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A Neurorhetorical Analysis of a Multimodal Print Persuasive Message

This text has been about the neuroscience of multimodal persuasive messages, which tends to be perceived as a message that integrates print, visual (beyond print text), and/or aural attributes. I have, also, integrated some examples that integrated spatial attributes of body or behavior such as speeches or face-to-face interactions. However, recognizing the importance of understanding both print-linguistic rhetoric as well as multimodal rhetoric, I include this chapter to illustrate application of a number of elements of the model presented throughout this book to a predominantly print-linguistic message. While the media attribute of the model emphasizes various media available for composing and delivering the message, print-linguistic messages can be viewed with technology available on most computers and without computer requirements. However, the rhetorical impact of a print document can be affected by technologies associated with them and their delivery in multimodal ways.

For example, a business letter may have a certain impact with letterhead that it does not have without that letterhead. The letterhead adds a visual attribute—and, in some cases, a haptic (or touch) attribute if it is raised—that creates a rhetorical effect. If one receives a message from an attorney’s office on letterhead, the message may seem a bit more intimidating than if there was not a letterhead at all. The letterhead seems to add ethos to the message. If that letterhead is raised, it may further add a perception of importance.

This effect extends to the envelope in which the letter or document is contained. An envelope with letterhead, especially raised letterhead, may affect an audience differently than one without letterhead. A large envelope may be perceived as carrying a message that is more important than one contained in a smaller envelope.

A letter that is delivered directly to someone’s office by the mail carrier and requires the recipient’s signature to verify delivery may, also, create a certain response from the reader/recipient that it would not have had without that activity—the physical presence of the mail carrier and the action of having to sign for it. It seems more official, and, consequently, more important. As such, one is more likely to read it immediately.

Certain things associated with just print media can enhance a message’s effect and contribute to multimodal rhetoric. In this chapter I provide a specific example of such rhetoric and effect, using the model presented in this book. The message I describe here is an actual message that I sent to the leadership team—president and several vice presidents—of a major insurance provider after my wife and I experienced considerable frustration resolving some problems coordinating our employer-related insurance benefits. While I have changed the names of people and the organizations involved in the letter that I provide to protect the privacy of those involved, I have left the remaining details and message intact. As I composed the message I had several attributes of neuroscience in mind, particularly mirror neurons and reward neurons and plasticity. I also integrate attributes of ethos, logos, and pathos.

I describe the analysis in a way that is different from the way I presented information in other chapters to account for the different medium and kind of message. I start with the rhetorical situation and provide the message, then the analysis.

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