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Message Pretesting Using Perceived Effectiveness Measures: Reconsidering the Correlational Evidence

Daniel J. O’Keefe , PhD

Owen L. Coon Professor
Professor of Argumentation and Debate

Department of Communication Studies
Northwestern University

Perceived message effectiveness (PME) measures have been used in persuasive message pretesting to diagnose differences between messages in actual message effectiveness (AME). This use has often been underwritten by pointing to positive correlations between PME and AME measures. However, such correlations do not—and cannot—show that messages’ relative standing on PME matches their relative standing on AME, and thus PME-AME correlations are irrelevant to the question of whether PME assessments accurately identify relatively more effective messages. Relevant evidence takes the form of showing that a pretesting procedure provides accurate prediction of messages’ relative standing on AME—and such evidence suggests that PME assessments are not helpful in diagnosing relative message persuasiveness. However, some research suggests that PME measures might be useful in assessing variation in respondents’ susceptibility to change.

Presentation date: January 23, 2019.