The Effects of Source Credibility in the Presence or Absence of Prior Attitudes: Implications for the Design of Persuasive Communication Campaigns

J Appl Soc Psychol. 2010 Jun 1;40(6):1325-1356. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2010.00620.x.


Most theories of persuasion predict that limited ability and motivation to think about communications should increase the impact of source credibility on persuasion. Furthermore, this effect is assumed to occur, regardless of whether or not the recipients have prior attitudes. In this study, the effects of source credibility, ability, and motivation (knowledge, message repetition, relevance) on persuasion were examined meta-analytically across both attitude formation and change conditions. Findings revealed that the Source Credibility × Ability/Motivation interaction emerged only when participants lacked prior attitudes and were unable to form a new attitude based on the message content. In such settings, the effects of source credibility decayed rapidly. The implications of these findings for applied communication campaigns are discussed.