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Last updated February 19, 2001


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Source Credibility Theory

Explanation of Theory:

The Source Credibility theory states that people are more likely to be persuaded when the source presents itself as credible.  The theory is broken into three models that can be used to more aptly apply the theory.  The names of those models are: the factor model, the functional model, and the constructivist model.

Theorist: Hovland, C., Janis, I., Kelley, H.

Date:  1953

Primary Article:

      Hovland, C.I., Janis, I.L., & Kelley, H.H. (1953). Communication and Persuasion. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Individual Interpretations:

My interpretation of the Source Credibility theory is that on the outside it seems to be self-evident, and barely worth studying.  But, it is interesting to note that many studies have also revealed no relationship between attitude change and source credibility.  Although it seems obvious to me that a more credible source would be much more likely to affect the attitudes of others, I also feel that this concept is worthy of study since it is regularly being proven and disproved.  That is what helps to make the general concept of source credibility a very interesting phenomena. 

Metatheoretical Assumptions:
Source credibility theory takes what appears to be a naturalistic slant on things metatheoretically.

Ontological Assumptions:
The source credibility theory has multiple realities because there are numerous different ways of looking at things from within the theory.

Epistemological Assumptions:
Source credibility theory is an approach that allows different individuals to look at things from their own perspective, thus, it is dependent.

Axiological Assumptions:
Source credibility theory deals with communication study in a way that is value-laden, and takes into considersation that different researchers will have their own opinion. 

A critique of the source credibility theory shows the theory to be scientific in nature.  It is high level of falsifiability, as many researchers have found ways to disprove what the theory states.  The theory also has high level of internal consistencies, while its three main models also allow the theory to have much organizing power. 

Ideas and Implications:
The three models help to narrow the wide scope of the source credibility theory, while also making it a much more focused strategy to use when studying communication.  The factor model (a covering laws approach) helps determine to what extent the receiver judges the source as credible.  The functional model (a covering laws approach) views credibility as the degree to which a source satisfies a receiver's individual needs.  The constructivist model (a human action approach) analyzes what the receiver does with the source's proposal. 

Jeff is trying to persuade Matt that "Cheers" is the best television show that was ever aired.  Matt is beginning to believe Jeff because Jeff knows all the statistics of how well the show did when it was played.  But, when he begins questioning Jeff about the show's specific content, he finds him to be baffled.  He later finds out from Chris that Jeff has never even watched the show himself.  This is an example of source credibility working against the persuader.  In this example, the person who is being persuaded, Matt, has found reason to question the integrity of the persuader, Jeff. 

Other Scholars Who have Used This Theory:
Baudhin, S.
Berlo, D.
Davis, M.
Lemmert, J.
McCroskey, J.

Relevant Research:
      Baudhin, S., & Davis, M. (1972). Scales for the measurement of ethos: Another attempt. Speech Monographs, 39, 296-301.

       Berlo, D. Lemmert, J., & Davis, M. (1969). Dimensions for evaluating the acceptability of message sources. Public Opinion Quarterly, 33, 563-576.

       McCroskey, J.C. (1968). Scales for the measurement of ethos. Speech Monographs, 33, 67-72.

Location in Eight (8) Primary Communication Theory Textbooks:

      Anderson, R., & Ross, V. (1998). Questions of communication: A practical introduction to theory (2nd ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press.  N/A

     Cragan, J. F., & Shields, D.C. (1998). Understanding communication theory: The communicative forces for human action. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.  N/A

     Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. p. 35-36, 279-280, 380-382. 

     Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 22-23, 306-307.

      Infante, D. A., Rancer, A. S., & Womack, D. F. (1997). Building communication theory (3rd ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. p. 73, 152-153, 157-161, 520-521.

      Littlejohn, S. W. (1999). Theories of human communication (6th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.  N/A

      West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2000). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield. N/A

       Wood, J. T. (1997). Communication theories in action: An introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. N/A