How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Rank's Intensify/Downplay Schema
Hugh Rank has described a very simple model of persuasion where he describes the two basic (and opposite) patterns of intensification and downplay that are common to many persuasive situations. This is often done in speech using linguistic qualifiers.
In Intensification, the persuader seeks to increase the significance of certain elements that they want the other person to take more seriously or see as particularly important. (Interestingly, 'intensification' seems itself to be a rather intense word).
Intensifying may be done by repetition, association and composition.
Repetition of a word or visual pattern not only causes it to become remembered (which is persuasive in itself), it also leads people to accept what is being repeated as being true. Thus an advertiser of soap powder may focus on how wonderfully white clothes become by repeating the word 'whiteness'.
Association links the item with an idea or something which already has emotional connotation, for example something desired or feared. The soap powder advertiser may thus use attractive people in wonderfully clean (but not too up-market) houses. It also is using the unspoken idea that cleanliness is desirable (and, by extension, extreme cleanliness is extremely desirable).
Intensification may also be enhanced through the overall composition of what is being presented, for example contrasting the message with an opposite. Thus the soap powder advertiser may start with a person wearing muddy clothes.
Downplaying is the opposite of intensification and can be done using the same (but reversed) techniques. In addition, the following three methods can be used.
When we divert or distract a person from something we do not want them to attend to, then we may succeed in reducing their attention to it. The soap powder advert may divert from concerns about damaging the environment by highlighting the small quantity of powder needed for each wash.
Another way of downplaying is simply to say nothing about the things that will counteract our arguments. Thus the soap powder manufacturer will not talk about the damaging effects of constant washing of clothes.
Confusion may be used when the other person knows about an opposing argument. it may also be used to obfuscate weaknesses in one's own position. A typical way of doing this is by showering the other person with data, or perhaps asking them complex questions about their own position. Soap powder manufacturers may, for example, give a scientific argument about how their product works.
Rank, H. (1976). Teaching about Public Persuasion, In Daniel Dietrich (ed.), Teaching about Doublespeak, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English
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