The Roots of Research in (political) Persuasion: Ethos, Pa thos, Logos and the Yale Studies of Persuasive Communications

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The Roots of Research in (political) Persuasion:
Ethos, Pathos, Logos and the Yale Studies of
Persuasive Communications

189 International Journal of Social Inquiry
Volume 3 Number 1 2010 pp. 189-201

BY: Ülkü D. DEMİRDÖĞEN*

ABSTRACT

In ancient Greece, Aristotle claimed in his Rhetoric that the function of rhetoric was
not to persuade, but to discover the means of persuasion in each case. It is
remarkable how the empirical approach towards persuasion embedded in ‘ethos,
pathos, logos’ of Aristotle seems to be revisited by the Yale study group in 1950s,
with the aim of discovering the laws of persuasive communications in laboratory
settings. The contemporary quest carried out by the Yale research program on
persuasion reflects the Aristotelean tradition of examining ‘the ethos, pathos and
logos’ aspects of persuasion closely. This article aims to draw the reader’s attention to this strong influence of Aristotle’s perspective on the Yale research group.

Adopting a learning theory approach, the Yale study group, led by psychologist Carl Hovland,
tried to find out the stimulus-response effects of many variables
concerning persuasion and thus paved the way for more elaborate research in
persuasion in the years to come. The characteristics of the elements of persuasion,
which have been studied by the Yale research group, are explained in this article by
giving examples from their experimental research. The major contribution of
Hovland and his colleagues has been the specification of an initial set of
characteristics to understand the principles and processes of persuasion. Since
persuasion is an important dimension of politics in general and negotiation/conflict
resolution in particular, the tradition of studying (political) rhetoric deserves the
attention of disciplines like political science and international relations as well.

The Roots of Research in (political) Persuasion: Ethos, Pa thos, Logos and the Yale Studies of Persuasive Communications

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