The Cognitive Learning Theory of Persuasion seeks to explain persuasion in terms of ideas. It is a theory that persuasion takes place as the modification of ideas:
[T]he cognitive response analysis assumes that attitude change can be achieved by modification, through learning, of the recipient’s repertory of attitude relevant cognitions.
Anthony G. Greenwald, “Cognitive Learning, Cognitive Response to Persuasion, and Attitude Change,” in Psychological Foundations of Attitudes, ed. A.G. Greewald, T.C. Brock, and T.M. Ostrom (New York: Academic Press, 1968), 151. Being a learning-theory, it has its origin in classical conditioning models of learning. Greewald understood the relationship to conditioning learning theory as analogous, not direct. Ibid.
Richard Petty, the psychologist not the racecar driver, published a study which considered the effect of cognition on persuasion. In a series of experiments, he wanted to determine whether the ease of thinking or the ease of not-thinking effected the persuasiveness of a message.
Not surprisingly, distraction alone made strong arguments weaker – but it also made weak arguments stronger. Body posture also mattered: standing made one more resistant; why lying down made one more compliant:
The present series of experiments was designed to show the importance of a recipient’s cognitive responses in persuasion situations. By employing manipulations designed to increase negative cognitive responses (such as forewarning, or simply asking a person to stand up) we were able to produce resistance to a persuasive communication. By employing manipulations designed to decrease negative cognitive responses (such as distraction, or simply asking a person to lie down), we were able to enhance the persuasiveness of a communication.
Richard E. Petty (1977) ,”The Importance of Cognitive Responses in Persuasion”, in NA – Advances in Consumer Research Volume 04, eds. William D. Perreault, Jr., Atlanta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 357-362. (accessed online at https://www.acrwebsite.org/volumes/5689)
Writing of the cognitive approach Myers-Levy and Malaviya found that it had “been reasonably supported by data,” but, the “theory is silent about many issues”. Joan Myers-Levy and Prashat Malaviya, “Consumer’s Processing of Persuasive Advertisements: An Integrative Framework of Persuasion Theories,” Journal of Marketing 63 (1999): 45-60, p. 47.