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The concept of attitudes is probably the most important one in all of social psychology. Attitudes
have been the focus of thousands of experiments over the past 75 years, and there are dozens of
theories that address attitude formation and/or attitude change (attitude change is the focus of Chapter
Why are attitudes so important? Because almost everything we do reflects, at least to some
extent, our attitudes. We have attitudes toward virtually all objects and people in our environment
(some of our attitudes are relatively weak, of course). When we have a favourable attitude toward a
target, we tend to approach it or treat it positively, whereas when we have an unfavourable attitude
toward a target, we tend to avoid it or treat it negatively. Attitudes are a fundamental determinant of
our everyday actions.
Chapter 6 discusses how and why attitudes form, how they can be measured, how they influence
information processing, and how they guide behaviour. The chapter is relatively straightforward and
easy to read. Our online notes on this chapter consist primarily of additional examples of relevant
research and real-life applications.
File: What Are Attitudes?
What Are Attitudes?
Attitudes represent how favourable we are toward targets whether we think particular targets
are good or bad. As the text puts it, an attitude is an individuals evaluation of a target along a good-bad
dimension. The target of an attitude can be an object, a person, a controversial issue, or a behaviour.
Thus, the concept of attitude is very broad we possess hundreds, indeed probably thousands, of
attitudes. What are some common targets of attitudes? For examples of targets toward which most
people possess an attitude, click [Here].
Attitudes always have a target they represent evaluative judgments of something. In everyday
language, someone might describe an unfriendly or unpleasant co-worker with the phrase He=s got a
bad attitude. This phrase would not be used by social psychologists, because it does not specify a
target. Social psychologists are interested in how people evaluate a specific person, object, issue, or
behaviour. Therefore, social psychologists might describe an unfriendly co-worker with the phrase He
has an unfavourable attitude toward other people.
The textbook distinguishes between the concepts of explicit attitudes and implicit attitudes.
Explicit attitudes are the type that have been investigated in most research. Explicit attitudes are
peoples conscious evaluations of targets. For example, prejudiced people know that they dislike
members of a particular outgroup. Implicit attitudes, on the other hand, are peoples automatic
evaluative responses to a target, which may not be available to consciousness. For example, some
people who consider themselves unprejudiced may not realize that they have an implicit negative
attitude toward members of an outgroup.
File: Why Do We Evaluate?
Why Do We Evaluate?
Why do people possess attitudes? The text identifies and defines two principal functions of
attitudes: the object appraisal function and the value-expressive function. Both of these functions (and
some others) can be served by an attitude, but the most universal one is the object appraisal function.
Virtually all attitudes allow us to judge immediately whether a target is basically good or basically bad
whether it is a friend or a foe. This initial orientation leads us to approach positive targets and to avoid
threatening targets, thereby maximizing our rewards and minimizing our pain. For example, we
approach puppies and we avoid snakes, and these fundamentally different behavioural responses reflectour attitudes toward puppies and snakes. The main point of this section of the text is that attitudes are
useful humans have evolved to form attitudes because these evaluative responses increase the
chances of survival.
File: Measuring Attitudes
The textbook describes several ways to measure attitudes. The most common approach to measuring
attitudes is to use a self-report scale. Self-report measures ask respondents to rate the favourability of their
evaluation of a target on one or more items. The textbook describes four common self-report techniques
and provides an example of three of them in Know Yourself 6.1 for measuring attitudes toward watching
television. You can also look at the Appendix in the textbook for additional information about how to
develop a self-report measure of any psychological construct, not just attitudes (you are not responsible for
the Appendix on exams).
Self-report techniques are effective for measuring explicit attitudes (which are conscious), but they
cannot be used to measure implicit attitudes (which are automatic and potentially unconscious). The most
common technique for measuring implicit attitudes is the Implicit Association Test (IAT). This technique
uses participants response times to infer their evaluations.
Two of the researchers who developed the IAT to measure implicit attitudes are Anthony Greenwald,
who is at the University of Washington, and Mahzarin Banaji, who is at Harvard University. These
researchers have set up a website where interested people can look at information about the IAT and take
the test themselves to see how it works. If you visit the site but do not want to complete the test, then click
on Background at the top of the page. Whether or not you try the test, we encourage you to explore the
File: How Do Attitudes Form?
How Do Attitudes Form?
Let=s take an example of an attitude and then analyze where it came from (how it formed). Think