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Jennifer Fortune

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Attitudes and Attitude Change
Copyright © 2010 by Pearson Education, inc. All rights reserved.
Attitudes and Attitude Change: Influencing Thoughts and Feelings
In Chapter 7, the topics of attitudes and attitude change are examined. Attitudes are evaluations
of people, objects, and ideas. Researchers have addressed the question of where attitudes come from.
Some attitudes are linked to our genes. Even if there is a genetic component, our social experiences
clearly play a major role in shaping our attitudes.
Attitudes can be cognitively, affectively, or behaviorally based. A cognitively based attitude is
based primarily on people’s beliefs about the properties of an attitude object. An affectively based
attitude is based more on people’s feelings and values than on their beliefs about the nature of an attitude
object. The function of attitudes based on values and feelings is not so much to paint an accurate picture
of the world as to express and validate one’s basic value system. Affectively based attitudes can also
result from a sensory reaction, aesthetic reaction, or they can be the result of conditioning. Classical
conditioning is the phenomenon whereby a stimulus that elicits an emotional response is repeatedly
paired with a neutral stimulus that does not, until the neutral stimulus takes on the emotional properties of
the first stimulus. In operant conditioning, behaviors that we freely choose to perform become more or
less frequent, depending on whether they are followed by a reward or punishment.
A behaviorally based attitude stems from people’s observations of how they behave toward an
object. According to Daryl Bem’s self-perception theory, under certain circumstances, people don’t know
how they feel until they see how they behave. People infer their attitudes from their behavior only when
there are no other plausible explanations for their behavior.
Once an attitude develops, it can exist at two levels. Explicit attitudes are ones we consciously
endorse and can easily report. People also have implicit attitudes, which are involuntary, uncontrollable,
and at times unconscious evaluations.
Attitudes do sometimes change. When attitudes change, they often do so in response to social
influence. Attitude change can come from cognitive dissonance—when people behave inconsistently with
their attitudes and cannot find external justification for their behavior. Although dissonance techniques
are powerful, they are very difficult to carry out on a mass scale. To change as many people’s attitudes as
possible, you would have to resort to other techniques of attitude change. You would probably use some
sort of persuasive communication, which is a communication such as a speech or television
advertisement that advocates a particular side of an issue.
Social psychologists have conducted many studies over the years on what makes a persuasive
communication effective. The Yale Attitude Change Approach refers to the study of the conditions
under which people are most likely to change their attitudes in response to persuasive messages, focusing
on “who said what to whom”—the source of the communication, the nature of the communication, and
the nature of the audience.
The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion specifies when people will be influenced by
what the speech says and when they will be influenced by more superficial characteristics. The theory
states that under certain conditions, people are motivated to pay attention to the facts in a communication,
and so they listen carefully to and think about the arguments. This is the central route to persuasion.
The peripheral route to persuasion is the case whereby people do not elaborate on the arguments in a
persuasive communication but are instead swayed by peripheral cues. People are more likely to take the
Chapter 7
Copyright © 2010 by Pearson Education, inc. All rights reserved.
central route if they are motivated and have the ability to pay attention to the facts. Motivation is higher
when the communication is personally relevant. People’s motivation to pay attention to a speech depends
on their personality. Some people enjoy thinking things through more than others do; they are said to be
high in the need for cognition. People high in need for cognition are more likely to pay close attention to
relevant arguments, whereas people low in need for cognition are more likely to rely on peripheral cues. It
is more difficult to pay attention to a communication if we are tired, distracted, or if the issue is too
complex and hard to evaluate. People who base their attitudes on a careful analysis of the arguments will
be more likely to maintain this attitude over time, more likely to behave consistently with this attitude,
and more resistant to counterpersuasion than people who base their attitudes on peripheral cues.
To get people to consider carefully constructed arguments you have to get their attention. One
way to get people’s attention is to scare them. A fear-arousing communication is a persuasive message
that attempts to change people’s attitudes by arousing their fears. The effectiveness of fear-arousing
communication depends on whether the fear influences people’s ability to pay attention to and process the
arguments in a message. If a moderate amount of fear is created and people believe that listening to the
message will teach them how to reduce this fear, they will be motivated to analyze the message carefully
and will likely change their attitudes via the central route.
Another way in which emotions can cause attitude change is by acting as a signal for how we feel
about something. According to the heuristic-systematic model of persuasion, when people take the
peripheral route to persuasion, they often use heuristics. Our emotions and moods can themselves act as
heuristics to determine our attitudes. The only problem is that sometimes it is difficult to tell where our
feelings come from. We may misattribute feelings created by one source to another source.
The success of various attitude change techniques depends on the type of attitude we are trying to
change. Several studies have shown that if an attitude is cognitively based, try to change it with rational
arguments; if it is affectively based, try to change it with emotional appeals. Advertisements are more
effective when they emphasize the attitudes of the culture they are trying to influence. Anything you can
do to increase people's confidence in their thoughts about your message will make it more effective, as
long as your arguments are strong and convincing.
The next section of the chapter discusses resisting persuasive messages. Attitude inoculation
refers to making people immune to attempts to change their attitudes by initially exposing them to small
doses of the arguments against their positions. Being alert to product placement can also aid in resisting
persuasive messages. Products are often shown in television shows and movies. They seem to be simply
part of the show but they are really placed in these programs as advertisements. One reason that product
placement may be so successful is that people do not realize that someone is trying to influence their
attitudes and behavior. Warning people about an upcoming attempt to change their attitudes makes them
less susceptible to that attempt. Attitude inoculation has been used to help adolescents to resist pressure
from peers to smoke.
It is important not to use too heavy a hand when trying to immunize people against assaults on
their attitudes. There is harm to administering strong prohibitions—the stronger they are, the more likely
they will boomerang, causing an increase in interest in the prohibited activity. According to reactance
theory, people do not like to feel that their freedom to do or think whatever they want is being threatened.
When they feel that their freedom is threatened, an unpleasant state of reactance is aroused, and people
can reduce this reactance by performing the threatened behavior.
The next section of the chapter addresses the question “When will attitudes predict behavior?”
The relationship between attitudes and behavior is not simple. Attitudes will predict spontaneous
behaviors only when they are highly accessible to people. Attitude accessibility refers to the strength of
Attitudes and Attitude Change
Copyright © 2010 by Pearson Education, inc. All rights reserved.
the association between an object and an evaluation of it, which is typically measured by the speed with
which people can report how they feel about an issue or object. The best-known theory of how attitudes
predict deliberate behaviors is the theory of planned behavior. According to this theory, when people
have time to contemplate how they are going to behave, the best predictor of their behavior is their
intention, which is determined by three things: their attitudes toward the specific behavior, their
subjective norms, and their perceived behavioral control.
The final section of the chapter discusses the power of advertising. Most people think that
advertising works on everyone but themselves. People are influenced by advertisements more than they
think. If advertisers are trying to change an affectively based attitude, then it is best to fight emotions with
emotions. If people’s attitudes are more cognitively based, we need to ask an additional question: How
personally relevant is the issue? If you are dealing with a cognitively based attitude that is not of direct
personal relevance, you might succeed in changing their attitudes via the peripheral route, but this type of
attitude change tends not to be long-lasting. The trick here is to make your product personally relevant.
Many advertisements also try to make people’s attitudes more affectively based by associating the
product with important emotions and values.
Subliminal messages are words or pictures that are not consciously perceived but may
nevertheless influence people’s judgments, attitudes, and behaviors. Subliminal messages can be auditory
as well. There is no evidence that the types of subliminal messages encountered in everyday life have any
influence on people’s behavior. There is evidence for subliminal effects in carefully controlled laboratory
studies. To get subliminal effects, researchers have to make sure that the illumination of the room is just
right, that people are seated just the right distance from a viewing screen, and that nothing else is
occurring to distract them as the subliminal stimuli are flashed. Even in the laboratory, there is no
evidence that subliminal messages can get people to act counter to their wishes, values, or personalities.
Ads are more powerful when people consciously perceive them. Advertising influences more
than just our consumer attitudes. Advertisements transmit cultural stereotypes in their words and images,
subtly linking products with desired images. Gender stereotypes are particularly pervasive in advertising
imagery. The stereotypes conveyed in advertisements are far from harmless. The media can have
powerful effects on people's attitudes, both directly and indirectly.
I. The Nature and Origin of Attitudes
• Social psychologists define an attitude as an enduring evaluation, positive or negative, of people,
objects, or ideas.
A. Where Do Attitudes Come From?
• Tesser (1993) suggests that some attitudes are linked to our genes. Evidence for this is based on the
finding that identical twins raised apart (and not knowing of each other) have more similar attitudes to
each other than do fraternal twins. Attitude similarity is probably mediated indirectly by similarity of
temperament and personality.
• Even if there is a genetic component, social experience clearly plays a large role in shaping
• Although all attitudes have the three components, any given attitude can be based more on one
component than another.