General interests and approach
Persuasion resides between different disciplines. For instance, it has been explored from the perspectives of cognitive psychology (my main focus in the PhD), social psychology, rhetoric, marketing, economic theory, philosophy, and sociology. These disciplines offer different ways of describing and theorising about persuasion as a phenomenon, and collectively they shine different lights onto this fascinating topic. My research interests, although predominantly based in cognitive psychology, explore a plethora of theories and models from across the range of the aforementioned disciplines. I believe this provides a stronger foundation, as the fundamental assumptions of each discipline is called into question when faced with theories and modes of explanation from others. As such, they potentially complement one another and make sure that researchers keep a critical perspective on their basic assumptions.
This inter-disciplinary approach and interest is reflected in my educational background, as I have degrees from rhetorical theory (where I also took classes in philosophy), linguistics, and cognitive psychology.
In the following, I have described two general areas of research that have attracted my attention in the past couple of years. These should be seen in conjunction with the areas described in the ‘post-doc’-section, as I do not want to describe those again here (see the post-doc section for a description of conceptual extension of the SPIMP, the analytical potential of the model, and the potential for integrating emotion states in the conceptual framework underlying the SPIMP).
The Subjective-Probabilistic Interactive Model of Persuasion (SPIMP) takes epistemological point of departure in subjective estimations of content strength and source credibility. These estimations, however, are inherently situated and immersed within the contextual, interactive, and cultural. Consequently, the conceptual foundation of the model would predict that different cultures might approach persuasion differently (incidentally, this is one of the conceptual developments that need to be integrated in the current model, see point 1 in ‘post-doc’).
Despite the fact that most empirical literature in psychology stems from Western subjects (as shown by Arnett, 2008), recent studies indicate that people from different cultural backgrounds might invoke different strategies when coping with evidence, argumentation, and reasoning in general. Naturally, these conclusions would extend to the area of persuasion as well.
Consequently, I am looking to explore the SPIMP as well as reasoning in general across different cultures. Currently, I am preparing empirical studies to be run in the UK and Japan.
From belief to behaviour
One of the interesting issues of persuasion is to define the limitations of what beliefs entail. For instance, much economic and rational choice theory would predict that we should act in accordance with our beliefs (e.g. if someone believe one washer is superior to the others in terms of price, quality, and environmental issues, that person should opt for this one rather than another washer).
However, the link between belief and behaviour might not be straightforward. For instance, social psychology shows that several external influences such as the behaviour of others might influence how we behave regardless of what we might believe. Indeed, social pressure might even make us act against what we believe, merely to save face. Concurrently, the structure of the contextual environment also influences the potential for action. Thus, behaviour is potentially moved from within the realm of beliefs to a complex interaction between beliefs, interactions with others, the social, and the contextual.
This realisation points in interesting directions in terms of developing a theory of influence (that is: a theory of change in behaviour) and how a theory of persuasion (understood as a theory of changes in beliefs) fit within this larger conceptual context. In other words, I am interested in describing the limitations of persuasion (and by extension the SPIMP) whilst pointing towards a holistic theory of influence in which persuasion is an important, but not all-powerful element.
Currently, I am exploring this by testing the model on obesity campaigns in the UK and Denmark (see point 2 in ‘post-doc’).
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