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Chapter 6: Attitudes
• This chapter examines social influences on attitudes.
• 1) What is an attitude, how can it be measured, and what is its link to behaviour?
• 2) What kinds of persuasive messages lead people to change their attitudes?
• 3) Why do we often change our attitudes as a result of our own actions?
THE STUDY OF ATTITUDES
• Attitudes: A positive, negative, or mixed reaction to a person, object, or ideas. Self-esteem is an attitude
we hold about ourselves, attraction is a positive attitude towards another person, and prejudice is a
negative attitude directed against certain groups.
• Attitudes can vary in strength along both positive and negative dimensions. We can react with positive
affect, negative affect, ambivalence (strong but mixed emotions) or indifference.
• People differ in the extent to which they tend to react to stimuli in strong terms. Some are high in the
need for evaluation and are more likely to react in judgemental terms and be more opinionated; those
low in this need are more likely to react in objective, non-evaluative ways.
• Attitudes serve important functions: enable us to judge quickly whether something is good or bad, helpful
or hurtful, and to be sought or avoided. However, pre-existing attitudes can bias our perceptions.
How Attitudes Are Measured
• Self-report measures are direct and straightforward, but attitudes are often too complex to be measured
by a single question; responses can also be influenced by wording, order, and context of the questions.
• Attitude scales are multiple-item questionnaires designed to measure a person’s attitude toward some
o Likert Scale: Subjects presented a list of statements about an attitude object and asked to indicate
on a multiple-point scale how strongly they agree or disagree with each statement. The total
attitude score is derived by summing the responses to all the questions.
• However, all self-report measures assume that people honestly express their true opinions, often
incorrectly. People are reluctant to admit to their failures, vices, weaknesses, unpopular opinions, and
• One method to increase the accuracy of self-report measures is to use the bogus pipeline, a phony lie-
detector device is used to get respondents to give more truthful answers to sensitive questions (thinking
that their lies would be detected by the bogus pipeline).
• Experimenters collect indirect, covert measures of attitude that cannot be controlled by the subject.
o Observable behaviour: facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language. E.g. People signal
their attitudes by nodding and shaking their heads without even realizing it. However, overt
behaviour is monitored just like self-reports.
o We can measure internal physiological reactions such as perspiration, heart rate, and pupil dilation.
However, these measures of arousal reveal the intensity of one’s attitude but not whether the
attitude is positive or negative.
• Facial Electromyograph (EMG) is an electronic instrument that records facial muscle activity associated
with emotions and attitudes.
o When people agree with an attitude, they have increased activity in the cheek muscles (depressor
and zygomatic) which are also characteristic of happiness. Page 2 of17
o When they disagree with a message, they have increased activity in muscles in the forehead and
brow area (corrugators and frontalis) which are characteristic of sadness and distress
• Electroencephalograph (EEG) detects, amplifies, and records waves of electrical activity in the brain
(brain waves) using electrodes on the surface of the scalp.
o Cacioppo (1993): Brainwave patterns normally triggered by inconsistency and novelty increased
more when a disliked stimulus appeared after a string of positive items, or vice versa.
• fMRI records increased brain activity in the amygdala, which is associated with emotion, when subjects
react to positive and negative attitude objects.
Implicit Association Test (IAT)
• Implicit attitudes are attitudes that one is not aware of having and is not capable of self-reporting.
These unconscious attitudes are measured by the Implicit Association Test, measuring the speed with
which people associate pairs of concepts.
o 1) Categorize faces as black or white by pressing either a left-hand key or a right-hand key.
o 2) Categorize a set of words as either positive or negative.
o 3) Faces and words are combined: press a key when seeing a black face or a positive word, and
the other key when seeing a white face or a negative word.
o 4) The opposite combination of faces and words.
• Some pairings are harder and take longer to respond to than others. In general, people are quicker to
respond when liked faces are paired with positive words, and disliked faces paired with negative words.
• Thus, one’s attitudes towards African Americans can be detected by the speed it takes you to respond to
black-bad/white-good versus black-good/white-bad pairings.
• Do implicit attitudes really predict behaviour in real-world settings of consequence? Implicit attitudes are
less predictive of behaviour than explicit attitudes; however, IAT measures are better about more socially
sensitive topics where people often distort their self-reports.
How Attitudes Are Formed
• Tesser (1993): Strong likes and dislikes are rooted in our genetic makeup – inborn physical, sensory, and
cognitive skills, temperament and personality traits.
o On some issues of attitude, identical twins are more similar than fraternal twins, and twins raised
apart as similar as twins raised together – this suggests a predisposition to attitudes.
o These issues (e.g. towards sexual promiscuity, religion, and the death penalty) often elicit quicker
responses and less alterations in opinion from subjects.
• Our attitudes often form as a result of our exposure to attitude objects – our history of rewards and
punishments, the attitudes our parents and peers express, the social and cultural context in which we
o Newcomb (1943): Political attitudes of the students of Bennington College change over their years
at the school, from conservative views (due to family background) into more liberal views due to
influence of professors and older peers.
• Implicit and explicit attitudes are formed through basic processes of learning, through associations with
positive or negative stimuli – especially emotionally charged stimuli.
o Associating a certain nationality with repeated words of very pleasant or very unpleasant
connotation will change later ratings of those nationalities.
o Advertisers pair products with sexy models, uplifting music, beloved celebrities, and nostalgic
The Link Between Attitudes and Behaviour Page 3 of17
• LaPiere (1934): Attitudes and behaviours do not always agree. Although prejudice against Asians was
widespread, a young Chinese-American couple was refused service only once; yet, more than 90% of
those same businesses when asked later said they would not accept Chinese patrons.
• In fact, attitudes significantly and substantially predict future behaviour, especially under certain
Attitudes in Context
• One important condition is the level of correspondence, or similarity, between attitude measures and
behaviour. The more specific the attitude question (e.g. “how do you feel about birth control” vs. “how do
you feel about using birth control pills in the next 2 years?”), the better it predicts behaviour (actual use of
pills in next 2 years).
• Theory of Planned Behaviour: Attitudes toward a specific behaviour combine with subjective norms
and perceived control to influence a person’s actions, through a process of deliberate decision-making.
• The impact of an attitude is limited in 4 respects:
1) Behaviour is influenced less by general attitudes, more by attitudes towards a specific behaviour.
2) Behaviour is influenced by subjective norms – our beliefs about what others think we should do.
These social pressures to conform often lead us to behave in ways that are at odds with our inner
3) Attitudes give rise to behaviour only when we perceive the behaviour to be within our control. If
people lack confidence in their ability to engage in some behaviour, they are unlikely to form an
intention to do so.
4) Although attitudes contribute to an intention to behave in a particular manner, people often do not
or cannot follow through on their intentions.
Attitude toward behaviour
Perceived behaviour control
Strength of the Attitude
• How much attitudes influence behaviour also depends on the strength, or importance, of the attitude.
There are 3 psychological factors to distinguish strong from weak attitudes:
o 1) Directly affects own self-interests
o 2) Relate to deeply held philosophical, political, and religious values
o 3) Of concern to close friends, family, and social ingroups – when people are surrounded by others
who are like-minded, attitudes become stronger and more resistant to change.
• The strength of an attitude and its link to behaviour is affected by how well-informed people are – the
more well-informed, the more likely people will behave in ways consistent with their attitudes.
• How the information was acquired is also important – attitudes are more stable and predictive of
behaviour when information is from direct personal experiences, rather than secondhand information. Page 4 of 17
• Attitudes can also be strengthened by an attack against it– people become more confident in their
attitude after successfully resisting changing that attitude in response to a persuasive communication.
o This depends on how satisfied people are with their own resistance. When they believe they have
resisted in a compelling way, they strengthen their attitude. When they resist only barely, they see
their counterarguments as weak and become less certain of their initial attitude.
• Strong attitudes are highly accessible to awareness, being quickly and easily brought to mind, then
triggering behaviour in a quick, spontaneous way.
PERSUASION BY COMMUNICATION
• Persuasion is the process by which attitudes are changed.
• Many times an attempt to change someone’s attitude on an issue is done by making a persuasive
communication: appeals using the spoken word, the written word, and the image.
Two Routes to Persuasion
• Petty and Cacioppo (1986): There are two alternative approaches to persuasion. The central route to
persuasion is the process by which a person thinks carefully about a communication and is fluenced by
the strength and quality of the arguments. The peripheral route to persuasion is the process by which
a person does not think critically about the content of the communication, but is influenced instead by
• The Central Route
• Hovland: For a persuasive message to have influence, the recipients of that message must first learn its
contents (reception) and then be motivated to accept it (acceptance).
• According to this view, people can only be persuaded by an argument which they attend to, comprehend,
and retain in memory for later use. The recipient of the appeal must be attentive, active, critical, and
• McGuire: A recipient’s self-esteem and intelligence are unrelated to the effectiveness of persuasion,
because they have opposite effects on reception and acceptance.
o People who are smart or high in self-esteem can better learn a message, but are less likely to
accept its call for a change in attitude.
o People less smart or low in self-esteem are more willing to accept the message, but have trouble
learning its contents.
• Persuasion requires a third, intermediate step of elaboration: the process of thinking about and
scrutinizing the arguments contained in a persuasive communication.
• Messages using the central route have greater impact when they are easily learned, memorable, and
stimulate favourable elaboration. Ultimately, strong arguments are persuasive, and weak arguments are
• The central route to persuasion may seem to be rational, but it is not guaranteed to be objective or
necessarily promoting truth-seeking. One may be biased in the way we process information, choosing to
agree with an attitude because it is said to have the support of someone agree with, or because its
effects would not be detrimental to oneself – over the logical merits of the argument itself.
• People who want to hold the “right” attitude may fear they are biased, leading to overcorrection.
The Peripheral Route
• Hitler: Believing that people are incompetent processors of information, Hitler relied on the use of
slogans, uniforms, marching bands, a special salute, and other symbols. He thought of meetings as
planned theatrical productions to maximize the emotional fervour of the audience.
• People can be manipulated into persuasion, taking a shortcut through the peripheral route: instead of
learning about a message and thinking through the issues, they respond on the basis of superficial cues. Page 5 of 17
• On the peripheral route, people evaluate a message using heuristics such as: reputation of the
communicator, how well they speak or write, the length of the argument or statistics, if it has support from
the audience, or if the speaker seems to be arguing against their own interests.
• People can also be influenced by cues from their own body movements. If coaxed to nod or shake their
heads while listening to a message, they will end up agreeing more or less with the arguments they hear.
This also occurs with stretching their arms out (pushing something away) or flexing their arms in
(bringing something closer).
• The process that is engaged depends on whether the recipient of the message has the ability and the
motivation to take the central route, or whether they rely on peripheral cues instead.
• Persuasive communication can be viewed as the outcome of 3 factors:
o 1) Source: Who the message is from
o 2) Message: What the persuasive communication says, and in what context
o 3) Audience: To whom the communication is given
• If a source speaks clearly, the message if important, and the audience is bright and involved and cares
enough to absorb the information, then the audience will be willing to take the effortful central route.
• If the source is incomprehensible, if the message is trivial or too complex, and if audience members are
distracted or un-interested, then the peripheral route will be taken.
High ability and motivation
Low ability or motivation
• High-credibility sources are more persuasive than low-credibility sources. For a source to be seen as
credible, they must have two characteristics:
o 1) Competence: The speaker’s ability, expertise, and credentials. We assume experts know what
they are talking about, so we listen and tend to yield to their positions without too much scrutiny.
o 2) Trustworthiness: Speaker is willing to report what they know truthfully and without compromise.
Trustworthiness is often judged based on stereotypes.
• We judge credibility by cautioning against those who have something to gain from successful persuasion
– they are most likely to have a bias based on their own self-interests.
o The more products a celebrity endorses, the less trustworthy they appear to consumers.
o In a mock trial, when a scientist was paid more for his testimony, he was suspected to be a “hired
gun” and thus less believable. Page 6 of17
• The opposite of the self-interest rule shows that people are more likely to think people are trustworthy
when they take unpopular stands or argue against their own interests.
• Trust is also established by speakers who are not purposely trying to change our views.
o People are more persuaded when they think they are accidentally overhearing a communication,
such as a personal conversation between friends, than when they know the pitch is intended for
• Likability comes from two factors which spark attraction.
• 1) Similarity: How similar the speaker is to the audience.
o Strong messages leading to attitude changes are more powerful when believed to be delivered by
a speaker similar to the recipient. Dissimilarity can have the opposite inhibiting effect.
o The effect is more powerful when the point of similarity is relevant to the attitude in question (e.g.
general musical tastes and liking a particular song), but there are effects even when the similarities
or differences are wholly unrelated.
o The astute communicator can use common bonds to enhance their impact on an audience.
• 2) Physical Attractiveness: Beauty is persuasive – young, glamorous, glowing complexions and radiant
o Attractive sources elicit more positive attitudes and successful persuasions.
When what you say is more important than who you are
• A recipient’s level of involvement is important: when a message has personal relevance, you will pay
attention to the source and think critically about the message, arguments, and implications. When there
is no personal relevance, you may take the source at face value and spend little time scrutinizing the
o Richard Petty (1981): Students listen to a speaker who proposes that university seniors take a
comprehensive exam in order to graduate. Three aspects of the communication were varied:
source credibility (education professor or high school student), strength of argument (well-reasoned
or based on personal involvement, and personal involvement (proposed exams initiated in 1 year
or in 8 years).
o High personal involvement: Persuasion based on strength of arguments, using the central route.
o Low personal involvement: Persuasion based on source credibility, using the peripheral route.
• Sleeper Effect: A delayed increase in the persuasive impact of a noncredible source.
o Hovland: The Discounting Cue Hypothesis states that people immediately discount arguments
made by noncredible communicators, but over time they dissociate what was said from who said it.
Therefore, when we think back on the message but forget the source, the sleeper effect comes to
o The sleeper effect can be eliminated by reinstating the link between the source and the message
by reminding the recipient which message came from who: now, credibility determines
o The sleeper effect is most reliably seen what the participant does not learn who the source is until
after they have received the message. If the source is known to be noncredible right away, the
message is rejected instantly and has no influence on your attitude.
• On the central route to persuasion, the message matters most. However, the recipient only comes to
know a message through the medium of communication – there are what the person has to say, and how
they say it.
Informational Strategies Page 7 of 17
• Often the most effective strategy with which to present the message depends on whether the audience is
processing with the central or peripheral route.
o Peripheral: People often use the heuristic that the longer the message, the more valid it must be.
Therefore a large number of words gives the superficial appearance of strength regardless of its
o Central: If a message is long due to supporting arguments, length is good. However, if the
additional arguments are weak or redundant, length dilutes the quality of the message and the
appeal loses impact.
• Order of Presentation: Important when two opposing sides are trying to persuade the same audience.
o Miller and Campbell (1959): Whether primacy or recency determines the effect of the persuasion
depends on time – how much time separates the two messages being presented, and the time
between hearing the second message and making the decision.
o When participants read the 2 message right after the 1 and made decisions one whole week
later, the primacy effect prevailed. Both messages had faded equally so the first impression had the
o When participants read 2 message one week after the 1 and made the decision right then, the
recency effect prevailed. The first message had faded but the second argument was still fresh.
• The audience must decide how extreme a position they should take – how discrepant should a message
be from the audience’s existing position for it to have the greatest impact?
• One approach is to take the extreme position to hope that the more change you advocate, the more you
will get. The second approach is to not push for too much change, so the audience will not reject the
• The 2 position is more effective: the most change is produced at moderate amounts of discrepancy.
o Edwards and Smith (1996): Taking an extreme position is counterproductive – recipients spend
more time scrutinizing the material and judge the argument to be weak, rejecting it because they
don’t agree with it.
o The more personally important an issue is to us, the more stubborn and resistant to change we are.
• Fear is a primitive and powerful emotion, aroused instantly in response to pain, noxious substances, or
threat, enabling us to respond rapidly without having to think about it.
• Fear-based appeals to change attitudes are common in politics.
o Terror Management Theory: deeply rooted fear of death motivates people to rally around their
leaders as a way to ward off anxiety.
o Increased terror alerts are followed predictably by increases in presidential approval ratings.
o Fear can also be used to promote health and safety, such as in public service announcements.
• Arousing how much fear – a little nervousness of full-blown anxiety – is best to get people to change
• Depends: fear arousal increases the incentive to change for those who do not actively resist it, but its
ultimate impact depends on the strength of the argument (increases central processing) and whether the
message also contains reassuring advice on how to cope with the threatened danger.
o Without specific instructions on how to cope, people feel helpless, panicking and tuning out the
o When clear instructions are included, high dosages of fear can be effective, e.g. showing gruesome
pictures of lung operations vs. statistics on the harmfulness of smoking. Page 8 of 17
o Communications to arouse fear need not be gruesome: the more personally vulnerable people feel
about a threatened outcome, the more attentive to the message and more easily persuaded.
• Positive emotions also help induce a change in attitude: food, drinks, a comfortable environment, good
memories, an experience of success, pleasant music can all lull us into a positive emotional state
conducive to persuasion.
• Positive feelings activate the peripheral route to persuasion, allowing superficial cues to take on added
1. Positive emotional state is cognitively distracting, impairing our ability to think critically.
2. When in a good mood, people assume all is well, letting down their guard and becoming lazy
processors of information.
3. When happy, people are motivated to savour the moment and maintain their mood rather than
spoiling it by thinking critically about new information.
• Would happy people presented with a positive and uplifting persuasive message still be distracted or
lazy, or would they pay attention to prolong their happiness?
o Students are put into a good or bad mood, by seeing either a funny show or a somber show. They
are then asked to read and evaluate either an uplifting article they agreed with (to cut tuition) or a
distressing article they disagreed with (to raise tuition). The article is either supported with strong
arguments, or weak ones.
o Bad mood: Read carefully and evaluated based on strong or weak arguments.
o Good mood: Reading about distressing article, they tuned out and were equally persuaded by both
strong and weak arguments. Reading about uplifting article, they were persuaded more by strong
o Because they were in a good mood and were receiving an agreeable message that would not spoil
it, the students took the effortful central route.
• Subliminal Advertising: Presenting commercial messages outside of conscious awareness.
Consumers react with a fear of being manipulated by forces they cannot see or hear.
o 1950s: Drive-in movie theatre in New Jersey flashed “Drink Coke” and “Eat popcorn” during
intermissions. Coke sales said to have increased 18% and popcorn sales 58%. (Later shown to be
o Radio station had subaudible anti-TV messages (“TV is a bore”) and department store had
subaudible warnings about theft in its music (“If you steal, you’ll get caught”).
o 1990: Families of two boys who committed suicide blamed Judas Priest for its subliminal lyrics that
promoted Satanism and suicide.
o Researchers play either German or French music at a supermarket display of wines. On German-
music days, 83% of wine sales are German, and on French-music days 65% of wine sales are
French. Customers did not cite the music as a factor for their choices, unaware of its effect on
• Can subliminal messages trigger behaviour without our awareness? No, controlled experiments show
that subliminal self-help CDs that promise to raise self-esteem, etc. have no therapeutic benefits.
• Subliminal persuasion does not work, but perception without awareness in priming does.
o Priming has short-term effect on simple judgements and actions.
o Subliminal persuasion claims to have long-term effects on complex behaviours of eating, drinking,
consumer purchases, voter sentiment, and even the profound act of suicide.
• Perhaps people can perceive subliminal cues, but they are not persuaded into action unless motivated to
do so. Page 9 of17
o Strahan (2002): Thirsty or non-thirsty students are subliminally exposed to words that are either
neutral, or thirst-related. The subliminal “thirsty” messages led students to drink more in a taste
test, but only those thirsty students; the students whose thirst had been quenched did not have
o Participants subliminally presented with a logo for one brand of sugar pill, and then work on a task
requiring intense concentration. When given the opportunity to enhance their concentration,
participants more likely to choose the sublim