Other scholars have been more critical of ELM. The Morris, Woo, and Singh study, along with the Cook, Moore, and Steel study, focuses on the major shortcomings of ELM. Unlike Schroeder and Areni, these scholars evaluate ELM as an actual model for psychological studies, as opposed to just a conceptual framework. The Morris, Woo, and Singh study found that the model had an excessively narrow focus on the cognitive aspects of audience elaboration, neglecting the emotional aspects. The Cook, Moore, and Steel study found that ELM did not offer an actual causal explanation of persuasive communication and offered Positioning Theory for a causal explanation.
When Cook, Moore, and Steel use the term "causal explanation," they are getting at the predictive value of ELM, which is a very important element of a model's usefulness. One problem with the predictive value of the ELM is the model's argument variable. To test ELM, one needs a stable control variable. In this case, that control variable is an argument that is universally seen as strong or weak. The ELM predicts that a "strong" argument will produce a positive outcome for persuasive communication because of high elaboration, while a "weak" argument will produce a negative outcome because of low elaboration.
In practice, is harder to find a universally "strong" or "weak" argument than it appears. Even in everyday communication, the strength of an argument is largely determined by the particular outcome itself. A negative outcome, an unpersuaded audience, will usually insist that the argument presented to it was weak. In a sense, the audience would be right because the argument is weak, that is to say, unpersuasive, to them.
There are two ways of looking at ELM. As a conceptual framework, ELM is excellent because it is flexible and testable. Actually, it is better used as a framework, or a paradigm, than as a model itself. As a model, ELM suffers from some serious shortcomings. Although ELM accounts for virtually every type of outcome for persuasive communication, it cannot, by itself, predict the outcomes of a given persuasive communication.
Persuasion is an ethically gray element of human interaction. Some will insist that persuasion merely entails a person/audience being reminded, illuminated, or put on notice of a particular point that the person/audience had not yet considered. Others will insist that persuasion entails a person/audience being coaxed, pressured, or manipulated into adopting a certain position or action. Indeed, the line between persuasion and manipulation is thin, as well as elastic.
It is important to note that Western Civilization has a particularly tolerant attitude towards persuasion. The acts of critical thinking, reasoning, and debate are highly valued, foundational elements of Western Civilization. Often, critical thinking is expressed through adversarial debate and reasoning effected through interpersonal conversation. Thus, the foundational mental processes of Western Thought are often achieved through the persuasion of one person by another. One can even argue that persuasion is essential to Western science and government.
Reflecting the Western view of persuasion, Nilsen appears to believe that persuasion is ethical when it involves high motivation to listen and ability on the part of the audience, which is known as high "elaboration" in ELM terms. (Nilsen, 1974, p. 42). However, persuasion would be less ethical when there is low elaboration, or when the audience is passively led into a certain mental position. This is a promising compromise.
Perhaps there is a place for persuasion. In practical terms, persuasion would be more ethical in the realm of science and government because the audiences are typically highly interested and knowledgeable about the content of the persuasive communication. It would be less ethical in the realm of business and personal relations because of the influence of non-cognitive, emotional factors.
Petty, R.E., & Cacioppo, J.T. (1986). The Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion. Advances in Experimental Psychology, Vol. 9).
Schroeder, L. (2005). Cultivation and the Elaboration Likelihood Model: A Test of the Learning and Construction and Availability Heuristic Models. Communication Studies, 56(3), p. 227 -- 242
Areni, C. (2003). The Effects of Structural and Grammatical Variables on Persuasion: An Elaboration Likelihood Model. Perspective Psychology & Marketing, 20(4): p. 349-375
Morris, Woo, and Singh. (2005). Elaboration Likelihood Model: A Missing Intrinsic Emotional Implication. Journal of Targeting, Measurement and Analysis for Marketing, 14(1), p. 79 -- 98
Cook, Moore, and Steele. (2004). The Taking of a Position: A Reinterpretation…