Persuasion: The Art and Science of Making a Difference

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(Heath and Heath) What are the proven-effective techniques of social influence, as used by persuasion professionals? (Cialdini)? Goals: Develop a clearer ...
Persuasive Campaigns and Movements

Herbert W. Simons, Emeritus Professor, Temple University

10:30 A.M, Thursdays 7 Thursdays (9/25, 10/2, 10/16, 10/23, 10/30 11/6 AND 11/13)

COURSE DESCRIPTION The power of sustained, organized efforts at persuasion, whether in the form of well-financed “top-down” campaigns or “bottom-up” social movements. As in my previous TARP course, this one aims at providing critical understanding of what persuades and of the dilemmas that often stand in the way of goal accomplishment. Course topics include product advertising, war propaganda, political campaigns, and movements designed to promote or resist social change.


Emeritus Professor Herbert W. Simons began teaching persuasion and related subject matter at Temple University in 1960. A longtime campus and community activist, he brings first-hand experience to the study of campaigns and movements. Recipient of the National Communication Association’s Distinguished Scholar Award, he is currently at work on completing a new edition of his textbook on persuasion. He is also under contract for a book on America’s Political War Over Iraq.

Course Topics and Objectives

H.W. Simons

A. Nature and Scope of Persuasion – What is Persuasion (i.e., rhetoric)? Is it an art of gulling the innocent, as Plato suggested? Is it an art of giving effectiveness to truth, as Aristotle maintained? Is it an amoral art of “proving opposites,” as Protagoras (a famous Greek sophist) proposed? How might we study it and why? What role does it play in American society and across the globe? How has it changed over the years? When is intent to persuade clear? When is it not? Why are those non-obvious cases (the “gray areas”) so important? What’s the relationship between persuasion and propaganda? What’s “in” a persuasive message? Goals: learn the “basics.” Become increasingly sensitized to persuasion’s role in society. Develop your “art of mistrust.” Also hone your skills as a persuader.

B. Psychology of Persuasion – Are message recipients rational or irrational in the way they process persuasive messages? How persuadable are you by comparison to most people? What are the main theories and core concepts in the psychology of persuasion? What does research tell us about what works, on whom, when, how, and why? What are the proven-effective stratagems for “making ideas stick”? (Heath and Heath) What are the proven-effective techniques of social influence, as used by persuasion professionals? (Cialdini)? Goals: Develop a clearer understanding of persuasion’s psychological dynamics. Learn to use Heath and Heath’s suggestions for “Succes” at persuasion.

C. Creating a Better World. As we move toward the end of the course, we will re-visit some questions: e.g., whether in a message-dense society like ours we can still make democracy work; whether there is any escape in the “good” society (of our imaginings) from propaganda; whether there are ways of being effective and ethical in our means of persuasion; whether we can transcend cultural ideologies and indoctrinations; whether there are solutions to the puzzle of “reality” as rhetorically constituted and socially constructed. Goal: Develop what Ellen Langer calls second-order mindfulness? Don’t be taken in by those who ascribe persuasive effectiveness to mysterious or magical forces. Learn instead to recognize the non-magical but still powerful tools of persuasion. Goal: Becoming more critical, more discriminating at message processing. Goal: Learning to see beyond the psychology of persuasion to the larger social and political forces that play upon us. Goal: becoming an activist for improved message- making and improved message-processing in our increasingly message- dense “persuasion society.”

What You Can Do To Help In This Course

Bring in examples designed to make abstractions come alive. Share lessons learned from personal experience about the arts of message-making and critical message-processing. Also alert the class to interesting videos, especially those which are readily available for us to view on the internet. Read assigned readings before they’re scheduled for class discussion. Read them actively and critically, as though you were in conversation with them. The same is true of assigned videos. Participate actively in class discussions. Initiate discussions on Blackboard (Bb) or via e-mails to the class. Create a course-related video for (e.g., search Benz, political apologia). Become an internet blogger on persuasion or op-ed writer for a newspaper. Submit a journal that you’ve kept on ideas generated by and for this course. Knock on my office door and engage me in conversation about persuasion. (Appointments preferred.) Offer advice on what ought to go into the revision of my textbook on persuasion. I’m under contract for a new edition (Routledge).

Learn to Think Outside the “Box”

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Connect the 9 dots with 4 continuous straight lines.

TARP Persuasion Simons S-08

Recommended Readings

Simons, H.W. Persuasion in Society (Thousand Oaks: Sage) 2001 (on-line chapters available FREE if you have e-mail); one copy to be kept in or near the TARP library.

Heath, C. and Heath, D., Made to Stick (NY: Random House) 2007.

Cialdini, R.B. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (NY: Collins) 2007.

Jackson, B. and Jamieson, KH, un-Spun (NY: Random House) 2007.

A major newspaper or magazine of your own choosing: e.g., NY Times, Newsweek. Keep up.


These will be an integral part of the course. We’ll see some recent ones and some golden oldies. Are you able to keep up with what’s available on I can’t!

One video will be left in the TARP office for viewing in class just in case I’m held up by a last minute emergency.

Course Structure

I’ll usually integrate lecture materials, handouts, videos, class discussion, and an occasional exercise into each 75 minute class. I welcome your contributions to the class.

Contact Information

E-mail: [email protected] Phone: 215 844-5969. Address: 416 W. Stafford St., Phila 19144.

Tentative Schedule

1/31 Introduction, Orientation What is Persuasion? Nature and Scope The Art and Science of Persuasion Making a Difference The “9-dot” problem (exercise) Who am I and why am I at TARP? My website:

Who are you? Why are you in this class? If you intend to become a “persuasion regular,” I ask that you provide me with a one or two paragraph description of yourself and, if possible, a recent photograph. Bring this to class on Feb. 7 or e-mail it to me: [email protected]

2/7 Basic Principles What is Rhetoric? What’s in a Message? (Simons, Ch. 1; other notes) The Psychology of Persuasion (Simons, Ch. 2) Making Ideas Stick (Heath and Heath; please skim the entire book) Exercises: “Hillary’s Tears”; Candidate quiz:

2/21 Guises and Disguises of Persuasion Persuasion Broadly Considered (Simons, Ch. 3) Gray areas: Guises of Objectivity, Authenticity, etc. Deception and Deception Detection Persuasion and Ideology in Ads and Media Entertainment Exercises: Ad analyses; visit to your local “pharmacy”

2/28 Persuading Others The Art of Co-Active Persuasion (Simons, Ch. 4) The Persuader’s Resources (Simons, Ch. 5) Communication Dilemmas and Framing Strategies (Simons, Ch. 6) “Going Public” (Simons, Ch. 9) Campaigns (Simons, Ch. 10-12) Movements (Simons, Ch. 14)

3/20 Cognitive short-hands Cialdini’s seven principles (Skim Cialdini) Simons’ summary and critique of Cialdini (Ch. 7) How vulnerable are we to exploitative persuaders? (Ch. 7)

4/3 Wrap-Up: Making a Difference More on the Ethics of Persuasion (Simons, Ch. 15) Crisis Rhetoric: How to bring a nation to war? Politics in the Classroom The “Mindful” Persuader