SPC 367

Persuasion Theories

Winter 2005. Tuesdays and Thursdays 10:00-11:50 a.m. Old Main, Rm.


Instructor: Dr. Steve Macek                                     Office Hours: Monday 2-5 p.m.; Tuesday 

Home Phone: 630-718-0836                                  8:30-10 a.m.; Thursday 2-5 p.m. and by

Campus Phone: 630-637-5369                               appointment. 

E-mail: shmacek@noctrl.edu

Webpage: http://stephen.macek.faculty.noctrl.edu

Office: Pfeiffer Hall, Room 40 

Campus Mailbox: #403.


Course Description


            In our society, persuasive communication is impossible to avoid. Every year the average American sees more than 38,000 TV commercials and several 100,000 advertisements of other kinds. We’re bombarded by persuasive messages every time we open a newspaper or magazine, drive by a billboard, listen to talk radio, see a poster cautioning us not to drive drunk, or get handed a flyer for a political cause.  Even our conversations with friends are likely to involve (sometimes unconscious) efforts to influence their behavior and persuade them to see things our way.

            This course aims to provide you with a solid grounding in the theories, principles, strategies, and techniques of social influence as they apply to various modes and contexts of communication. Special emphasis will be placed in this class on propaganda and techniques of mass persuasion in the media and advertising.  And, throughout, we’ll pay special attention to the central role of persuasive communication in a democratic society.  


Required Texts


Gass, R. H. & Seiter, J.S.. Persuasion, Social Influence and Compliance Gaining (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1999).


Pratkanis, A.R. & Aronson, E. . Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion (New York:: Bedford, Freeman & Worth, 2001). 


Procedures, Requirements and Expectations


Course Format.  This is a discussion-based, seminar-style course.  I will give occasional lectures and from time to time we will look at videos or other media in class. However, the majority of class time will be given over to class discussion of the concepts and issues raised by the readings and lectures.  As such, the success of the course depends on your participation and thorough preparation. I expect you to do the required reading, to come to class with questions for discussion and to make an effort to participate. In class discussions, it will be my job to facilitate and to keep the conversation flowing.


Assignments. The assignments for the course include short papers and reviews as well as a more elaborate term project. You’ll complete six short (1-2 page) “theory-in-action” papers in which you analyze concrete, real world examples, illustrations or applications of a particular theory or model we’re studying.  You’ll write a 3-5 page critical analysis of the film, Wag the Dog, and discuss what it can tell us about techniques of propaganda. Finally, you’ll complete an end-of-the-term project in which you design a persuasive campaign for a product, political candidate or social cause. For this final project, you’ll be asked to a) make a persuasive speech promoting your product, candidate or cause to the class (in the 10th week of the course), b) create examples of sales or campaign “literature” and advertisements, and c) write a final report (roughly 5-6 pages) explaining the strategies you used and rhetorical decisions you made in planning your campaign.  All writing assignments should be typed or printed in 12 point Times or New York font, double-spaced, have one-inch margins and be stapled together. They should also be relatively free of mechanical and grammatical error. If you write on a computer, be sure to back-up your work. Put your name, the date and the name of the class on all assignments. See the attached Guidelines and Standards for Written Work for more details about the writing assignments.


In-class Midterm Exam. In addition to the writing assignments listed above, there will be an in-class midterm in the 6th week of the course. The exam will cover the readings and lectures and will consist of multiple choice, fill in the blank and short answer questions. 


Electronic Submissions. If you like, you may submit your writing assignments by e-mail. Electronic submissions should arrive in my in-box prior to the listed due date. Send them to me as attachments, preferably in the form of Microsoft Word files.


Class Participation and Attendance. It will be extremely difficult for you to do well in this course if you don't come to class. I expect you to attend class regularly, to be on time and to stay for the entire session. Your record of attendance and your contributions to class discussion will determine 10% of your final grade. To receive a high score for your participation, you should not only do the reading for class but also come prepared to say something. It might help if you came to class with a list of questions or a passage from the readings you'd like to discuss.


Grades.  Your grade for the course will be based on the your papers, the midterm, your final project and your participation in class.  The “theory in  action” papers are each worth 5% of your final grade. The film review is worth 10% of your grade, the mid-term exam will count for 15% and the various parts of the final project will together count for 35%. Class participation and attendance will count for 10% of your grade for the course. To make it easier for me to calculate final grades, each assignment or grade component will receive both a letter grade and a corresponding point score. On my grading scale, an A is 93% to 100% of the possible points, 90 to 92% is an A-, 87% to 89% is a B+, 83% to 86% is a B, 80% to 82% is a B-, 77% to 79% is a C +, 73% to 76% is a C, 70% to 72% is a C-, 67% to 69% is a D+, 60% to 68% is a D and anything less than 59% is an F.







Below is a breakdown of the points for each assignment or final grade component:


6 “theory-in-action” papers  @ 50 points=                         300 points

1 review of “Wag the Dog”  @ 100 points=                                  100 points

1 in-class mid-term exam @ 150 points=                                      150 points

1 final persuasion project:

1 presentation @100 points

Examples of campaign literature and ads @ 100 points

1 report @150 points

Project total=                                                                        350 points

Class participation=                                                                          100 points


                                                                                                            1000 total points possible


To figure out how you are doing in the course at any time during the term, simply divide the points you've earned so far by the number of points you could've earned.


Late Work. The due dates for each of the writing assignments are clearly listed on the schedule below. Grades on late work will be lowered one letter grade for each week the assignment is overdue.


Course Schedule

Week 1.

Tuesday, January 4. Why study persuasion?; Overview of the course.


Thursday, January 6. The classical origins of the study of persuasion; What is propaganda?

Reading: Gass & Seiter, Chapters 1and 2; Pratkanis & Aronson, Chapters 1-3.


Week 2.

Tuesday, January 11. The drive to be consistent and the “rationalization trap”.

Reading: Gass & Seiter, Chapter 3; Pratkanis & Aronson, Chapters 4 & 5.


Thursday, January 13. Setting the stage for persuasion.

Reading: Pratkanis & Aronson, Chapters 6-11.

Theory in Action Paper # 1 Due.


Week 3.

Tuesday, January 18. Credibility

Reading: Gass & Seiter 4, Chapters ; Pratkanis & Aronson, Chapters 12-16.


Thursday, January 20. Social and psychological characteristics and persuasibility

Reading: Gass & Seiter, Chapter 5.

Theory in Action Paper # 2 Due.


Week 4.     

Tuesday, January 25. The urge to conform

Reading:  Gass & Seiter, Chapter 6.


Thursday, January 27. Language and the persuasive message.

Reading:  Gass & Seiter, Chapter 7 ; Pratkanis & Aronson Chapter 17-21.

Theory in Action Paper # 3 Due.


Week 5.

Tuesday, February 1. Designing an effective persuasive message.

Reading: Gass & Seiter, Chapter 9.


Thursday, February 3. Designing an effective message (continued).

Reading: Gass & Seiter, Chapter 10 ; Pratkanis & Aronson Chapter 22 and 23.

Theory in Action Paper # 4 Due.


Week 6.

Tuesday, February 8. Midterm.


Thursday, February 10. Appealing to emotions.

Reading: Gass & Seiter, Chapter 13 ; Pratkanis & Aronson Chapters 24-30.

Week 7.

Tuesday, February 15. Visual persuasion.

Reading: Gass & Seiter, Chapter 14.


Thursday, February 17. The art of the lie.

Reading: Gass & Seiter, Chapter 12.

Theory in Action Paper # 5 Due.


Week 8.

Tuesday, February 22. Movie day.

Screening: Wag the Dog

Theory in Action Paper # 6 Due.


Thursday, February 24. Discuss Wag the Dog.  

Also today: Meet with me about final projects.


Week  9.

Tuesday, March 1. The ethics of persuasive communication.

Reading: Gass & Seiter, Chapter 16.


Thursday, March 3. The limits of persuasion and techniques of mental self-defense.

Reading: Pratkanis & Aronson  31-33 and 35-40

Wag the Dog review due.


Week 10.

Tuesday, March 8. Final Project Presentations.


Thursday, March 10. Final Project Presentations & Course Evaluations.


Finals Week.

Tuesday, March 15. Final Project (report & examples of campaign literature) due in my e-mail inbox or campus mailbox by 4 p.m. 



Guidelines and Standards for Written Work


          All written work must be typed or printed in dark ink, double-spaced, stapled (not paper clipped) together, in 12 point Times or New York font with one inch margins and should have a title page.  It must be responsive to all aspects of the assignment, including length, and should use the Modern Language Association (MLA) system of documentation and style.

            Written work should be relatively free of mechanical and grammatical error.

            Document every reference, including page numbers whenever possible. Refer to a writer’s manual if you need guidance about how to do this.

            Support claims not common knowledge with evidence and conclusions with argument. Take time to plan your papers and devote some time to rewriting them. Always keep a second copy of your work.

            Assume your reader has not taken this course. Define all terms whose definitions are controversial or obscure. Take time to explain the theories you are using. Include as much detail as you need to support your argument. Illustrations (diagrams, storyboards, photographs, photos of still frames, etc.) are always welcome.

            Avoid racist or sexist language and cliches.

            Grades: Failure to follow any of the above guidelines will result in a lower grade. Otherwise, here are my standards:

            An "A" paper demonstrates that the writer has not only mastered the concepts of the course, but has applied them in an original, imaginative and incisive manner. The paper shows a command of the language that allows the writer to express ideas and observations clearly, effectively, in detail and with virtually no mechanical errors. The paper includes adequate documentation. "A"s are reserved for exceptional essays.

            A "B" paper demonstrates that the writer has understood the concepts of the course and has applied them with some originality. The paper shows the writer can organize a coherent essay with few errors. The paper for the most part includes adequate documentation.

            A "C" paper demonstrates that the writer has understood most of the concepts of the course but needs to pay more attention to reading or writing. Documentation is erratic.

            A "D" paper demonstrates that the writer has only a minimal understanding of the concepts of the course. Significant gaps in the writer's comprehension indicate the need for more study. The paper shows the writer's basic compositional skills are below satisfactory. Documentation is unsatisfactory.

            A "F" paper demonstrates that the writer has little, if any, understanding of the concepts of the course. Because of the writer's lack of skill or concern, the work includes gross errors as well as a lack of content. Documentation is negligible. The paper may also fail to address parts of the assignment.

            A paper may combine characteristics of different levels of work. In that case, the grade will depend on the paper's overall demonstration of knowledge of the material and of college writing skills.

            Please see me if you have questions about my standards or about any of your grades for the course.