Ethics and Persuasion

"If you’ve got em’ by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow"

General George S. Patton

Ethical issues are bound up in the study/use of communication

bulletEvery interaction involves a "content" and a "relationship" dimension, either of which may entail ethical implications.
bulletCommunication is goal-directed, and therefore involves choices between means and ends.
bulletRichard Weaver’s notion that all language is "sermonic."

Many persuasion texts ignore the subject of ethics entirely!

bulletThey presume they are simply imparting knowledge and information
bulletThey presume that ethical judgments are matters of personal opinion
bulletThey think it is presumptuous, or even unethical, to teach ethics

Is persuasion in general unethical?

bulletIdealistic view: persuasion as "manipulation," getting others to do our bidding
bulletFeminist view: persuasion as "masculine" approach to problem solving
bulletwin-lose orientation, emphasizes power/status differences
bulletas opposed to a feminine approach which emphasizes shared goals, cooperation, mutually satisfactory outcomes,
bulletNegative stereotypes: persuasion in the form of deceit, beguilement, trickery,

Gass & Seiter’s view

bulletidealistic views of human communication are unrealistic, impractical
bulletcommunication does break down at times, people do have incompatible goals at times
bulletPersuasion is not a dirty word
bulletPersuasion as a "tool"
bulletPersuasion is androgynous; persuasion can emphasize cooperation or competition, power/status differences or equality
bulletGass & Seiter "The motives color the means"

The motives color the means

Central versus peripheral processing: Is one more ethical than the other?

bulletCentral processing is based on:
bulletthought, reflection, deliberation
bulletscrutiny of message content
bullethigh level of receiver involvement
bulletPeripheral processing is based on:
bulletmental shortcuts such as credibility, images, appearance-based cues
bulletemotional processing
bulletlow level of receiver involvement

Ethical questions that can’t be answered through the study of persuasion

bulletIssues related to the ends of persuasion
bulletpro-life versus pro-choice controversy
bulletassisted suicide controversy
bulletcapital punishment
bulletWell-known approaches to ethics (see sidebar in text)

Persuaders as Lovers

bulletWayne Brockriede’s (1974) notion of arguers as lovers
bulletseducers: charm, flattery
bulletrapists: threats, ultimatums
bulletlovers: genuineness, positive regard
bulletcharacteristics of persuaders as lovers

Characteristics of Ethical Influence

bulletIntentional on the persuader’s part
bulletConscious awareness on the receiver’s part
bulletFree choice, free will on the receiver’s part
bulletis there a right to avoid influence attempts?
bulletIn the "world of words" e.g., language and symbolic action

Can the use of coercion ever be ethically justified?

bulletA child is forced to get a vaccination by his or her parents
bulleta psychotic or delusional person is forcibly restrained so he/she won’t harm him/her self or someone else
bulletthe "ticking bomb" scenario

Ethical questions regarding source credibility

bulletIs it unethical for a celebrity endorser to promote a product or service he or she does not actually use, or about which he or she lacks expertise?
bulletDoes the use of authority become an abuse of authority if receivers place too much faith or reliance in a particular source?

Ethical questions regarding the use of deception

bulletIs deception ever justified? Is honesty always the best policy?

Ethical questions relating to receivers

bulletWhat ethical guidelines should be followed when attempting to persuade highly vulnerable audiences?
bulletPoor, inner-city residents

Ethical questions related to the use of fear appeals

bulletIs the use of fear appeals ever ethically justifiable and, if so, under what conditions or circumstances?
bulletIs the use of threats ever ethically justifiable and, if so, under what conditions or circumstances?

Ethical questions related to using emotional appeals

bulletIs playing on another’s emotions ethically defensible?
bulletAre some types of ethical appeals better, or more ethically defensible than others?

Ethical questions related to the use of ingratiation?

bulletIs ingratiation an unethical strategy, or an honest acknowledgement of the way things work?

Ethical questions related to the use of subliminal persuasion

bulletShould subliminal messages be allowed and, if so, should they be regulated by the government or some other institution?