Figural vividness and persuasion: capturing the "elusive" vividness effect

Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2011 May;37(5):626-38. doi: 10.1177/0146167211399585. Epub 2011 Mar 7.


Despite the widespread belief that the use of vividness in persuasive communications is effective, many laboratory studies have failed to find vividness effects. A possible explanation for this discrepancy is that many laboratory tests have not vivified solely the central thesis of the message but have vivified irrelevant portions of the message as well or instead. Two experiments examined the effect of vivifying the central ("figure") or noncentral ("ground") features of a message on persuasion. In both experiments, the formerly "elusive vividness effect" of superior persuasion was found, but only in vivid-figure communications. A mediation analysis revealed the salutary role of supportive cognitive elaborations, rather than memory for the communication, in mediating the vividness effect. The findings caution against attempts to persuade by increasing overall message vividness because off-thesis vividness has the unintended and undercutting consequence of distracting recipients from the point of the communication.

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Cognition
  • Feedback
  • Humans
  • Imagination*
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Persuasive Communication*
  • Psychological Theory
  • Young Adult