INTERVENING ROLE OF SUBVOCAL RESPONSES IN THE PROCESSING OF
There is one overriding difference between the studies of message
processing performed within the realm of cognitive psychology and those
under the aegis of social psychology and marketing. Cognitive psy-
chological studies have been concerned primarily with delineating pro-
cessing activities and the limitations on these activities, while social
psychology and marketing have been primarily concerned with how these
factors affect persuasion. This chapter will present an elaboration
model of message processing based on the processing principles which
were presented in the second chapter. Then studies of persuasion will
be positioned vis-a-vis the relationships portrayed in the model. The
operationalization of predictor and criterion variables utilized in the
various studies will be examined for appropriateness and validity.
Following this, the evidence from these studies will be examined for
their consistency with the elaboration model.
The conceptualization of elaboration draws on a definition proposed
by Tulving and Madigan (1970): "Elaboration coding refers to the
storage of additional nonredundant information with the verbal unit to
be remembered" (p. 462). They used this definition to distinguish
elaboration coding from the use of various mnemonic systems which
contain information redundant with the unit being coded. This second
type of coding they called "substitution coding" (p. 462). Tulving and
Madigan considered that "coding operations" could be viewed as
synonymous with "differential covert responses that subjects are assumed
to make to verbal items, implicit associative responses [and] mediating
responses..." (p. 461). (The reader will recall the distinction between
maintenance rehearsal and elaborative rehearsal from the discussion of
the elaborative process in Chapter 2.)
Craik and Lockhart (1972) used this concept in their discussion of
levels of processing. "After the stimulus has been recognized, it may
undergo further processing by enrichment or elaboration. For example,
after a word is recognized, it may trigger associations, images or
stories on the basis of the subject's past experience with the word"
It is in the same sense that message elaboration is used in the
present discussion. As such, it does not apply to the processing of a
message to the "surface structure" (see Chapter 2) level, but rather
additional associative responses which link the message content with
other schemata within the message recipient's cognitive structure.
These elaborative (associative) responses could be made when the message
is first processed in an externally generated fashion or at a later time
in an internally generated fashion.
Persuasion will be considered as the shifting of a person's cog-
nitive structure from the positions held prior to the communicative
episode to positions closer to those intended by the communicator as a
result of the communicative episode. The person's cognitive structure
is considered to be all of the schemata held in memory: values,
beliefs, goals hierarchy, episodes, semantic knowledge and motor
programs. Persuasion, thus, occurs when there is a change in any of
these areas, in the direction intended by the communicator, resulting
from a communicative incident.
An Elaboration Model of Message Processing
A message processing model which allows the examination of per-
suasion studies can be developed from the theoretical background
examined in the previous chapter. The model incorporates the following
1. Processsing of messages involves a progression from physical
feature extraction to the development of a fully elaborated pro-
positional structure. However, elaboration need not wait until all
lower level processing has been completed (Norman and Bobrow 1975,
2. Processing may stop at any level.
3. The length of time the mental representation of the message
will be retained depends on the extent to which it was processed--
more extensively processed messages will be retained longer.
4. The greater the discrepancy between the implications of the
message and the cognitive structure of the recipient, the greater
should be the motivation for elaboration. However, the urgency for
elaboration is probably moderated by other variables, such as
communicator credibility, centrality of the issue, etc. The extent
of elaboration probably depends upon the ease with which the dis-
crepancy can be resolved.
5. Processing requires both time and space (as a portion of the
limited central processing capacity).
6. Activities which compete for the time or space necessary for
processing will reduce the extent to which a message is processed.
7. Reducing opportunity for elaboration should affect long-term
recall more than short-term recall.
8. When processing a message, the content and operations of
elaboration will be determined by message structure (expectations
elicited early in the message will affect processing of later
portions in a top-down fashion); by the source; by past experience
of the recipient (familiarity with the message); by the cognitive
structure to which it is related; and the restrictions on the
portion of the limited processing capacity that can be allocated to
9. How closely the post-message cognitive structure (the rec-
ipient's text base) approximates that intended by the speaker or
writer depends upon: a) the degree to which the implications of
the words and phrases used in the text are shared by the commun-
icator and recipient; b) the content of elaborations made by the
recipient and; c) the initial position of the recipient relative to
that of the source. A very simplified elaboration model of message
processing that incorporates these characteristics was presented in
Chapter 1 and is reproduced here for the reader's convenience
The elaboration process occurs within a context and may be affected
by various contextual variables: message source; situation; surrounding
environment--such as background noise; and concurrent tasks performed by
the individual. The nature of elaboration and the motivation to ela-
borate is also influenced by the prior cognitive structure extant at the
time of message onset. Another influence on message elaboration is the
message itself, that is, message variables such as argument order,
grammar, speed of presentation, signal quality, or the inherent
Figure 5. An Elaboration Model of Message Processing
persuasiveness of the arguments used. A final influence on elaboration is
the post cognitive structure--changes induced early in the episode
affect the manner in which following portions of the message are ela-
Relationships Portrayed by the Model
Given the model presented in Figure 5, many relationships may be
selected for investigation: the effect of message variables on the post
cognitive structure or on elaboration (A-E or A-D relationships); the
effect of context on elaboration or on the post cognitive structure (B-D
or B-E relationships); the effect of pre-existing cognitive structure on
those same two variables (C-D and C-E relationships); and finally, the
effect of elaboration on the post cognitive structure (D-E relation-
ships). Interactive effects of context, message, and pre-existing
cognitive structure on elaboration or on the modified cognitive
structure may also be examined.
The remainder of this chapter will examine studies of persuasion
that have presumed that subvocal responses are an integral part of the
persuasion process--that subvocal responses play an intervening role in
the processing of persuasive communications. This discussion will begin
with an examination of the predictor variables used in these studies
vis-a-vis their relationship to the elaboration model. The operation-
alization of these predictors, as well as their proposed role in the
persuasion process, will be examined.
Next will follow a review of the criterion variables that have been
used in these studies. These criterion measures will also be positioned
relative to the elaboration model. The operationalization of the
criterion variables will be examined for their appropriateness and their
The third part of this examination of persuasion studies will focus
on their findings. This discussion will proceed by examining, in turn,
each relationship which is portrayed in the elaboration model. It is
organized by the type of criterion measure which is used. Studies of
similar relationships are reviewed for convergent or divergent findings.
A very frequently studied relationship is that of distracting
context variables on either elaboration or on the post cognitive
structure (B-D and B-E studies). Distraction studies have at times also
included message and/or pre-existing cognitive structure variables so
that interactive effects could be examined.
The proposed role of distraction in processing persuasive
Even the first distraction studies, which studied the effect of
contextual variables on the post cognitive structure assumed that
elaboration was an intervening variable in the relationship.
Festinger and Maccoby suggested this scenario for a listener who
was confronted with a counterattitudinal message: "...It is most likely
that under such circumstances, while he is listening to the persuasive
communication, he is very actively, inside his own mind, counterarguing,
derogating the points the communicator makes, and derogating the com-
municator himself" (1964, p. 360).
The presumption was that if negative elaboration could be prevented
by distraction, then persuasion would be enhanced. Most of the res-
earchers of the distraction effect have presumed that elaborative pro-
cessing can only proceed after successful reception and comprehension
(processing to the surface structure level). If this were true, then
distraction could interfere with additional processing (including neg-
ative elaboration), thus leaving the message relatively intact within
the recipient's cognitive structure. "As the contiguity model implies,
the distractor must not be so strong as to interfere with understanding
or learning of the persuasive message, but it must be strong enough to
interfere with production of counters" (Maccoby and Roberts 1972, p.
262). Bither also suggests this sequential processing, noting that
counterarguing ("supposedly inhibited by distraction..." (1972, p. 1))
is primarily involved in the yielding stage, but may also affect recep-
tion. He concludes that "...the range of distraction expected to
inhibit counterarguing and not completely inhibit message reception is
potentially quite narrow" (1972, p. 1). However, it seems that a person
who could not fully elaborate a message because of the competing demands
of a distractor, could elaborate by using non-message cues such as the
The elaboration model suggests that the relationship between dis-
traction and persuasion may be curvilinear. As distraction increases
its demands on the limited processing capacity, the initial effect may
be that responses to propositions offered by the communicator may be
interrupted. If these responses would have countered the communicator's
propositions, then the recipient's representation of the message may
lack these counters. However, at higher levels of distraction, reception
of the propositions would be affected, and these propositions would
not be included in the recipient's resultant, propositional represent-
ation of the communication as accommodated with his/her cognative
structure. Wyer (1974, Ch. 7) suggests such an effect based upon
McGuire's (1968) theory of persuasibility. However, this curvilinear
prediction rests upon the assumption that elaboration must follow
reception of communication content.
Given that the recipient may be aware of the content of the com-
munication, a recipient who is highly motivated to resist persuasion may
use strategies of resistance which require less of the limited
processing capacity than do point-by-point, content-based counter-
argumentation and which may proceed without (or intermittently with)
registration of message content. (Wright 1974b suggests that subjects
may switch to responses directed toward the source when time for res-
ponding is restricted).
Earlier, Kelman (1953) attempted to reduce negative elaboration by
manipulating motivation. He assumed that responses, which he thought
would usually be "self-verbalizations" (1953, p. 187), could be either
interfering or supporting. For example, he defined interfering res-
ponses as "...any implicit response made by the individual which pro-
vides motivation against the overt response he makes; which limits the
stimulus situations to which the overt response is applicable; or which
is generally irrelevant (such as aggressive or distracting responses)"
(1953, p. 187). His basic hypothesis sounds almost identical to that
advanced in later distraction studies, yet pre-dates them by eleven
years: "The performance of a response in the communication situation
will facilitate transfer, and hence increase attitude change, to the
extent to which implicit supporting responses are produced; it will
impede transfer and hence decrease attitude change, to the extent to
which implicit interfering responses are produced" (1953, p. 187-188).
Although he did not measure these implicit responses directly, he did
elicit a subjective report of the amount of thinking during the task.
The results supported his hypothesis.
Alternative explanations of distraction effects:
The effects of distraction studies have been explained in ways
other than postulating interference with elaboration. Baron, Baron, and
Miller (1973) elaborate these explanations in an excellent review
One explanation is the Affect Hypothesis (Baron, Baron, and Miller
1973; p. 313; see also McGuire 1966, pp.481-482). This hypothesis
suggests that subjects enjoy the distractor and, therefore, feel more
positively toward the position advocated in the message. "In sum, it is
clear that while the affect hypothesis may have some validity it is
inadequate as a single explanation for the relationship between dis-
traction and persuasion" (Baron, Baron, and Miller 1973, p. 314).
A second explanation suggests that distraction effects will only be
found in reactive settings. The effect could occur two ways: the Ss
could be unaware of the persuasive intent (Rosenblatt 1966); or Ss may
perceive the study as an attempt to evaluate their ability to process
the message in the presence of the distractor. "...Subjects motivated
by evaluation apprehension would have marked the attitude questionnaire
in the direction of agreement with the message, not on the basis of
actual attitude change, but to demonstrate to the experimenter their
powers of concentration" (Silverman and Regula 1968, p. 274).
The Effort Hypothesis is a third alternative to thought disruption
as an explanation of distraction effects: "...the effort required to
comprehend a counterattitudinal message will directly determine the
amount of dissonance created by the choice" (Baron, Baron, and Miller
1973, p. 317). The effort expended in listening to a message in the
presence of a distractor could be justified "...by either overvaluing
the message or distorting their initial attitude so as to minimize any
discrepancy with the message" (Baron, Baron, and Miller 1973, p. 317).
Another explanation considers learning the content of the message.
"From a simple learning theory interpretation one would expect dis-
traction to have the opposite effect [from that proposed in the
thought-disruption hypothesis], interfering with comprehension of the
argument and thus lowering persuasive impact" (McGuire 1966, p. 481).
This argument has led some researchers to limit predictions based on the
thought disruptions hypothesis: "...when they [distractors] interfere
with counterarguing without substantially blocking message reception,
persuasibility is likely to be increased" (Bither 1972, p. 1). "This
may suggest that distraction serves to facilitate acceptance of a
counterattitudinal message only when the distraction is not so severe as
to inhibit reception of the arguments contained in the message"
(Osterhouse and Brock 1970, p. 355).
Kiesler and Mathog (1968) suggest that distractors may have a
negative effect on persuasion, since they may annoy Ss who are trying to
listen to a communication.
Conceptualizing and operationalizing distraction:
The generalization of findings from distraction studies is hampered
by the many, very different conceptual and operational definitions used
for distraction and by researchers' failure to distinguish between the
distractor and distraction. A distractor generally refers to some
stimulus which induces a response (distraction) that restricts the
extent to which a person can process a message. It is assumed that the
situation requires a division of attention between the processing of the
message and of the induced response.
The definition of distraction that will be used for the remaining
discussion relies upon the concept of a limited processing capacity
presented by Norman and Bobrow (1975). Figure 6 again presents their
model which was discussed in Chapter 2. In this figure, L represents
the maximum processing capacity (attention) available for allocation
among various concurrent tasks at any given time. PA represents the
amount of elaboration that could occur if all of the available atten-
tional capacity were devoted to elaboration. The performance curve for
processing the distractor is depicted in this figure as one for a task
which requires relatively less processing capacity to perform well than
does elaboration. Such a process is less conceptually driven and more
data driven than is elaboration. (A data driven task requires simple
responses to environmental stimuli, while a conceptually driven task
requires more extensive processing--utilizing expectations and estab-
lishing new linkages between schemata. Signal detection would be a data
driven task, while elaboration would be a conceptually driven task.)
Rdistractor represents the minimum capacity that must be allocated to
the distractor to process it in an error-free fashion. If this much
capacity were allocated to the distractor, then only the remainder,
Relaboration would be left for possible allocation to elaboration. If
this remainder were allocated to elaboration then performance on
R R =L-Rd
PROCESSING RESO e d
The relative allocation of the processing resource and the
resultant performance curves when attending to the distractor
is perceived as the primary task: showing the changes
anticipated with increasing familiarity of the message.
(After Norman and Bobrow).
elaboration would be reduced from P to P Allocation of any resource
level below R r would allow a higher level of performance on
elaboration (provided that the increase in processing resource were
allocated to elaboration).
If the message were more familiar to the recipient, the perfor-
mance-resource curve for elaboration would shift to the left (such as
from A to B in Figure 6) as elaboration would then require less
attentional capacity (see Norman and Bobrow 1975, p. 61). With such a
shift, the decline in elaboration due to distraction would be reduced
and a performance level on elaboration such as P would be expected.
If a person viewed attending to the message as the primary task and
sufficient attention were devoted to the message to fully elaborate it,
then performance on the distracting task should suffer (provided that
the remaining attentional capacity was insufficient for error-free
performance on the distracting task). This situation is depicted in
Zimbardo et al. (1970) explicitly considered this issue. "Since
the variety of ways in which distraction has been manipulated is almost
equal to the number of studies performed, and if different types of
distraction activities elicit different amounts of attention to them,
the failure to explicitly control the focus of the subject's attention
could account for the current diversity of the findings" (1970, p. 671).
To control for this, they developed instructions to engender either a
distraction-task set or a message set in their subjects.
However, it is important to remember that processing requires both
time and space. As such, distraction may result from distracting
stimuli that limit time or space or both. Space is best understood as
R =L-R R L
d e e
Relative allocation of the processing resource and the
resultant performance curves when elaboration is perceived
as the primary task. (After Norman and Bobrow 1975).
the limited processing capacity of an individual (Norman and Bobrow
1975). In this case, a distractor would be a stimulus which elicits a
response that competes concurrently for the processing resource that is
needed for elaboration of a message.
Intermittent distractors pose a different problem from concurrent
distractors for the message processor. Here the effect may be more
disruptive than competing and the recipient may be able to sequentially
process both the distractor and the message. The ability to do this
should increase with the predictability of the message (due to famil-
iarity or to redundancy within the message). The recipient could retain
the message at one level of processing while attending to the
distractor, and process it beyond that level when elaboration
resumes--yet the overall time available for elaboration will be reduced.
The more predictable the occurrence of the distractor, the more
successful should be the sequential processing, since message processing
could be paced in anticipation of the distractor.
Other operationalizations of distraction do not inherently require
time or space for processing, but instead affect message signal quality
(e. g. static--Silverman and Regula 1968; reduced video quality--Keating
and Latane' 1972; and foreign accent--Bither 1972 and Bither and Wright
1973). It is uncertain that these manipulations qualify as distractors,
since they require no response on the part of the recipient. (See
Osterhouse and Brock 1970, p. 355.) In fact, variations in signal
quality may yield a greater attention allocation for message processing
because of attention attracting properties and because motivated Ss may
allocate more attention to the message in an effort to process it
A conceptual definition of distraction. For the remaining dis-
cussion, distraction will be defined as the allocation of a portion of a
message recipient's processing capacity to implicit (cognitive) or overt
responses, either continuously or intermittently during message re-
ception. This is similar to the definition used by Insko, Turnbull, and
Yandell (1974, p. 508) "...distraction involves a division of attention
between a persuasive communication and communication irrelevant
The definition proffered here differs from others that stipulate
the amount of the limited processing capacity allocated to the dis-
tractor. For example, Keating and Brock (1974, p. 308) define dis-
traction this way: "By definition, a distraction is not the 'center of
attention.' Distraction is in competition for the main focus of
attention, but does not absorb this attention." This definition
probably reflects wishful thinking on the part of the experimenters. In
fact, the message recipient may view the message as the distractor and
the intended distractor may be the "center of attention" as far as the
subject is concerned. Zimbardo et al. 1970 manipulated the perceived
primary task--the message or the distractor. (Their manipulations and
findings will be discussed in later sections.)
Another definition of distraction that has been used presumes
knowledge of both B-D (context-elaboration) and D-E (elaboration-post
cognitive structure) relationships. This definition makes the presumed
effects of distraction a part of the definition: "If attitude change is
more apt to be induced due to interference with counterargument, then
this defined as distraction" (Gardner 1970, p. 26).
Construct valididy of distraction manipulations. Since distraction
involves a response on the part of a message recipient, the presence of
a potential distractor does not guarantee that distraction will occur.
Therefore, conclusions and generalizations drawn from distraction
studies require evidence that the distraction manipulations were
There are three levels of generalization at issue here. The first
concerns whether, in any given distraction study, variations in a cri-
terion variable may be attributed to varying levels of distraction,
i.e., internal validity. For a distraction study to have internal
validity, it must be known that differing amounts of the limited pro-
cessing capacity were allocated to the distracting task in the various
conditions and that no other variables were confounded with the differ-
ential allocation of attention, i.e., no other variables should change
concurrently with level of distraction. For internal validity, know-
ledge of ordinal gradations in attention allocation (free of
confounding) is sufficient to attribute changes in the criterion to
changes in distraction. However, an ordinal ranking of distraction
conditions is insufficient for a thorough understanding of the
phenomenon, especially if the effects should vary curvilinearly with
increasing distraction. To generalize the nature (i.e., linear or
curvilinear) as well as the existence of changes in the criterion to
changes in distraction requires knowledge of absolute, as well as
relative, differences in attention allocation across distraction
A second generalization issue deals with inter-study comparisons--
external validity. Here, again, knowledge of absolute levels of
traction are necessary. In the absence of quantitative knowledge of
levels of distraction that have been achieved in various studies, veri-
fication through replication cannot be effected. Even though different
researchers may concur in labeling their conditions (e.g., low, mod-
erate, high), the actual levels which they have achieved may be quite
different. They may have achieved levels of distraction which engage
very different levels of the limited processing capacity. If the
effects of distraction are curvilinear, then seemingly contradictory
findings may be consistent, if it were shown that all of the levels of
distraction in one study were low and those of the other were high. The
inferred inflection point could, then, correspond to some intermediate
level of distraction (the possible level in some future study).
The third generalization issue deals with the prediction that
effects observed in the experimental setting will also occur in a
natural setting--ecological validity. The primary problem here arises
from the flexibility and the partly voluntary nature of the attention
allocation process. Without the involvement on the part of the
recipient and the measure of situational control exercised by the
experimenter, a distractor which had an impact in the experimental
setting may simply be ignored in the natural setting.
Table 1 shows the dimensions that have varied in distraction
manipulations of 22 studies. Clearly, more than the level of dis-
traction was manipulated in these studies. Each of these dimensions
will be explained and their implications for the generalizability of the
studies' findings will be discussed.
Distraction mode pertains to the manner in which the distractor is
presented. This is significant for both internal and external validity.
Table 1. Components of Distraction Settings.
Festinger and humorous film visual no no continuous
Freedman and personality of speaker visual yes in one continuous
Sears 1965 condition
Rosenblatt 1966 irrelevant slides visual yes no continuous
Gardner 19b6 slot car operation visual yes yes continuous
Vohs and 1. geometric figure task 1. print 1. yes 1. yes 1. ?
Garett 1968 2. arithmetic 2. print 2. yes 2. yes 2. ?
Kiesler and number copying task print yes yes ?
Haaland and 1. multiple-choice and 1. print 1. yes 1. yes 1. ?
Venkatesan semantic differential
2. humorous film 2. visual 2. no 2. no 2. continuous
Venkatesan and 1. multiple-choice and 1. print 1. yes 1. yes 1. ?
Haaland 1968 semantic differential
2. unrelated video 2. visual 2. no 2. no 2. continuous
Silverman and static audio yes no continuous
Baron and personality of speaker N.A. yes yes N.A.
Osterhouse and flashing lights visual yes yes intermittent
Brock 1970 (varying interval)
Rule and Rehill 22 different sound audio no no continuous
Gardner 1970 same as Gardner (1966)
Zimbardo et number summation task print yes yes ?
Keating and reduced video quality: 1. visual 1. no 1. no 1. continuous
Latane 1972 1. continuous 2. visual 2. n o no 2. intermittent
2. intermittent (fixed interval)
Bither 1972 1. foreign accent 1. audio 1. no 1. no 1. continuous
2. views of umbrellas 2. visual 2. no 2. no 2. continuous
3. slow motion football 3. visual 3. no 3. no 3. continuous
(action (B & W)
Bither and same as Bither (1972)
? audio (tape)
motor audio (tape)
1. written" audio
1. written* audio
1. yes 1. self 1. yes 1. resource 1. written* audio no 1 min. no
2. yes 2. external 2. no 2. ? 2. ?
yes external no ? ? audio yes 8 min. yes
N.A. N.A. no N.A. ? audio yes ? in one
no external yes data vocal audio yes 6 min. yes
yes external no ? print yes 6 min. yes
yes self yes resource written* audio yes 3 min. yes
1. yes i. external 1. no 1. ? 1.? audio yes 3 min. yes
2. yes 2. external 2. no 2. 2.?
1. yes 1. external 1. no 1. ? 1. ? audio yes 1 min. yes
2. yes 2. external 2. no 2. ? 2. ?
3. yes 3. external 3. no 3. ? 3. ?
1. visual monitoring
2. vocal monitoring
3. manual monitoring
4. vocal and manual
1. visual 1. yes 1. yes
2. visual 2. yes 2. yes
3. visual 3. yes 3. yes
4. visual 4. yes 4. yes
Insko et al. same as Zimbardo et al. (1970)
Petty, Wells X's flashed on a screen visual yes yes intermittent
and Brock 1976 (fixed interval)
Maccann Haslett visual or auditory visual or
1976 stimulus: audio
1. visual monitoring 1. yes 1. ? 1. intermittent
2. vocal monitoring 2. yes 2. yes 2. intermittent
3. written monitoring 3. yes 3. yes 3. intermittent
Petty 1977 same as Petty, Wells and Brock (1976)
* subvocalizations may accompany these responses
yes 6 min. ?
1. yes 1. external 1. no 1. ? 1.2
2. no 2. external 2. yes 2. data 2. vocal
3. no 3. external 3. yes 3. data 3. manual*
4. no 4. external 4. yes 4. data 4. vocal 5
no external yes data written* audio yes 3 min. yes
audio yes 7 min. ?
1. yes 1. external 1. no 1. data 1. ?
2. no 2. external 2. yes 2. data 2. vocal
3. no 3. external 3. yes 3. data 3. written*
Different levels of distraction within any one study should not be
confounded with mode of presentation (e.g., high distraction/visual and
low distraction/audio). If confounding exists, then an equally good
case can be made for either variable as the cause of any observed
effects. In addition, studies which utilize different modes of pre-
sentation are not strictly comparable--especially in the absence of an
independent, quantitative measure of distraction.
Whether or not the distractor is expected is another significant
dimension. When Ss have not been instructed that the distractor will
appear, its sudden appearance could have at least two undesirable
effects. It could startle the Ss (possibly desirable if the effect of a
startling distractor is being studied) and it could lead Ss to form the
hypothesis that the experimenter is testing their ability to perform the
primary task in a difficult situation. Depending on their reaction to
this hypothesis, they may try to ignore the distractor to impress the
experimenter or they may exhibit a reactance effect and purposefully do
badly on the primary task. If these demand effects occur, then they
pose alternative explanations for any observed effects, whenever a
no-distraction condition exists. When the unexpectedness of the dis-
tractor varies between studies, differential observed effects may be a
result of this factor.
The next factor considered in Table 1 is whether Ss were instructed
to attend to the distractor. When Ss are instructed to attend to the
distractor, it is no longer left to chance whether Ss will perceive the
distractor to be a salient aspect of the experiment. However, in these
studies demand effects will always be a potential alternative explan-
ation for differences observed between distraction and no-distraction
conditions. Differences between studies that did and did not include
instructions to attent to the distractor may be due to this factor. The
generalization of findings from studies in which Ss were instructed to
attend to the distractor to natural settings is very tenuous.
Instructing Ss to attend to a distractor does not ensure that they
will do so. Another factor that has varied both within and across
distraction studies is whether allocation of attention to the distractor
is voluntary or whether the task requires that some attention be
allocated to the distractor. In studies in which allocation of
attention is voluntary it is difficult to know if distraction has
This problem is especially important in light of the fact that
allocation of processing resources to a distractor in natural settings
is largely voluntary, as was seen in the previous chapter in the dis-
cussion of the "cocktail party problem". With the exception of stimuli
which automatically activate a particular schema (Schneider and Shiffrin
1977, p. 2), humans have the ability to select which stimulus from among
many competing ones they will process. This ability greatly reduces the
generalizability of distraction findings from studies in which allo-
cation of processing capacity is non-voluntary to any planned effort to
exploit the effect in natural exposure condition, since people may not
attend to the distractor under those conditions. However, the findings
may help in explaining communications' effects resulting from uncon-
trolled distracting stimuli accompanying message reception. Table 1
indicates that allocation was voluntary in 15 of 22 studies reviewed.
The next factor, continuity of the distractor is significant
because of the different problems confronting Ss in a condition in which
there is a continuous distractor and those in a condition with an inter-
mittent distractor. Ss facing an intermittent distractor may be able to
alternately process the distractor and the message while those facing a
continuous distractor would not be able to utilize such a switching
strategy without missing some of the message or without a decrement in
performance on the distracting task.
Intermittent distractors may be either fixed interval or varying
interval. Fixed-interval, intermittent distractors should be easier to
cope with than varying-interval, intermittent distractors, as Ss may
learn to correctly anticipate the occurrence of the distractor and make
compensatory changes in message processing. Therefore, the effect of
fixed-interval, intermittent distractors (e.g., Keating and Latane'
1972; Petty, Wells, and Brock 1976; Maccann Haslett 1976; and Petty
1977) should be less that that of varying-interval, intermittent dis
tractors (e.g., Osterhouse and Brock 1970; Keating and Brock 1974).
As with the other factors, if different levels of distraction
within a study vary with continuity, then continuity is an alternative
explanation for any observed effects.
The rate of occurrence of a distractor in a distraction study may
be either self-paced by the subject or externally-paced by the experi-
menter. With self pacing, the message recipient should be able to
intermittently process the message and the distractor by relying on
natural breaks in the communication, redundancy, grammar and familiar
schemas for that type of communication to provide the time necessary to
process the distraction The subjects also controls the ultimate fre-
quency and, hence, the number of intrusions of the distractor during
When this locus of control (i.e., external or internal) is con-
founded with level of the distraction as in the Haaland and Venkatesan
(1968) study, it may be the cause of observed effects on the criterion.
Studies in which self-pacing is allowed are not directly comparable to
those in which the pace is determined externally. The rate of intrusion
of distractors in natural settings is probably most frequently self-
paced so that findings from studies in which the distractor was
externally paced may have little ecological validity.
For some manipulations of distraction, an overt (behavioral,
externally visible) response was required of the Ss. Studies in which
no overt response was required leave unanswered the question of whether
a response (and thereby distraction) occurred. Any such manipulation
would require a manipulation check (to be discussed in a following
section) to establish that distraction had been manipulated (a pre-
requisite for internal validity). Manipulation checks could also allow
inter-study comparisons, provided that the measures of distraction in
the various studies are comparable. Many naturally occurring
distractors also require no overt response. However, the manipulation
checks are still necessary for a study to have ecological validity,
since it is the only way of knowing exactly what effect is to be
generalized. Table 1 indicated that no-overt-response conditions
existed in 12 of 22 studies reviewed.
Whether the response to the distractor is data-limited (data-
driven) or resource-limited (conceptually driven) determines the amount
of the limited processing capacity which will remain for message pro-
cessing if the distractor is processed fully (see Figure 5). Con-
ceptually driven processing of a distractor should require more of the
limited processing capacity than data-driven processing and should have
a greater adverse effect on elaboration.
If the full range of distraction is to be represented in a study,
then the data/resource limited aspect of the distraction response is a
natural confound with level of distraction. However, this aspect should
be explicitly considered so that it will be known to what range of dis-
traction the effects are to be attributed within a study. The findings
of studies which utilize levels of distraction occurring within
different ranges may seem contradictory unless the data/resource limited
nature of the response is considered.
The distraction response mode is significant because two tasks
with the same mode interfere more with each other than two tasks which
utilize different modes (Posner 1973, p. 144; Brooks 1968, p.354). For
studies in which modality of response is confounded with level of dis-
traction (e.g., Haaland and Venkatesan 1968; Bither 1972; and Bither and
Wright 1973) modality of response is an alternative explanation for the
findings. Readers should be wary of responses to distractors which are
presented as written or manual, as it may be very difficult for a person
to perform a written or manual response without accompanying subvocal-
In comparing between studies, both the response mode and message
mode should be considered as it is likely that they interact. Which
modes are involved also affect a study's ecological validity. For
example, an audio distractor may have one effect on a visually presented
message in the natural setting and another effect on an audio message.
The same distraction-response modality has been interpreted
(perhaps justifiably) as representing the manipulation of different