Patrick J. Ewell and Rosanna E. Guadagno
According to Nisbett and Ross, “Information may be described as vivid, that is, as likely to attract and hold our attention and excite the imagination to the extent that it is (a) emotionally interesting, (b) concrete and imagery-provoking, and (c) proximate in a sensory, temporal, or spatial way.” Despite a widespread belief held by scholars and practitioners alike that vividness enhances persuasion, most early studies on this topic found weak or nonexistent vividness effects. To further understand this relationship, subsequent research focused on explaining these inconsistent findings. Taylor and Thompson explored the different ways that vividness has been operationalized across studies. Guadagno, Okdie, Sagarin, DeCoster, and Rhoads elucidated the conditions under which vividness enhances or detracts from persuasion. Generally, the extant literature suggests that vividness is an effective means of enhancing persuasion when the main point of a communication is the sole component made vivid. These findings caution against attempts to persuade by increasing overall message vividness, because off-thesis or incongruent vividness has the unintended and undercutting consequence of distracting influence targets from the point of the communication. This conclusion is based on the results of individual empirical studies as well as meta-analytic findings. Literature on shock advertising as a specialized case of vividness also exists. Future research on vividness might further delineate when, how, and why vividness sometimes enhances and sometimes detracts from persuasion.