As society progresses, media has had greater influence on what we listen to, talk about, and seek additional information on. However, do you ever notice that there are times when you are completely disengaged from what media is saying while other times you are so interested, you find yourself asking questions? This has to do with the elaboration likelihood model (ELM), which posits that individuals can engage in one of two routs – central or peripheral – in order to process information.
The central route allows for a thoughtful evaluation of the pros and cons of the information and requires that the individual have a motivation to think deeply as well as the cognitive resources to. This route is most commonly associated with the controlled processing aspect of the dual process model, in that we are consciously aware of what we are processing. The peripheral route allows us to think at a surface level or processing where there is no real or thoughtful evaluation of the information presented – we take it at face-value. Therefore, little motivation or cognitive resources are needed. This route is most commonly associated with the automatic aspect of the dual-process model, because we tend to engage heuristics and other methods to allow for us to make judgement with minimal (conscious) usage of our cognition.
Robert and Dennis (2005) discuss this model in relation to how humans use cognition to choose which media they pay attention to and not. They define media richness as how much content the source uses to convey a message and social presence as whether or not an individual is physically present. For instance, e-mails would be considered low in social presence while a videoconference would be considered higher in social presence. They particularly focus on how this model impacts multiple aspects of media in terms of the sender and receiver.
One aspect is how our decision quality is impacted based on social presence and the receiver’s motivation and attention. Senders face the obstacle of getting the receiver to be motivated to fully listen to the content as well as pay attention. If these are not paying attention, it makes it hard for the sender to get his/her information across. Social presence also impacts decision quality in that when an individual is given a lot of content in high social presence contexts, it may lead to poor decision-making since they are not given enough time to fully absorb and reflect on the information. In turn, the receiver will feel a sense of information overload.
In contrast, those who are given the same amount of content, but in low social presence contexts (e.g. via e-mail) have time to do more research and weigh the pros and cons before making a final decision. In the former situation, this may cause people to take on a more simplistic style of decision-making (and engage in peripheral processing) where the receiver relies on cues or what is readily available to them in terms of memories or experiences (availability heuristic). The switch to a simpler style of thinking, assuming the individual did want to engage in central route processing, may be due to the fact that individual’s working memory has a limited capacity. Therefore, if there is a lot of information to process, coupled with high social presence, it makes it hard for the receiver to fully process all the information since it can’t all be stored in working memory.
However, receivers who engage in high social presence media are already showing motivation to use the central route of cognitive processing in order to fully understand the information being presented to them. The sender has to be wary of the type of medium they send to the receiver because that can determine if and how much the receiver will further engage in deeper levels of processing. If the sender expects a quick response, they would choose a medium with a higher social presence. But if the sender expects a thorough response, they would most likely choose a medium with a lower social presence so that the receiver has time to process the information given.
Robert and Denies (2005) also discuss the idea of reprocessability, which is the extent that the receiver can go over the information presented more than once to, for lack of a better word, reprocess the information. Even though this is advantageous on the receiver’s part, if the receiver has a chance to fully elaborate and think-through the information presented and the sender redistributes the media, it may decrease message acceptance. We can see this when an individual is has to engage in the same advertisement throughout the course of a show they are streaming. At first the individual may be engaged in the advertisement, but after watching it more than three times, they are just frustrated and disengaged.
So how should the receiver present information and in which contexts? One way is through media switching, which is where the sender presents information in various forms of media. For instance, even though a lot of products are advertised on television, companies also use various social media platforms, word of mouth from customers, or by huge posters or billboards. Media switching allows receivers to be presented information in various forms as to not make them reject it after repeated exposure…at first. Of course, over-advertisement can lead to the receiver becoming disengaged.
Another question that comes to mind is, in what situations does central and peripheral processing work best? In terms of central processing, it seems that this is best used when you want to change an attitude or belief since central processing requires deeper processing. Therefore, when it comes to prejudice or stereotypes, helping the individual question their automatic processes and trying to avoid using heuristics, can help lessen these. Peripheral processes are best used when companies want to sell products. They most likely would use surface-level qualities (“look at all these colors”, “a new camera with better resolution”, etc.) to engage recipients. In the case of peripheral route processing, either low or high social presence would be fine considering there is not much information that needs to be processed. However, low social presence would be best for more central processing because the individual can really take time to reflect. However, the first step is catching the receiver when they have the cognitive resources available, the motivated to learn, and the ability to pay attention to your message.