Communication Elaboration Likelihood Model
H. Allen White
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 February 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0053


The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM), developed by Richard E. Petty and John T. Cacioppo in the early 1980s, is a twofold, or dual-process, model that describes how people choose to manage, either systematically or heuristically, information they encounter. Specifically focused on persuasion, the ELM argues that there are two routes to persuasion: the central route and the peripheral route. Central route processing is systematic and involves message receivers’ scrutinizing the central, logical merits of a persuasive message. The peripheral route is heuristic; it is the means by which message receivers evaluate persuasive messages when they are unmotivated and/or unable to elaborate on its logical merits. Although the ELM’s central and peripheral routes naturally cause one to focus on its dual processes, Petty and Cacioppo point out that it also incorporates the notion of elaboration likelihood, meaning that message receivers move along a continuum of probability to engage in effortful thought. At one end of this continuum, receivers have a virtual 100 percent probability of expending considerable cognitive effort to evaluate the central merits of a persuasive message. At the other end, receivers hold a nonexistent probability of effortful elaboration. Petty and Cacioppo frame their description of this elaboration continuum in terms of the importance of heuristic devices (peripheral cues) in the persuasion process. They argue that as the combination of motivation and ability to engage in effortful elaboration decreases, these peripheral cues become more important determinants of persuasion. Conversely, as receiver’s motivation and ability increase, peripheral cues become less important. Hence, a defining element of the ELM is motivation. Assuming that receivers have the ability to scrutinize the arguments of a persuasive message, their level of motivation determines the extent to which they actually engage in this cognitive activity. Further, the ELM argues that the variables in a persuasive context can serve three purposes. They can take on the role of persuasive arguments that are evaluated via the central route. They can serve as either positive or negative peripheral cues that allow message receivers to reach conclusions absent elaboration. Finally, they can function as motivators affecting the amount and direction of issue-relevant elaboration. Finally, the ELM argues that changes in attitude that result from central route processing will be more persistent, will be better predictors of behavior, and will be more resistant to counter-persuasion than are attitude changes that result from exposure to peripheral cues.

General Overviews

Overviews of theories generally take on three dimensions, and this is true of the scholarship tracking the development of the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM). First, original articulations of the ELM, Petty and Cacioppo 1981 and Petty and Cacioppo 1986, describe the model, identify its theoretical forebears, and report research findings that lend it support. Second-generation overviews, such as Choi and Salmon 2003, emerged after a period during which scholars evaluated it as well as the research it has generated. A third type of overview places the model into the broader context of persuasion as a field of study. For example, Perloff 2003, Petty, et al. 1997, and Petty, et al. 1999 examine the ELM in the context of a number of multiprocess models.

  • Choi, Sejung Marina, and Charles T. Salmon. 2003. The Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion after two decades: A review of criticisms and contributions. Kentucky Journal of Communication 22:47–77.

    E-mail Citation »

    This twenty-year review of the ELM argues that, while the model has made contributions to persuasion theory, it is limited by weakly constructed postulates, ambiguity, and the constraints of dichotomous persuasion routes.

  • Perloff, Richard M. 2003. Processing persuasive communications. In The dynamics of persuasion: Communication and attitudes in the 21st century, 2d ed. By Richard M. Perloff, 119–148. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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    This is an excellent and readable overview of dual-process persuasion models, focusing on the ELM. In addition to examining the model’s basic concepts, variables, and processes, the chapter explores applications of the model and reviews criticisms. It also traces the history of dual-process models to ancient Greece.

  • Petty, Richard E., and John T. Cacioppo. 1981. Attitudes and persuasion: Classic and contemporary approaches. Dubuque, IA: W. C. Brown.

    E-mail Citation »

    This book presents antecedents to the Elaboration Likelihood Model. It provides insight into the model’s development and covers a number of classic approaches to attitude change and persuasion including motivational approaches. The book’s Epilog includes what the authors at the time called the “Elaboration Likelihood Model of Attitude Change.” Reprinted in 1996 (Boulder, CO: Westview).

  • Petty, Richard E., and John T. Cacioppo. 1986. Communication and persuasion: Central and peripheral routes to attitude change. New York: Springer.

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    This is a contemporaneous overview of the Elaboration Likelihood Model from the concept’s creators. An obvious source to consult.

  • Petty, Richard E., Duane T. Wegener, and Leandre R. Fabrigar. 1997. Attitudes and attitude change. Annual Review of Psychology 48:609–647.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.48.1.609E-mail Citation »

    This review article examines attitude change, structure, and consequences. The review also examines research on central route processing, defined as a high-effort process, and on peripheral route processes, which are defined as low-effort processing.

  • Petty, Richard E., S. Christian Wheeler, and George Y. Bizer. 1999. Is there one persuasion process or more? Lumping versus splitting in attitude change theories. Psychological Inquiry 10:156–163.

    DOI: 10.1207/S15327965PL100211E-mail Citation »

    This commentary article contrasts single-process and multiprocess theories of persuasion.

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