The Quickest Way to Influce Attitude & Behavior Change with Storytelling

If you are going to make a video, you don’t want to miss the mark of influencing your viewer. Our research shows that storytelling is the most powerful form of influence. One of the research models used to measure just how influential storytelling can be is known as the Extended Elaboration Likelihood Model. The Extended ELM services as a roadmap for making your stories even more powerful. In this article, we explore the history, evolution, and application of the Elaboration Likelihood Model as it pertains to videography and storytelling.

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The Elaboration Likelihood Model – Summary

Theories and psychology of influence and persuasion, prior to 1986, use to be a mesh of memorizing what this study found on behavior change and what another study found that countered it, and what another study found that neither supported nor countered the original study. For every new finding, there were a dozen adjacent studies that would nullify any universally applied theory of persuasion.

In 1986, Petty & Cacioppo had an entire room whose walls were covered over with blackboard paint. From end to end was clusters of studies on behavior and persuasion. It was during their graduate studies and this room of research blackboards that they discovered an underlying theme. The theme evolved into the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM). This model paved the way for researchers to better understand and apply persuasion techniques. Understanding a hand full of terms set’s the stage for applying the ELM to storytelling.

Elaboration is thinking about an issue or topic at hand. People can systematically think about an issue or topic to a great extent or give it little to no thought. This continuum of elaboration moves between extremely high issue involvement to little issue involvement. There are two factors that play a role in a determining how much a person is involved or elaborating on the issue. First is motivation or the desire to think over an issue and the second is the ability or capacity to think over an issue. According to the ELM, persuasion or influence can take place anywhere on the continuum.

The effectiveness of influence along the continuum is depended on the route by which the message is processed. There are two routes, central and peripheral. Central route is one where there is high involvement or elaboration. The peripheral route is where the message is processed through cues and things not specific to the arguments, also known as heuristics.

When involvement is high, the likelihood of central processing is high and requires soundness of arguments for influence to take place. On the other hand, if elaboration is low the likelihood of the messages being processed along the peripheral route increases. In this case, influence is best achieved through heuristics, such as the credentials, attractiveness, and credibility of the person delivering the message. To summarize, experts will care less about the title of the person delivering the message and more about the soundness of the arguments. On the other hand, people who know little on the topic will rely on the titles and body language of the messengers more than on the content in the message.

Figure 1: Elaboration Likelihood Model Illustration

The Extended ELM

The ELM set a new precedence for researching and understanding persuasion and influence. It covers a large set of persuasive scenarios but fell short in predicting and explaining the effectiveness of narrative or story persuasion. Researchers expanded upon the ELM to help explain how narratives effectively influence people to change even the strongest held beliefs and behaviors. This expanded ELM is known as the Extended Elaboration Likelihood Model.

Applying the ELM to narrative persuasion or influence proved difficult in explaining the mixed results. Researcher Micheal Slater (2002) found that the term, issue involvement, was better understood as engagement or absorption or identification with characters. In narrative or storytelling, the term Transportation is when a viewer becomes so absorbed in a stories character that they lose track of their surroundings. To simplify things, Transportation encompasses engagement, absorption, and identification with characters.

Narratives are unique in that they connect people with people, including the inanimate objects that are infused with human-like characteristics. Slate (2002) notes that “Human beings are social information processors before they are processors of facts, figures, and logical arguments.” Additional research found that a person who is transported into a story, their counterarguing or BS radar, is dimmed or bypassed and influence even the most staunched of people. A remarkable story is one of, if not the most powerful tools of influence.

Application of the Extended ELM to Story Telling

Figure 2: Extended ELM Illustration
The Extended ELM starts with combining the Storyline or Plot, Quality of Production, the Unobtrusiveness of Persuasive Subtext, and character similarities. The combination of these contributes to how absorbed or transported into the story the viewer becomes. The degree of transportation can increase the viewer’s identification with the characters and thereby influence their responses to the influence or persuasive messages embedded in the narrative. The end results are an increased likelihood of attitude, belief, and behavior changes. If the viewers engage in rehearsed or reinforcing discussions with peer following the narrative the likelihood of attitude and behavior change is increased.

The Quickest Way to Achieve Attitude and Behavior Change

If characters and viewers have an extremely high similarity or Homophily, the viewer is more likely to be transported by the narrative and experience the same shifts in behaviors and beliefs as the character. This can bypass even strongly held beliefs and is not dependent on the quality of production, subtlety of the persuasive attempts, or the storyline appeal. Humans are social creatures and when you are transported by a character in a story who is “just like you” that characters thoughts, feelings, behavior, and beliefs become your own for at least the duration of the story and for some time following.


The Extended ELM offers a way to research and understand how narratives can change our behaviors and beliefs. It also gives us a formula for producing videos that have the best potential for moving our viewers to where we would like them to go. It’s no secret that we are all susceptible to influence and that is why we take care to only work with people and company’s who share our mission to enrich the world. As you go out and move people through powerful narratives, we hope that you will do so with the best interest of your viewers.

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We provide world class videos that are focused on extraordinary stories that influence people to desired outcomes.

We help our customers to stay relevant in a video dominant marketing field and help increase their revenues through video marketing.

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