Distraction and Dissonance: A model of the persuasive process

Chapter II - A Theory of Distraction

The concept that distractions could enhance the persuasiveness of a message came in the wake of a methodological error in an experiment done by Allyn and Festinger (1961). The purpose had been to test the effect forewarning message receivers of an impending persuasive communication had on the persuasiveness of that communication. Forewarning should, according to the prediction, decrease a subject's persuasibility by providing the opportunity to marshall counter-arguments that might be used to resist the persuasive appeal. The prediction was supported.

Because the non-forewarned group was instructed to concentrate on the personality of the speaker, an instruction not given to the forewarned group, Festinger and Maccoby suggested that the results might have been confounded. While forewarning should decrease a subject's persuasibility by enabling the marshalling of counter-arguments, distracting the subject's attention from the message might have the opposite effect. Instructing subjects to concentrate on the speaker instead of the message might have prevented them from marshaling counter-arguments during the speech, thereby increasing their persuasibility. A question of whether the results were attributable to decreased persuasibility of the forewarned group or the increased persuasibility of the distracted group had been raised. The distraction hypothesis was born.

Festinger and Maccoby (1964) took the view that most of the result was due to distraction in the non-forewarned group and constructed a series of three experiments specifically designed to test the distraction effect. A simple and obvious distraction was constructed into one of two filmed persuasive communications. In the non-distracting version, an edited comic film short accompanied the same vocal persuasive communication. The comic film, it was hypothesized, would act as a distraction, breaking up audience concentration on the speaker's message, attenuating counter-argument and increasing persuasion.

In two experiments (University of Minnesota, San Jose State College) only two experimental groups were used. A committed audience (they had taken action on their attitudes) was exposed to a persuasive message (Fraternity members heard arguments against Fraternities). The message was delivered to one group via the distracting film. A second group viewed the non-distracting message. In the third experiment (University of Southern California) six conditions were tested. Both fraternity members and independents (non-members) viewed the films. A no message control group was added for each sample.

Initial Explanations of the Persuasive Effect of Distraction

Although the manipulation worked, the experiment failed to indicate clearly why the distraction succeeded in increasing persuasion. Four explanations for the success were advanced; of these, three were suggested by the experimenters. The first and strongest reasoning was that the audience had indeed been distracted from counter-arguing. But it remained possible that instead of inhibiting counter-arguing, the manipulation had merely forced the audience to concentrate more intently on the message. Increased persuasion might, under these circumstances, be attributable not to decreased counter-argument, but rather to increased comprehension, increased learning, and ultimately, increased persuasion.

A third explanation was that the distraction, a comic film, may have been an enjoyable one. The audience' s enjoyment of this distraction stimulus may have been transferred to the message. This transfer of positive feeling from the distraction to the message may have, according to this explanation, served as a positive reinforcement aiding in the audience's acceptance of the message.

A fourth explanation was offered by Rosenblatt (1966). He explained that the distraction may have served to disguise the experiment as one testing comprehension of the message. Under this condition subjects might fail to suspect the message as a persuasive one and fail to counter-argue.

The traditional campfire, viewed with respect to distraction, might then have become the home of the storyteller because it helped the story. Fire has been said to fascinate people. If so, a campfire might, like the film in the Festinger/Maccoby (1964) experiment, have acted as a distraction stimulus, inhibiting an audience's ability to counter-argue. A story told under these circumstances might be more effective than the same story told under other circumstances.

Objections to the Distraction Hypothesis

At least one observer would disagree with this view. McGuire (1966), looking at the manipulation from the perspective of learning theory, suggests that distraction should have the opposite effect, interfering with the subject's comprehension of the message and attenuating its persuasive effects. You cannot, according to McGuire, be persuaded by a communication that you don't fully receive.

If McGuire's argument has a fault, it lies in his assumption that a person cannot succeed in doing two things at once. If one is to accept McGuire's arguments whole, then one is led to conclude that one cannot learn a song from the radio when driving a car, understand a lecture while taking notes on it, or comprehend a friend's reasoning when an attractive member of the opposite sex passes by. However, one excellent point stands out. One cannot be persuaded when a communication is not received.

Indeed, at least from the surface, the results of the distraction experiments have not been at all conclusive. Although experiments by Festinger and Maccoby (1964). Freedman and Sears (1965). Rosenblatt (1966), Kiesler and Mathog (1968, Osterhouse and Brock (1970), Zimbardo, Thomas, Snyder, Gold, and Gewertz (1970) and Keating and Brock (1974) have supported the distraction hypothesis, studies by Haaland and Venkatesan (1968), Silverman and Regula (1968), Vohs and Garrett (1968), Regan and Cheng (1973), Ware and Tucker (1974), and Silverthorne and Mazmanian (1975) have failed to do so.

Search for an explanation for this inconclusiveness in terms of selection bias yields little. The experiment measures relatively basic human responses, making a selection bias difficult. As yet, only one personality factor, intelligence, has even been suggested as a relevant factor in the outcome of a distraction manipulation. How it might affect results is another question. However, low intelligence may allow a subject fewer counter-arguments under all conditions, making him more susceptible to persuasion under any distraction condition. Intelligence subjects might, on the one hand, find them selves capable of counter-argument and thus more susceptible to reduction of counter-argument under distraction conditions, but might also find themselves more capable of counter-arguing under multiple message conditions, and thereforeless susceptible to persuasion. In any case, until intelligence is experimentally manipulated, no conclusions can be drawn.

Other methodological errors are also unlikely culprits. The Festinger/Maccoby (1964) design is rather simple. It would take an effort to confound it. The hypothesis predicts that the distraction condition will yield more persuasion than will the no distraction conditions. Assuming random assignment, a comparison of these post-test results should yield the differing levels of persuasion under conditions of distraction and non-distraction. Thus only a post-test is necessary to obtain results.

The manipulation, like the testing, is rather spartan. One needs only to obtain an effective persuasive appeal, construct a distraction, and proceed. As long as the appeal and other external factors are kept constant for both distraction and non-distraction conditions, internal validity should be strong. The simplicity of the manipulation along with the post-test only design make this experimental model difficult to confound and highly attractive to researchers. In fact, except for the addition of secondary manipulations and the varying of distracting stimuli, this design has survived intact in all but the most recent distraction manipulations.

In all fairness, distraction manipulations have not been wholly free of methodological bias. One consistent research oversight in distraction experiments has been the failure of several researchers to utilize a no message control group. While this oversight has not really affected the experiments ability to test the distraction hypothesis, such data might have proven valuable in attempts to evaluate the results from other perspectives.

Other Explanations of the Inconclusiveness of Distraction Research

But if the inconclusiveness of distraction research cannot be blamed on methodology, to what can it be attributed? One conclusion might be that the counter-argument distraction hypothesis as set forth by Festinger and Maccoby (1964) is faulty. Indeed, as noted above, several alternative hypotheses have been formulated. However, none of these alternative hypotheses explain the results of distraction experiments better than the concept of reduced counter-argumentation.

Festinger and Maccoby's (1964) suggestion that the effect of the distraction stimulus of persuasion might be due to positive impact of the distraction stimulus lost credence with Rosenblatt's (1966) manipulation. Here distraction was found effective in increasing the effectiveness of a persuasive message despite the negative content (sets of slides drawn from dental hygiene and psychology) of the distraction. This hypothesis failure has been confirmed several times since in experiments using both negative and neutral distractions.

Rosenblatt (1966) himself suggested that distracted subjects might not have the need to counter-argue because the distraction disguised the experiment as a comprehension test. Some support is generated for this hypothesis in his study's measure of suspicion of persuasive intent. Suspicion was significantly reduced among subjects exposed to distractions. Support, more over, has been generated from other sources. Baron, Baron, and Miller (1973) point out that lowered suspicion of persuasive intent should increase source credibility and cite several studies (Allyn & Festinger, 1961; Festinger & Maccoby, 1964; and Haaland & Venkatesan, 1968) where this effect was reported. At best, however, none of this support is strong.

It is difficult to find an experiment where suspicion of persuasive intent cannot be in some way connected to the distraction. Experimental methods inevitably take on the appearance of some kind of test, whether it be of comprehension, coordination, or some other dependent variable. However, in several experiments subjects have been explicitly told that they were involved in a test of comprehension (Allyn & Festinger, 1961; Festinger & Maccoby, 1964; Rosenblatt, 1966; Osterhouse & Brock, 1970). Being told that they would be tested on the contents of the speech, it hardly seems probable that distracted subjects would reduce counter-argument because the distraction disguised the experiment as a test of comprehension. It already was. Indeed, non-distracted subjects were as justified as distracted subjects in reducing counter-argument because persuasion was not an important aspect of the proceedings. All these experiments nevertheless reported increased persuasion due to distraction. Because of these results it seems more reasonable to view suspicion of persuasive intent as a form of counter-argument and to attribute reduced suspicion to reduced counter-argument instead of attributing reduced counter-argument to reduced suspicion of persuasive intent.

A third explanation the how distractions might increase the persuasiveness of a message involves the amount of effort that must be expended in order to overcome the distraction. The increased effort necessary to understand a message under conditions of distraction is a cost to the individual. To the extent that an individual needs to justify this cost, they might well experience cognitive dissonance. Under dissonance theory as originally formulated this would be a valid argument. The unrewarded effort would indeed be good reason to expect that dissonance underlay the increased persuasion. But this effort involves no public and little personal commitment, thus reducing the effect of dissonance both as it has come to be understood more recently, and as it will be presented in Chapter 3.

Effort, Distraction, and Learning

Effort should not, however, be discarded as an element working to increase a subject's persuasibility under conditions of distraction. It has been consistently shown that increasing the difficulty of obtaining a given goal also increases the value the goal will have upon attainment. The classic study of this effect, done by Aronson and Mills (1959) demonstrated that subjects who exerted great effort in order to join a group valued the group more highly than those subjects whose effort expenditure was minimal. Although none of the surveyed distraction experiments actually measured the effort expended by subjects in hearing the communication, it seems safe to assume, pending confirmation, that it requires more total effort to comprehend a message when distracted than when undistracted. This increased effort may evidence itself in the upward revaluing of the message by distracted subjects.

It is this increased concentration on comprehending the message that lies at the very root of the distraction hypothesis. The extra effort required to overcome the distraction has to be drawn from other activities. Counter-argument appears to be important amont the activities seriously attenuated by this rechanneling of available energy.

In this model increased effort is not seen as a mechanism inducing cognitive dissonance. Some dissonance may be induced by an interaction of high effort and attitude descrepant message, but at test this would only add to the robustness of the distraction result. The real action of increasing effort to overcome a distracting stimulus is that of attenuating the effort expected on counter-arguing. Ultimately this action attenuates counter-argument and enhances persuasion.

It is readily apparent that this exporation of the alteratives to Festinger and Maccoby's (1964) primary hypothesis of attenuated counter-argument has led us right back to that same hypothesis. Counter-argument, however, at least on the surface, has proved to be less than fully effective in predicting the effects of distraction on persuasion. McGuire's learning hypothesis is no more successful. In fact, where results cannot be explained by counter-argument reduction, there is often evidence that learning has been attenuated. Likewise, where no attenuation of learning is apparent. counter-argument reduction finds ready support.

Brock (1967) developed a tool for measuring counter-arguments. Keating and Brock (1974) and Zimbardo et al (1970) have used this tool successfully. It seems to correlate well with the level of persuasion, demonstrating that distraction stimuli can both reduce counter-argument and increase persuasion significantly. Zimbardo et al (1970) was also able to show that at least one class of distraction was capable of reducing a subject's comprehension of a message, thus supporting McGuire's learning hypothesis.

Thus, while there is evidence that distraction can reduce counter-argument and increase persuasion, there is also evidence that it can reduce comprehension and decrease persuasion. Either position in the question of what effect distraction has on persuasion can be supported. Experiments by Festinger and Maccoby (1964), Rosenblatt (1966), and Keating and Brock (1974) support increased persuasion due to distraction. Vohs and Garrett (1968) support decreased persuasion due to distraction. Zimbardo et al (1970) supports both increased and de creased persuasion due to distraction. Finally, Friedman and Sears (1965) supports neither.

A Typology of Distractions

Although the results of these studies are varied, it seems apparent that there is a pattern to the success and failure of these manipulations. Tests of the distraction hypothesis have utilized a wide variety of distracting stimuli. Upon examination these stimuli break down into several broad classes. Three of these classes involve stimuli irrelevant to the persuasive communication. These distractions can be described as secondary and wholly separate messages. They have no real relation to the persuasive communication. Another three classes of distractions are composed of stimuli relevant to the message. Although they too may be considered separate messages, they are intrinsically connected to the persuasive communication.

Self-induced distractions provide the first and weakest category of irrelevant distraction stimuli. This type of distraction occurs when one concentrates on some thing other than the content of the message. Examples of this class of distraction include evaluating the speaker non-verbal behavior, evaluating his sentence structure, and concentrating on the speaker's personality. The latter of these was the flaw in the Allyn and Festinger (1961) experiment and the subject of the Friedman and Sears (1965) controlled replication.

Friedman and Sears (1965) is, logically speaking, the experiment that Festinger and Maccoby should have run, providing a more direct test of their explanation (distraction from counter-argument) of the Allyn and Festinger (1961) experiment. Ultimately, it is the experiment that best demonstrates the power of the self- induced distraction when operating alone. Essentially, the experiment is a controlled replication of Allyn and Festinger (1961). However, two hypotheses, one stating that forewarning a subject of the topic of an impending communication would decrease persuasion, and another stating that concentrating on the personality of the speaker rather than on the content of the message would increase persuasion, were advanced. Instead of two experimental groups, moreover, this manipulation utilized five. They included an unforewarned group who were instructed to concentrate on the personality of the speaker, a two minute warning group instructed to concentrate on the message, no warning and 10 minute warning groups instructed to concentrate on the message, and a 10 minute warning group instructed to concentrate on the personality of the speaker. A pre-/post-test design was utilized. The results supported the warning hypothesis (p<.02) but indicated only a trend for the distraction hypothesis, (p<.lO).

The second class of irrelevant stimuli include campfires, out of sync audio/visual presentations, amplifier feedback, and attractive members of the opposite sex. These environmental stimuli are, in real life situations, beyond our control. Experimental examples of environmental stimuli include the irrelevant films of Festinger and Maccoby (1964), and Haaland and Venkatesan (1968), the irrelevant slides of Rosenblatt (1966), the irrelevant music of Regan and Cheng (1973), the flashing light panels of Osterhouse and Brock (1970), and Keating and Brock (1974), and the two digit list of Kiesler and Mathog (1968).

The third class of irrelevant distraction can be labeled evaluative stimuli. In this type of distraction the subject participates in some form of problem solving while listening to a persuasive message. Although, like self-induced distractions, evaluative distractions center on the evaluation of something other than the message, the two classes are distinctly different. Under self- induced distraction, attention is directed somewhere other than the message, but nothing keeps it there. Evaluative distraction in contrast, forces attention to a second message. This type of manipulation has been used in experiments by Haaland and Venkatesan (1968), Vohs and Garrett (1968), and Zimbardo et al. (1970).

Relevant distractions differ from irrelevant distractions in that the distractions relate directly to the persuasive message. The first class of these relevant distractions, those that are intrinsic to the persuasive presentation, make direct contribution to the persuasive appeal. These stimuli may evidence themselves in charts, diagrams, pictures, cartoons, films and other accessory materials that a speaker might use in rein forcing his arguments. This class of relevant distraction, because of its close relation to the actual presentation, is probably the weakest of the relevant distraction stimuli. In the absence of any hard data relevant to the effect of this class of distraction, however, this can only be speculated.

A second relevant class evidences itself in extrinsic distractions, those relating directly to the message but not intrinsic to the presentation. These distractions include various forms of audience feedback (heckling, laughter, and applause). Research in the area of extrinsic distractions has been limited thus far to the effects of heckling (Ware & Tucker, 1974; and Silverthorne & Mazmanian, 1975), but can be expected to extend to other areas.

Extrinsic distractions can be expected to break down into two subclasses. The research to date has been on those extrinsic distractions which reflect negatively on the communication. These distractions (including heckling and derisive laughter) act to point out counter-arguments to the listener, effectively distracting the subject from focusing on the speaker's persuasive arguments and from his own consonant arguments. The result is the attenuation of persuasion and reduction of speaker ethos (Ware & Tucker, 1974; and Silverthorne & Mazmanian, 1975). A second subclass of extrinsic distraction can be expected to emerge, however, in those distractions (including cheering and applause) that reflect positively on the communication. Positive extrinsic distraction should point out consonant arguments, focusing the audiences attention on those arguments which are most persuasive. Under these conditions effort should be distracted from counter-argument to consonant argument.

A third class of relevant distraction, cognitive distractions, should serve to accentuate this effect. Cognitive distractions are strongly related to self induced irrelevant distractions. However, while self induced irrelevant distractions focus the subjects attention on a stimulus wholly unrelated to the message, cognitive distractions involve focusing the subjects attention on how his approval of the message is dissonant with his existing attitudes. When confronted with a dissonant situation, the subject focuses his attention on resolving the dissonance. This distracts the subject from counter-arguing. The resulting attenuation of counter-argument enhances persuasion in the direction of the message, thus resolving the dissonance.

While cognitive distractions involve the same mechanisms as the other classes of distractions, they differ markedly. The other five classes of distraction involve an audience in behavior which distracts it from counter-arguing with a message from a persuasive other. Cognitive distractions involve distracting a persuader from counter-arguing with his own counter-attitudinal message. This principle difference not only acts to differentiate these classes of distraction, but ties distraction research to the already voluminous counter-attitudinal research literature. Because of these differences it will be necessary to consider cognitive distractions at some length. Before turning our full attention to this third class of extrinsic distraction, however, let's consider some issues related to audience distractions.

Seven Factors that Mediate the Effect of Audience Distractions

The six classes of distraction as presented divide distraction research into related groups. While all the stimuli act to distract a subject, each does so in a different way. Relevant distractions relate directly to a message. Irrelevant distractions do not. Self-induced distractions are imposed by, rather than on, a subject. Evaluative stimuli require the viewer to solve problems, to make arguments not at all related to the persuasive communication, while listening to that communication. While these classes relate to each other, each has its own characteristics. Each may, moreover, affect counter-argumentation differently.

Relevance represents the first of at least seven factors which can affect the result of a distraction manipulation. The second of these factors, distraction strength, was tested by Rosenblatt (1966). Rosenblatt hypothesized that distraction affected persuasion in a curvilinear manner. To test this he set up three distractions of various strengths. He found that the stronger the distraction was, the greater was the resulting attitude change. Experiments by Osterhouse and Brock (1970), and Keating and Brock (1974) have reconfirmed this finding and increased its strength by also demonstrating that increases in distraction strength decrease counter-argument production.

There is evidence, however, that there is a limit above which distraction strength decreases persuasion by inhibiting an audience's ability to understand a message. This distraction strength threshold takes control of persuasion at that point when the bulk of the subject's effort is focused on the distraction. At this point, the distraction becomes the message and the persuasive message becomes the distraction. This learning threshold may account for the failure of two experiments, Vohs and Garrett (1968) and Haaland and Venkatesan (1968). These experiments used evaluative distractions, distractions which require an audience to construct arguments irrelevant to the persuasive message. Under these circumstances, the distraction can easily become the message. Evidence for this threshold is refined in Zimbardo et al (1970).

Zimbardo et al (1970) sought to manipulate the effect of distraction strength by manipulating a third factor, the subject's evaluative focus. They therefore instructed their subjects to concentrate on either the persuasive message, an evaluative distraction (math problems), or gave no instruction, leaving this last group unfocused. Subjects instructed to concentrate on the message experienced similar levels of comprehension to undistracted subjects, but experienced less counter-argument and greater persuasion. Subjects instructed to concentrate on the distraction and those distracted but left unfocused, experienced lower levels of comprehension, counter-argument, and persuasion than the message focused and undistracted subjects. These findings support and give direction to the concept of distraction strength, particularly as relates to evaluative distractions. They show, moreover, the power of the otherwise weak self-induced distraction, the class of distraction on which evaluative focus centers, can have when they are used in combination with other classes of distraction.

Message complexity provides a fourth factor which may affect the results of distraction manipulations. Regan and Cheng (1973) used both simple and complex messages in conjunction with a distraction manipulation to determine what effect message complexity would have on both persuasion and the distraction effect. Their results indicate that distraction is most effective with a simple persuasive message, becoming ineffective (actually reducing persuasion) when used with a complex message.

The importance of effort in distraction is strongly underlined by the concepts of evaluative focus, message complexity, and distraction strength. A concept formulated by Cattell (1948) in his group syntality theory may be useful in understanding just how effort operates under these conditions. Synergy, in Cattell's formulation, is the sum of the individual energies brought to a group by its members. Personal energy in this formulation, refers to the sum of the energies which an individual can allocate at any one time to a set of tasks.

In this, as in Cattell's (1948), hypothesis, there are two kinds of energy. Maintenance energy is the effort which is expended in the course of maintaining personal harmony. Effective energy is that energy which is left for the achievement of the various goals a person sets for himself. It is to be assumed that all available energy will be allocated at any given time.

When a person listens to a persuasive message, he expends effective energy in the act of comprehending the argument. If the attitudes expressed are discrepant with his own, he expends maintenance energy in counter-arguing. Distraction disrupts the balance by attacking both person's cognitive harmony and their ability to maintain their existing attitudinal cognitive harmony. If the person is to continue comprehending the incoming information at the pre-distraction level, energy must be expended to overcome the distraction and maintain cognitive harmony. But if all personal energy is allocated, the expenditure requires drawing on energy previously allocated to other projects, including counter-arguing.

As the distraction grows stronger, larger maintenance energy expenditures become necessary. Medium strength environmental distractions cut into the counter-argument allocation, attenuating counter-argument and enhancing persuasion. Stronger evaluative distractions cut into the energy expenditures for both counter-argument and learning, attenuating comprehension and persuasion. If, however, attention is focused on the message, comprehension can be restored with an enhancement of persuasion.

A complex message is less likely to be comprehended in the presence of distraction because more energy is required for comprehension than would be required for a simple message. Thus when personal energy is re-allocated in the effort to overcome the distraction, the complex message is more quickly affected by energy loss.

The fifth factor which can affect the outcome of a distraction manipulation is hardly a surprising one. Communicator status appears to affect results in most persuasive situations. Distraction manipulations are no exception. Kiesler and Mathog (1968) tested this hypothesis by attributing messages to either high or low credibility sources. They found that distraction was most effective in increasing persuasiveness when the persuader was highly credible.

Vohs and Garrett (1968) credit the failure of their manipulation to lack of topic familiarity. They assert that their subjects might not have been familiar with the topic of their persuasive appeal and therefore could not be expected to be able to counter-argue successfully. Although their results seem more likely a product of the strength of their distraction, lack of topic familiarity cannot be wholly rejected. It cannot be expected that distraction will attenuate counter-argument if there is none. It should be recognized, however, that circumstances under which a subject would be unable to counter a persuasive appeal are highly unusual.

Experiments testing the effects of heckling on persuasion, (Ware & Tucker, 1974; and Silverthorne & Mazmanian, 1975) have also failed to support the counter-argument hypothesis. Message relevant stimuli like heckling, applause, laughter, and silence can't really be classified with irrelevant stimuli. Irrelevant stimuli act to discourage argument, but these stimuli may well act to encourage argument. Heckling should act to point out the counter-arguments to the persuasive message as conceived by the audience. Indeed, at the very least it should point out one counter-argument, that the speaker's beliefs are not shared by the audience. The effects of these arguments may be dependent, however, on another factor, the subjective orientation of the distraction. A positive stimuli like applause or a speaker's accessory materials should act to point out and encourage consonant arguments, thus increasing persuasion.

These factors point the way to an explanation of the inconsistencies reviewed earlier in this paper. The hypothesis against which the results were gauged, that of decreased argumentation through distraction, although not incorrect, was not complete. It was, moreover set in competition with a learning hypothesis, a hypothesis with which it may actually interact.


A reconciliation of Festinger and Maccoby's (1964) distraction hypothesis with McGuire (1966) learning prediction facilitates the formulation of a more comprehensive set of distraction hypotheses. The following two hypotheses attempt to both reconcile counter-argument with learning and give consistency to the results of the research to date. Unlike many reconciling hypotheses, most of which set limits on the scope and usefulness of research, sometimes reducing results to the trivial, this set of hypotheses seeks to broaden both the scope and usefulness of distraction theory, at once setting limits and opening horizons.

Hypothesis 1: Irrelevant distractions to a persuasive message will act to inhibit counter-argumentation (provided the subject is capable of counter-arguing) and increase persuasion. Evaluative distractions may also inhibit learning, with a resulting decrease in persuasion. This effect will evidence itself in a curvilinear manner, with the curve based on strength of distraction. Distraction strength will interact with the complexity of the message, the evaluative focus of the audience, and the status of the speaker to determine the apex of this curve. Greater message complexity will be expected to reduce this threshold. beyond which both counter-argument and learning are attenuated and greater focus on the message will both be expected to increase this threshold.
Hypothesis 2: Relevant distractions to a persuasive message will act to encourage counter or consonant argument (provided the subject is capable of counter or consonant argument). In doing so it will differentially increase or decrease persuasion. Negative relevant distractions will encourage counter-arguments and decrease persuasion. Positive relevant distractions will encourage consonant arguments and increase persuasion.

This explanation of the differential effects of relevant and irrelevant distractions on persuasion suggests a new understanding of the ways in which people are persuaded, of the workings of the storyteller and the campfire. The fire and the storytellers movements act as an environmental distraction. The way in which he manipulates the evaluative focus of the audience works on the audience as a self-induced distraction. Together, these distractions act to attenuate counter-argument and enhance persuasion. If the audience is responsive, they may add the dimension of relevant distraction in their responses, focusing attention, depending on the response, on either consonant or counter-arguments. There is also a warning to potential storytellers implicit to these hypotheses: telling a story while the audience is engaged in another activity may prove counter-productive.

The effects of these various kinds of distraction on an audience seems relatively clear cut and well supported in the existing literature. Less clear is the effect distraction may have on the storyteller. To this we now turn our attention.

Previous Chapter

Foulger, Davis A. (2005). A Theory of Distraction. From the Hypermedia Edition of Foulger, Davis A. (1977). Distraction and Dissonance: A model of the persuasive process. Master's Thesis. University of Central Florida. Retrieved from http://foulger.info/davis/mastersThesis/chapter2.htm.