Lecture V February 13 th
Attitudes, Change, and Persuasion
Attitudes are basically about how we feel about things (people, objects, ideas, etc).
Attitudes are evaluative because they require an assessment of some target. This is not the same as
a belief. These two words are not interchangeable; belief is information about something that we
expect to be true or factual and is something that will guide our behaviour. Attitudes, on the other
hand, are our feelings towards outward targets.
There are also private attitudes (these are not expressed and we are not aware of them). Attitudes
are thus dual in nature; there are implicit and explicit attitudes. Implicit attitudes are automatic,
unconscious, something we are unaware of, and may have trouble expressing. Explicit attitudes are
controlled, conscious, something we are aware of, and something we can clearly articulate. This is
basically the controlled versus automatic system, but the attitude version.
The evaluative component of attitudes allows for quick decisions and decision making. General
attitudes guide decision making in specific situations. These general attitudes also help us through
new situations and support our cognitive miser nature.
However, remembering information isnt good enough; simply knowing facts wont cut it. We
need the evaluative component in order to guide our future behaviour.
The Good Bad categorization scheme is the most basic level of organization we have. It is so
basic that even children grasp it. This is because we automatically and unconsciously categorize
new things into the Good Bad categorization. This initial categorization can be changed when
new information becomes available (this kind of stuff isnt usually set in stone (e.g., when other
sources become available)). However, this doesnt always happen (e.g., we dont always go back
and re-evaluate). This only occurs if there is time and motivation (e.g., if you want to be correct
and there are cognitive resources available). If these are trivial issues (e.g., product information)
we would most likely not re-evaluate. Unless, for example, some new product is helpful, good, and
may be useful or important, then re-evaluation can occur. But usually, this is not motivating
enough and there are more important things to re-evaluate.
Consider the spider example from lecture: See a spider, scream and run out of the room, then hear
that said spider actually kills more harmful spiders, and come back into the room having re-
evaluated your immediate reaction.
Generally bad reactions are stronger than generally good ones.
Roy Baumeister (2001)
Aggregated this notion: bad emotions influence our thoughts, feelings, affect us more and have
stronger effects than good thoughts and feelings.
Bad things draw and affect us more than good things. The bad is processed more thoroughly and
we pay more attention to it. This is because bad things require and call us to action in order to fix
or change something. Good things on the other hand, mean that nothing is wrong, that nothing
needs fixing, and that nothing is in demand. This effect occurs because we are naturally inclined to fix things we want and need fixing not things that we have and what is good in our lives. This isnt
a good thing! People should pay more attention to the good things in their life, not the things that
need fixing. This leads to more subjective well being and more gratitude.
There are four things that contribute to attitude formation.
(1) The Mere exposure effect: most of the time familiarity breeds likeness. Novel things draw
attention, but we prefer the things we are comfortable with and have attitudes about. We basically
like familiarity a lot! For example, classmates that sit next to you will become more familiar to you
throughout the semester, and you will begin to like them more. Hence, just by being exposed to
something makes us like it more.
However, there is a limitation because often, if our initial reaction is negative, the repeated
exposure will not make you like it more, but less. The mere exposure effect will not be able to
overcome this initial negative reaction. This does not mean it always happens, but usually it does.
Acquired taste kind of fits into this mere exposure effect. Alcohol, for example, is something
people grow to like because they are motivated to conclude that it tastes good (or the like) because
we know the social benefits and stigmas around drinking (e.g., being viewed as childish if we
dont like the taste of wine).
The mere exposure effect is one of the most powerful and obvious effect/demonstration and also
has a well established and vast body of evidence.
Consider your first year of university: people usually do worse in their first year because of all the
novel things they have to get used to. The mere exposure effect makes university easier to deal
(2) Classical Conditioning: Dont really need this explained. Basically, it is the association
between positive stimuli and neutral stimuli which results in more positive attitudes toward the
formerly neutral stimuli.
Examples of this would be celebrity endorsements in advertisements.
Staats and Staats (1958)
Paired the word Dutch with positive words (vacation) and the word Swedish with negative words
(failure). When the participants were tested afterwards, there was a preference to Dutch than
Swedish. In a second test, the researchers simply switched the word associations and found that the
results reversed as well. This may help explain prejudice against certain groups who are frequently
associated with negative information in the media.
(3) Operant Conditioning: This type of conditioning is all about consequences and repeated
behaviours. Basically, this is the tendency to repeat behaviours that have been rewarded.
Brown (1956)Brown had participants write an essay about capital punishment. He randomly assigned these
essays an A or a D. Those who got an A had higher positive attitudes about capital punishment
than those who received a D.
(4) Social Learning: We are more likely to repeat behaviours that result in rewards for other
people. This is kind of like vicarious experimenting and the classical bobo doll experiment (clown
doll experiment by Bandura).
Attitudes become stronger when we reflect and examine them. They can, however, change. But the
conformation bias supports this tendency for them to become stronger.
Gave participants arguments to read regarding the death penalty. These arguments were either pro
or con death penalty and participants were given each to read. The participants were biased
towards the argument that supported their original view. Reading arguments that supported their
view also made their opinions and attitudes stronger.
Inconsistency in attitudes, behaviour, and beliefs is uncomfortable. There are two theories that
explain/emphasize need/desire/formation of consistency.
Heiders Balance Theory (aka POX Theory)
This theory works on triads because we are always looking at three things as one perceiver. There
is Person (P), other Person (O) and Attitude Object (X). There are two types of relationships:
the sentiment (feeling, liking, dislike) and unit (concrete, made, ow