Carl Hovland

Carl Iver Hovland (June 12, 1912 – April 16, 1961) was a psychologist working primarily at Yale University and for the US Army during World War II who studied attitude change and persuasion. He first reported the sleeper effect after studying the effects of the Frank Capra's propaganda film Why We Fight on soldiers in the Army. In later studies on this subject, Hovland collaborated with Irving Janis who would later become famous for his theory of groupthink. Hovland also developed social judgment theory of attitude change. Carl Hovland thought that the ability of someone to resist persuasion by a certain group depended on your degree of belonging to the group.

With the advent of government propaganda in support of the United States’ participation in World War II, the artifacts worth investigating helped with increase of persuasive communication with intent to affect behavior, attitude, and values. These artifacts had a remarkable amount of money invested into them, however, were they effective? This concept of effectiveness and affecting change within individuals, interpersonal relations, and persuasion are exactly what Hovland was interested in. Carl Hovland's contributions to the field of communications were three-fold. First, he emphasized micro-level analysis, next he was interested in all facets of interpersonal communication, and finally he revolutionized persuasive research.


Early life

Carl Iver Hovland was born in Chicago on June 12, 1912.[1] In Chicago, he attended the Lloyd School and then completed high school at the Luther Institute. He entered Northwestern University at the age of 16, receiving his B.A. in 1932, and an M.A. the following year. He then transferred to Yale, where he obtained the Ph.D. in 1936. Except for a three-year research stint in Washington during World War II, Hovland remained associated with Yale the rest of his life, rising rapidly through the academic ranks to a Sterling Professorship at the age of 36.

As a child, Hovland had a deep interest in music. In fact, up until college when psychology became a major part of his life he was looking into a musical career. [2] At the age of six years, he read Latin textbooks fluently, beginning the development of the linguistic skills which were to be so important in his later studies of alchemy and religion.[3] In 1938 he married Gertrude Raddatz, a piano student like Hovland, in Chicago.[4] During the late 1930s and early 1940s Hovland made major contributions to several areas of human experimental psychology, such as the efficiency of different methods of rote learning. From his close association with Clark L. Hull and other psychologists working at the Yale Institute of Human Relations, Hovland developed a comprehensive view of the behavioral sciences that led him to extend the analytic experimental approach of research on human learning to underdeveloped areas of research in the human sciences.


Hovland's first opportunity to work intensively in the underdeveloped area of social psychology arose during World War II, when he took a leave of absence from Yale for over 3 years to serve as a senior psychologist in the War Department. He was recruited by Samuel Stouffer, also a sociologist who was on leave from University of Chicago.[5] Carl had the responsibility of leading a research team of fifteen researchers.[5] His main role was to conduct experiments on the effectiveness of training and information programs that were intended to influence the motivation of men in the American armed forces.[6] He assembled a group of six psychology graduate students who worked with him on these studies for several years. One of the most widely cited of the pioneering experiments on opinion change by Hovland and his group involved testing the effects of a one-sided versus a two-sided presentation of a controversial issue. The results contradicted contentions of totalitarian propagandists, who claimed that a communication that presents only one side of the issue will generally be more successful than one that mentions the opposing side of the argument. These wartime studies were reported in Experiments on Mass Communication (1949), written jointly by Hovland, A. A. Lumsdaine, and F. D. Sheffield.

Carl Hovland was a big man, soft in speech, gentle in manner, as incredibly quick and deft in physical movement as in intellection. In his earlier years he was quite shy, but the social rigors of the life to which his extraordinary talents inevitably exposed him helped to develop the quiet ease of manner that characterized his middle age. He was unfailingly cheerful, even in the last tragic year of his life, and continued to work with his students and colleagues until his brief final illness. It was this capacity for being always helpful, always objective, that placed him inconstant demand as a consultant, not only to students, but to all the leading Foundations, to half a dozen major Government agencies, and to the behavioral research arms of several great corporations. He was repeatedly honored by his colleagues in one way or another-as an APA representative to the Social Science Research Council, as a member of that Association's Board of Directors, by election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, to the American Philosophical Society, and to the National Academy of Sciences.T he honor he appreciated most deeply, perhaps,was the award of the Warren Medal by the Society of Experimental Psychologists,word of which reached him only a month before his death. [2]

Psychological research was Hovland's intellectual joy however. Especially in his early career, his investigations covered a wide range of topics. By the time he had secured his doctorate, Hovland had published a dozen research papers and collected data for at least half a dozen. Four of these papers were in the American Journal of Physiology, two in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, and others in psychological journals . His papers in psychological journals included a study of test reliability, a major review of the literature on apparent movement, as well as his four classical papers on conditioned generalization from his doctoral dissertation.[7]

After the war Hovland returned to Yale University, where he recruited several members of his wartime research team, with whom he continued to study the factors that influence the effectiveness of social communications. Among Hovland's best-known studies are those elucidating the influence of the communicator's prestige and the ways that prestige effects disappear with the passage of time. For example, Hovland and his collaborators showed that when a persuasive message is presented by an untrustworthy source, it tends to be discounted by the audience, so that immediately after exposure there is little or no attitude change; but then, after several weeks, the source is no longer associated with the issue in the minds of the audience and positive attitude changes appear. This "sleeper effect" was shown to vanish, as predicted, if the unacceptable communicator was "reinstated" several weeks later by reminding the audience about who had presented the earlier persuasive material.

For 15 years Hovland and his group systematically investigated different ways of presenting arguments, personality factors, and judgmental processes that enter into attitude change. While pursuing his own research, Hovland continually encouraged his associates on the Yale project, a study of the conditions under which people are most likely to change their attitudes in response to persuasive messages.[6] The Yale Group's work was first described in Hovland's book Communication and Persuasion, published in 1953.[8]

His major interests in his last few years of life were with concept-formation, which he approached with computer simulation.[9] In 1952 he published a demonstration that the problems of concept-learning can be solved by an hypothetical decoding machine, and also provided both a notational system and an analysis of the problem of concept-learning that were widely adopted by other researchers in this field.[7]


First, Hovland began to emphasize micro-level analysis of propaganda and its effects. Hovland’s army experiments were the beginnings of that micro-level analysis of an individual. Hovland’s “core conceptual variable was attitude.” [10] With the pre existing research in the discipline being devoted to “measuring attitudes and to investigating factors in involved in attitude change,” it was different for Hovland to come in and look at an individual’s predisposition to action when exposed to persuasive messages.

Hovland believed that if he was able to recognize the attitude an individual has towards a trigger, he would be able to predict the behavior and actions of an individual over time. [10] However, there were many studies that argued the contrary and showed that “an attitude toward a person or object does not predict or explain an individual’s overt behavior regarding that person or object.” [10] This interesting revelation of low correlation did not necessarily render findings useless but instead led to further research on how under certain circumstances it was actually possible to change a person’s behavior via their attitudes. While Hovland focused on an individual rather than a group level, he began to take into consideration interpersonal communication in the form of persuasion. Specifically, Hovland was responsible for carrying out a series of studies that contributed to the “cumulative understanding of persuasion behavior that has never since been matched or even rivaled.” [10]

To test and apply his theorization Hovland worked proposed the SMCR Model. The SMCR model consists of four components – Source Variables, Message Variables, Channel Variables, as well Receiver Variables. By manipulating each of these variables, Hovland was able to advance his “message-learning approach to attitude change.” There were problems with his particular approach, however, in that by focusing on a single dimension of the SMCR model, Hovland was unable to do more than isolate a factor rather than study the synergy between the different variables. [10] Although there were limitations to these studies, Hovland’s steadfast and fastidious nature allowed for a body of research that was able to continuously investigate this interpersonal communication in the form of persuasion research.

Along with not being able to investigate the interaction of the Source, Message, Channel Receiver elements and their interplay within a study, Hovland’s research arguably had one more flaw. This flaw in Hovland’s research was that communication happened in a singular direction and was furthermore linear in its nature. It is this linear communication that made Hovland and his research seem like an “oversimplification” to some communication scholars. Hovland provided new research in the form of micro-level research, interpersonal research, as well as persuasive research.

Hovland employed experimental research in his studies and was therefore able to trace causality between variables. He showed the effects of various elements in the SMCR model on persuasion: sources (high credibility vs. low credibility, sleeper effect), types of messages (one-sided vs. two-sided, fear appeals) and channels on cognitive and affective changes.

Hovland’s work was great as far as his experimental methods were concerned but critics of his work also found some important problems. In particular, he has been criticized by looking at individuals as unconnected to each other, although he was generalizing them as members of a media audience. He found strong cognitive effects of the war films on his audience but he may have prematurely declared the media as weak in their effects. Also, results from experiments cannot be generalized easily to the population. He wanted to establish laws of persuasion but had to be content with variable effects of his predictor variables on persuasion of individuals.


In the last decade of his life Hovland's research on verbal concepts and judgment led him into an intensive analysis of concept formation. Once again he played a pioneering role in developing a new field of research - computer simulation of human thought processes.

A month before his death, he was honored with the award of the Warren Medal by the Society of Experimental Psychologists.[11]

Carl Iver Hovland died in on April 16, 1961.[12]When Hovland learned that he had cancer,he continued to work with his Yale doctoral students and conduct persuasion experiments. Finally, when he could work no more, he left his office in the Psychology Department, went to his home in New Haven, drew a bathtub full of water, and drowned himself(Schramm,in press b)[13]

Further reading

A summary of the research developments and theoretical ideas that have grown out of Hovland's pioneering projects is presented in a comprehensive chapter by Irving L. Janis and M. Brewster Smith in Herbert C. Kelman, ed., International Behavior: A Social-Psychological Analysis (1965). Hovland's work is also discussed in Arthur R. Cohen's Attitude Change and Social Influence (Basic Topics in Psychology) (1964).


  1. ^ Sears, Robert (December 1961). "Carl Iver Hovland: 1912-1961". The American Journal of Psychology. 74 (4): 637. doi:10.2307/1419682. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  2. ^ a b Sears, Robert R (1961). "Carl Iver Hovland: 1912-1961". The American Journal of Psychology. 74 (4): 637–639.
  3. ^ Joseph, Peterson "Carl Iver Hovland: 1912-1961", "The American Journal of Psychology", Dec. 1961.
  4. ^ Sears, S. R. (1961). Carl Iver Hovland: 1912-1961. The American Journal of Psychology, 74(4). 637-639. University of Illinois Press.
  5. ^ a b Shepard, R. N. (n.d.). Carl iver hovland. Retrieved from
  6. ^ a b Aronson, Elliot, Timothy D. Wilson, and Robin M. Akert. Social Psychology. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson Education, 2010. Print.
  7. ^ a b Sears, R.R. Carl Iver Hovland: 1912-1961. THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY, V. 74 (4), 11/1961, p. 637-639
  8. ^ Hovland, Carl I., Irving L. Janis, and Harold H. Kelley."Communication and Persuation: Psychological Studies of Opinion Change" New Haven: Yale UP, 1953. Print.
  9. ^ Sears, Robert (December 1961). "Carl Iver Hovland: 1912-1961". The American Journal of Psychology. 74 (4): 638. doi:10.2307/1419682. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  10. ^ a b c d e Rogers, Everett (1994). A History of Communication Study: A Biological Approach. NY: The Free Press.
  11. ^ Sears, Robert (December 1961). "Carl Iver Hovland: 1912-1961". The American Journal of Psychology 74: 639.
  12. ^ Carl Iver Hovland: 1912-1961. The American Journal of Psychology. 84:637, December 1961.
  13. ^ Rogers,Everett M.A history of communication study.39:383.

External links

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Arthur A. Lumsdaine

Arthur Allen Lumsdaine (1913–1989) was an American applied psychologist who researched the use of media and programmed learning. Art Lumsdaine served in the U.S. Army in World War II. He was recruited by Carl Hovland, who was then Chief Psychologist and Director of Experimental Studies for the Research Branch of the Information and Education Division of the U.S. War Department. Lumsdaine later took a PhD in psychology at Stanford University (awarded 1949).Service in the Army showed him the crucial role played by training in any large army conscripted from the general population. Lumsdaine’s main work was on the effectiveness of media for training and education. He also worked on the experimental investigation of attitude change.

He played a leading part in the post-World War II wave of experimental psychologists who worked on the principles of education and training.

Lumsdaine saw the potential of teaching machines and programmed instruction and helped their development.

Art was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as well as of the American Psychological Association (APA). He served as a member of the APA's Board of Scientific Affairs (1967–1970), was President of the Division of Educational Psychology (1968–1969), and was an Associate Editor of Contemporary Psychology for eight years.

Attitude change

Attitudes are associated beliefs and behaviors towards some object. They are not stable, and because of the communication and behavior of other people, are subject to change by social influences, as well as by the individual's motivation to maintain cognitive consistency when cognitive dissonance occurs—when two attitudes or attitude and behavior conflict. Attitudes and attitude objects are functions of affective and cognitive components. It has been suggested that the inter-structural composition of an associative network can be altered by the activation of a single node. Thus, by activating an affective or emotional node, attitude change may be possible, though affective and cognitive components tend to be intertwined.


Communicology is the scholarly and academic study of how we create and use messages to affect our social environment. Communicology is an academic discipline that distinguishes itself from the broader field of human communication with its exclusive use of scientific methods to study communicative phenomena. The goals of these scientific methods are to create and extend theory-based knowledge about the processes and outcomes of communication. Practitioners in the communicology discipline employ empirical and deductive research methods, such as cross-sectional and longitudinal surveys, experiments, meta-analyses, and content analyses, to test theoretically-derived hypotheses. Correlational and causal relationships between communication variables are tested in these studies.

Researchers of communicology explore specific functions of communication. Such functions might include interpersonal communication, message processing, and persuasion. Researcher might also situate their studies in different contexts, such as intercultural communication, health communication, intergroup communication, technology-mediated communication, and small group communication. Findings from communicology link research to several different perspectives from the social sciences, natural sciences, and medicine.

Harold Kelley

Harold Kelley (February 16, 1921 – January 29, 2003) was an American social psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. His major contributions have been the development of interdependence theory (with John Thibaut), the early work of attribution theory, and a lifelong interest in understanding close relationships processes. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Kelley as the 43rd most cited psychologist of the 20th century.

History of communication studies

Various aspects of communication have been the subject of study since ancient times, and the approach eventually developed into the academic discipline known today as communication studies.

Irving Janis

Irving Lester Janis (May 26, 1918 – November 15, 1990) was a research psychologist at Yale University and a professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley most famous for his theory of "groupthink" which described the systematic errors made by groups when making collective decisions. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Janis as the 79th most cited psychologist of the 20th century.

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List of social psychologists

The following is a list of academicians, both past and present, who are widely renowned for their groundbreaking contributions to the field of social psychology.

Morton Deutsch

Morton Deutsch (February 4, 1920 – March 13, 2017) was an American social psychologist and researcher in conflict resolution. Deutsch was one of the founding fathers of the field of conflict resolution. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Deutsch as the 63rd most cited psychologist of the 20th century.

Nonverbal influence

Nonverbal Influence is the art of effecting or inspiring change in others' behaviors and attitudes by way of tone of voice or body language and other cues like facial expression. This act of getting others to embrace or resist new attitudes can be achieved with or without the use of spoken language. It is a subtopic of nonverbal communication. Many individuals instinctively associate persuasion with verbal messages. Nonverbal influence emphasizes the persuasive power and influence of nonverbal communication. Nonverbal influence includes appeals to attraction, similarity and intimacy.

Roger Shepard

Roger Newland Shepard (born January 30, 1929 in Palo Alto, California) is an American cognitive scientist and author of the Universal Law of Generalization (1987). He is considered a father of research on spatial relations.

He studied mental rotation, and was an inventor of multidimensional scaling, a method for representing certain kinds of statistical data in the plane or in space with minimal distortion, so that it can be apprehended by humans. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Shepard as the 55th most cited psychologist of the 20th century.Shepard obtained his Ph.D. in psychology at Yale University in 1955 under Carl Hovland, and completed post-doctoral training with George Armitage Miller at Harvard. Subsequent to this, Shepard was at Bell Labs and then a professor at Harvard before joining the faculty at Stanford University. In 1995, Shepard received the National Medal of Science for his contributions in the field of cognitive science. In 2006, he also won the Rumelhart Prize. Shepard is Ray Lyman Wilbur Professor Emeritus of Social Science at Stanford University.

His students include Lynn Cooper, Leda Cosmides, Rob Fish, Jennifer Freyd, George Furnas, Carol L. Krumhansl, Daniel Levitin, Michael McBeath and Geoffrey Miller.

Shepard is one of the founders of the Kira Institute.


Self-Persuasion is used to explain one aspect of social influence. This theory postulates that the receiver takes an active role in persuading himself or herself to change his or her attitude or behavior. Unlike the direct technique of Persuasion, Self-persuasion is indirect and entails placing people in situations where they are motivated to persuade themselves to change. More specifically what characterizes a self-persuasion situation is that no direct attempt is made to convince anyone of anything. Thus, with self-persuasion, people are convinced that the motivation for change has come from within, so the persuasion factors of another person’s influence is irrelevant. Therefore, Self-persuasion is almost always a more powerful form of persuasion (deeper, longer lasting) than the more traditional persuasion techniques. Self-Persuasion, also has an important influence in Social judgment theory, Elaboration Likelihood Model, Cognitive Dissonance and Narrative paradigm.

Seymour Sarason

Seymour Bernard Sarason (January 12, 1919, Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York – January 28, 2010, New Haven, Connecticut) was Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Yale University, where he taught from 1945 to 1989. He is the author of over forty books and over sixty articles, and he is considered to be one of the most significant American researchers in education, educational psychology, and community psychology. One primary focus of his work was on education reform in the United States. In the 1950s he and George Mandler initiated the research on test anxiety. He founded the Yale Psycho-Educational Clinic in 1961 and was one of the principal leaders in the community psychology movement. In 1974, he proposed psychological sense of community, a central concept in community psychology. Since then, sense of community has become a well-known and commonly used term both in academic and non-academic settings.

Social judgment theory

Social judgment theory (SJT) is a self-persuasion theory proposed by Carolyn Sherif, Muzafer Sherif, and Carl Hovland, defined by Sherif and Sherif as the perception and evaluation of an idea by comparing it with current attitudes. According to this theory, an individual weighs every new idea, comparing it with the individual's present point of view to determine where it should be placed on the attitude scale in an individual's mind. SJT is the subconscious sorting out of ideas that occurs at the instant of perception.

Source credibility

Source credibility is "a term commonly used to imply a communicator's positive characteristics that affect the receiver's acceptance of a message." Academic studies of this topic began in the 20th century and were given a special emphasis during World War II, when the US government sought to use propaganda to influence public opinion in support of the war effort. Psychologist Carl Hovland and his colleagues worked at the War Department upon this during the 1940s and then continued experimental studies at Yale University. They built upon the work of researchers in the first half of the 20th century who had developed a Source-Message-Channel-Receiver model of communication and, with Muzafer Sherif, developed this as part of their theories of persuasion and social judgement.

Sterling Professor

Sterling Professor is the highest academic rank at Yale University, awarded to a tenured faculty member considered one of the best in his or her field. It is akin to the rank of university professor at other universities.

The appointment, made by the President of Yale University and confirmed by the Yale Corporation, can be granted to any Yale faculty member, and up to forty professors can hold the title at the same time. The position was established through a 1918 bequest from John William Sterling, and the first Sterling Professor was appointed in 1920.

Yale attitude change approach

In social psychology, the Yale attitude change approach (also known as the Yale attitude change model) is the study of the conditions under which people are most likely to change their attitudes in response to persuasive messages. This approach to persuasive communications was first studied by Carl Hovland and his colleagues at Yale University. The basic model of this approach can be described as "who said what to whom": the source of the communication, the nature of the communication and the nature of the audience. According to this approach, many factors affect each component of a persuasive communication. The credibility and attractiveness of the communicator (source), the quality and sincerity of the message (nature of the communication), and the attention, intelligence and age of the audience (nature of the audience) can influence an audience's attitude change with a persuasive communication. Independent variables include the source, message, medium and audience, with the dependent variable the effect (or impact) of the persuasion.

The Yale attitude change approach has generated research and insight into the nature of persuasion. This approach has helped social psychologists understand the process of persuasion and companies make their marketing and advertising strategies more effective. Like most other theories about persuasion and attitude change, this approach is not perfect. Not a systematic theory about persuasive communications, this approach is a general framework within which research was conducted. The Yale researchers did not specify levels of importance among the factors of a persuasive message; they emphasized analyzing the aspects of attitude change over comparing them.

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