Attitudes in Social Behavior Research Paper

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Popular culture seems obsessed with the concept of attitude. Entering the word attitude into an Internet search engine generates many listings, including “Art withAttitude,” “Animals with Attitude,” “Attitude Bikes,” and “Spice Girls—Spicy Attitude.” Moreover, the importance of attitude is frequently cited in promotional media (e.g., gym posters), self-help books (e.g., Russell-McCloud, 1999; Ryan, 1999), and even large-scale business conferences (e.g., Wal-Mart Canada, 1997). All of these examples support (albeit indirectly) Gordon Allport’s (1935) famous assertion that attitude is one of the most indispensable constructs in social psychology.

In this research paper, we review social psychological research and theory about attitudes. In the first portion of the paper, we define attitudes and compare this construct to other important social psychological constructs. Next, we discuss different theories about the psychological structure of attitudes, focusing on the theories’implications for measuring attitudes and the evidence supporting or refuting them. Third, we examine the psychological functions served by attitudes. Fourth, we consider the relations among attitudes and between attitudes and higher-order constructs such as ideologies. Fifth, we identify important ways in which attitudes vary. Sixth, we address briefly how attitudes form. Seventh, we discuss the effects of attitudes on information processing. Finally, we consider the relation between attitudes and behavior.

What Attitudes Are and what Attitudes Are Not

When they define attitudes, social psychologists focus on the tendency to like or dislike an attitude object or behavior. That is, attitudes are defined as tendencies to evaluate objects favorably or unfavorably (Bem, 1970; Eagly & Chaiken, 1993; Fazio, 1990; Olson & Zanna, 1993; Petty, Wegener, & Fabrigar, 1997; Wood, 2000). Attitudes can be directed toward any identifiable object in our environment, including groups of people (e.g., ethnic groups), controversial issues (e.g., legalized abortion), and concrete objects (e.g., pizza). In fact, the potentially unlimited range of attitude objects sometimes causes confusion about the relations between attitudes and other social psychological constructs. For example, there is conceptual overlap between attitudes and values, which are abstract ideals that people consider to be important guiding principles in their lives (e.g., freedom; Rokeach, 1973; Schwartz, 1992). The importance component of values makes them distinct from attitudes (Feather, 1995; Maio & Olson, 1998), because positive attitudes do not imply that the targets are important guiding principles in life.

One fundamental attribute of attitudes is that they are subjective—that is, they reflect how a person sees an object and not necessarily how the object actually exists. Consequently, attitudes should be considered a part of the subjective self, which is the stream of thoughts, feelings, and actions that govern how someone lives (James, 1890).

Structure of Attitudes

The relevance of attitudes to the subjective self suggests that attitudes may be connected to thoughts, feelings, and actions. This hypothesis raises the question of how attitudes are structured in the human mind. Understanding the mental structure of attitudes is potentially as important to attitude research as identifying the structure of DNA was to biological research. Uncovering the internal structure of attitudes can facilitate our understanding of how attitudes form, strengthen, and change.

In this section, we describe four well-established perspectives on attitude structure and their implications for attitude measurement. Two perspectives focus on the content of attitudes. These perspectives examine how attitudes may express more elemental psychological constructs, such as beliefs and emotions.The other two perspectives examine the dimensionality of attitudes—that is, these theories consider precisely how attitudes summarize positivity and negativity toward the attitude object. After reviewing attitude content and dimensionality, we describe some alternative attitude measures and the concept of implicit attitudes.

Attitude Content

Two perspectives have dominated research on the content of attitudes: the three-component model and the expectancyvalue model. For both models, we describe their chief characteristics, implications for attitude measurement, and supporting evidence.

Three-Component Model

GuidingAssumptions Thethree-componentmodelhypothesizes that attitudes express people’s beliefs, feelings, and past behaviors regarding the attitude object (Zanna & Rempel, 1988). For example, people might form a positive attitude toward eating spaghetti because spaghetti tastes good (affective component) and they believe that spaghetti is nutritious (cognitive component). Moreover, through the process of self-perception (Bem, 1972; Olson, 1992), people may decide that they like spaghetti because they can recall eating it often (behavioral component). Thus, this model suggests that people have positive attitudes toward an object when their beliefs, feelings, and behaviors express favorability toward an object, whereas people have negative attitudes toward an object when their beliefs, feelings, and behaviors express unfavorability toward the object.

We think it important to note, however, that the three-component view also regards attitudes as being distinct from the beliefs, feelings, and behaviors that influence them— following the adage that the whole is not simply the sum of its parts (Eagly & Chaiken, 1998; Zanna & Rempel, 1988). The attitude per se is a net evaluation of an attitude object; people can experience this evaluation when they encounter the attitude object, and they can store their attitude as a statement in memory (e.g., ice cream is good). Similarly, the attitude object can evoke the component beliefs, feelings, and behaviors, and the components can be subjectively represented in memory. Nonetheless, these components are more circumscribed in their focus. Beliefs are perceived associations between an object and its attributes, which may be evaluative in nature (e.g., ice cream is fattening); feelings are experiences of pleasant or unpleasant mood, which may be evoked by particular objects (e.g., ice cream makes me relaxed); and behaviors are overt acts that involve approaching or avoiding the object in some way (e.g., I buy ice cream often).

Measurement The three-component model indicates that it is possible to obtain measures of overall attitudes without attempting to assess attitude-relevant beliefs, feelings, and behaviors. For example, attitudes are frequently measured using an attitude thermometer, which asks participants to use a thermometer-like scale to indicate the extent to which they feel favorable versus unfavorable toward the attitude object (Campbell, 1971; Haddock, Zanna, & Esses, 1993; Maio, Bell, & Esses, 1996; Wolsko, Park, Judd, & Wittenbrink, 2000). Using this scale, people can indicate a general evaluation, which may be derived from attituderelevant beliefs, feelings, behaviors, or some combination of all three.

Nonetheless, such measures do not utilize the threecomponent model as rigorously as do measures that assess directly the attitude-relevant beliefs, feelings, and behaviors. Breckler (1984) provided an excellent example of the direct assessment of attitude-relevant beliefs, feelings, and behaviors. His research measured attitudes toward snakes and used a variety of verbal and nonverbal indicators. The verbal measures asked participants to rate (using self-report scales) their beliefs, feelings, and past behaviors toward snakes. The nonverbal measures assessed attitude-relevant affect and behavior, using recordings of participants’ heart rate and behavior in the presence of a live snake. The verbal and nonverbal measures for each component were then aggregated to form overall indices for each attitude component.

Open-ended measures offer another method for assessing the three components of attitudes. These measures ask participants to list their beliefs, feelings, and behaviors regarding the attitude object (Esses & Maio, 2002; Haddock & Zanna, 1998). Participants then rate the valence of each responsebyusingasemantic-differentialscale.Thisapproach makes it necessary for respondents to indicate responses that are accessible to them, rather than simply rate agreement with responses that the researcher presents (Esses & Maio, 2002).

Evidence In support of the three-component model, research has found that people’s beliefs, feelings, and behaviors toward an attitude object are correlated but distinct. For example, Breckler (1984) found that people’s beliefs, feelings, and behaviors toward snakes were moderately correlated when the components were assessed using verbal and nonverbal measures in a context in which a snake was present. His use of verbal and nonverbal measures provides a good test of the three-component model, because this technique corrects for the systematic measurement error that would occur if either technique were used alone. (In fact, the components were highly intercorrelated when verbal items alone were used in the absence of a snake.)

Using primarily pen-and-paper measures, additional research has examined the distinction between the cognitive and affective components, and such research has found moderate correlations for attitudes toward a large variety of objects (e.g., birth control, blood donation, microwaves; Breckler & Wiggins, 1989; Crites, Fabrigar, & Petty, 1994; Haddock & Zanna, 1998). Further, Trafimow and Sheeran (1998) found that attitude-relevant feelings and beliefs were clustered separately in memory.

Given the evidence that the cognitive and affective components are distinct, attitudes in different domains may be uniquely related to one or the other component. Consistent with this prediction, cognitive responses are strong predictors of attitudes toward a variety of controversial issues (e.g., capital punishment, legalized abortion, nuclear weapons; Breckler & Wiggins, 1991; Crites et al., 1994), whereas affective responses are strong predictors of attitudes toward blood donation (Breckler & Wiggins, 1989), intellectual pursuits (e.g., literature, math; Crites et al., 1994), smoking (Trafimow & Sheeran, 1998), and politicians (Glaser & Salovey, 1998).

Belief-Based Attitudes

Guiding Assumptions It is also possible to view attitudes as evaluative responses to an object that are influenced by beliefs alone (e.g., McGuire, 1960; Wyer, 1970). From this perspective, it is important to understand exactly how beliefs are interrelated and how beliefs are linked to affective responses. For example, a message might argue that it is good to reduce waste, and therefore that people should recycle waste. The message is persuasive if the message recipient accepts both the premise of the argument (i.e., reducing waste is good) and the implied link between the premise and the conclusion (i.e., recycling will reduce waste). Notice that the evaluative nature of the premise (reducing waste is good) introduces an evaluative bias into the conclusion—that is, people should become more favorable toward recycling because of its desirable implications for reducing waste. In this manner, attitudes can be evoked by beliefs (i.e., premises) that are evaluative in nature.

The notion that attitudes reflect the acceptance or rejection of evaluative premises is central to the well-known expectancy-value perspective on attitudes (e.g., the theory of reasoned action; Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975). According to this approach, an attitude is the sum of all of the evaluative beliefs regarding the attitude object. For instance, if people believe that recycling is easy and that recycling helps the environment, people should hold a positive attitude toward recycling. This attitude is positive because both beliefs link positively valued attributes to the behavior. Of course, beliefs are rarely held with absolute certainty. For example, a person may be only 70% certain that recycling is easy, but also be 100% certain that recycling helps the environment. According to the expectancy-value model, beliefs have less impact on attitudes when they are less certain. This reasoning is frequently summarized in a well-known equation: A  biei, where A is the total attitude toward the attitude object, bi is the subjective belief that the object possesses attribute i (e.g., the probability that recycling helps the environment), and ei is the evaluation of attribute i (e.g., the positive value attached to the environment).

Measurement The expectancy-value model prescribes a method for measuring attitudes: Participants must first consider a list of potential attributes of an attitude object and then for each attribute rate (a) the probability that the object possesses the attribute, and (b) the desirability of the attribute. In most research, the probability ratings are made using scales from 3 (very improbable) to 3 (very probable) or from 0 (not at all) to 1 (definitely). The evaluative ratings are made using evaluative scales from 3 (e.g., very bad) to 3 (e.g., very good). To derive the overall attitude, the product of the probability and evaluative ratings is computed for each attribute, and the products are summed across all of the attributes.

The expectancy-value model is also compatible with an open-ended thought-listing procedure for measuring attitudes. In this procedure, participants list their beliefs about the attributes of the attitude object, and they rate the desirability of each attribute. An overall index of attitude is then obtained by summing the desirability ratings. The thoughtlisting procedure does not require probability ratings because it elicits attributes that participants perceive as being highly associated with the attitude object (Esses, Haddock, & Zanna, 1993; Esses & Zanna, 1995).

Evidence Research has examined the utility of the expectancy-value model by testing whether people’s reports oftheirownattitudesarecorrelatedwiththesummedproducts of the attitude-relevant expectancies and values. Results indicate that there are at least moderate correlations between attitudes and the expectancy-value products (e.g., Budd, 1986; van der Pligt & de Vries, 1998), although there have been statistical and methodological criticisms of these findings (e.g., Bagozzi, 1984; Sparks, Hedderley, & Shepherd, 1991).

To test the expectancy-value model directly, it is necessary to examine experimentally the causal impact of beliefs and evaluations on attitudes. Fortunately, studies of persuasion have yielded some support for the idea that persuasive messages influence evaluative beliefs, which influence attitudes (e.g., Maio, Bell, et al., 1996), although this effect may occur only when people are motivated and able to process persuasive messages in a systematic manner (Chaiken, Liberman, & Eagly, 1989; Petty & Cacioppo, 1986; E. P. Thompson, Kruglanski, & Spiegel, 2000).

Reconciling the Three-Component and Belief-Based Models

The comprehensiveness of the expectancy-value model is challenged by the findings noted earlier—that affect and past behavior predict attitudes independently of beliefs. This challenge can be met by the argument that affective reactions and past behaviors are simply different types of beliefs about the attitude objects. For example, the three-component model suggests that people may form a positive attitude toward an object that makes them feel happy. The expectancy-value model can account for this process by suggesting that people believe that the object makes them happy and value their own happiness—the effect of happiness is reduced to an expectancy-value product. Nevertheless, affective beliefs and behavioral beliefs are made salient only by considering the three-component model. Thus, at the very least, the threecomponent model spurs the expectancy-value formulation to consider different types of beliefs.

On the other hand, the three-component model would be more compelling if the relations between the three attitude components and attitudes fell into a discernible pattern that could be explained by prior theory. Discovering such a pattern is difficult, partly because there is conflicting evidence for some attitude objects. For example, Esses et al. (1993) found that affect played the greatest unique role in predicting attitudes toward two groups (French Canadian and native people), whereas beliefs about out-group values played the greatest unique role in predicting attitudes toward two other groups (Pakistani and homosexual people). These researchers also obtained evidence that the relative dominance of emotions and cognitions depended on individual differences and situational factors.

These findings indicate that there is a need for theory describing when one component should be more influential than another. Such a theory would need to consider evidence that the roles of affect and cognition may depend on the psychological functions fulfilled by attitudes (see Maio & Olson, 2000). For example, affective reactions may be stronger predictors of attitude when the attitude object has a hedonic purpose than when the object has a utilitarian purpose (Kempf, 1999). In addition, attitudes toward social partners become moreimbuedwithaffectaspeoplegetolderandwhentheyare diagnosed with a critical illness—conditions that presumably increase the importance of close affective ties with others (Carstensen, Isaacowitz, & Charles, 1999).

It is also important to consider that affect and cognition may have different processing requirements. For example, affective associations may be more accessible (Verplanken, Hofstee, & Janssen, 1998) and they may be processed more easily (Reeder & Pryor, 2000). Perhaps the ease of affective processing explains why (a) affective reactions exert a stronger influence on attitudes when there is a conflict between affect and cognition (Lavine, Thomsen, Zanna, & Borgida, 1998), (b) affect has a stronger influence on mental representations of others in general (Jussim, Nelson, Manis, & Soffin, 1995), and (c) affect is more closely related to the importance attached to social values (Maio & Olson, 1998).

The Dimensionality of Attitudes

The three-component model and the expectancy-value model describe the manner in which attitudes are related to beliefs, feelings, and behavior. Neither model, however, specifies precisely how attitudes summarize positivity and negativity in memory. There are two prominent perspectives on this question: the unidimensional model and the bidimensional model.

Unidimensional Model

Guiding Assumptions The traditional perspective regards attitudes as being unidimensional evaluations, which express sentiments ranging from extreme unfavorability toward the attitude object to extreme favorability toward the attitude object. In other words, the unidimensional perspective assumes that attitudes can take the form of (a) favorability, (b) unfavorability, or (c) neither favorability nor unfavorability toward the attitude object. Thus, a person may feel either positively or negatively about the object, but not both at the same time.

Measurement The most common measures of attitudes are based on the unidimensional perspective. These measures include bipolar semantic-differential scales, which are anchoredbyanegativeadjectiveatoneend(e.g.,bad)andapositive adjective at the other end (e.g., good). For example, respondents could be asked to rate their attitude toward censorship using a 7-point scale from 3 (very unfavorable) to 3 (very favorable), with 0 (neither favorable nor unfavorable) in between. Respondents may be given many semantic differential scales, anchored by different adjective pairs (e.g., good vs. bad; negative vs. positive). To yield an overall index of attitudes, responses are averaged across the scales.

Another common procedure uses Likert-like scales. This technique utilizes many statements expressing varying degrees of favorability or unfavorability toward the attitude object. Examples might be Censorship unfairly restricts access to information and Censorship is necessary to keep obscene material from children. People respond to each item on a scale from 2 (strongly disagree) to 2 (strongly agree). To yield an overall index of attitudes, responses to the items that imply unfavorability toward the attitude object are reverse coded (e.g., 2 changes to 2), and responses to all items are then averaged.

Evidence To some extent, the unidimensional model is supported by findings that unidimensional measures of attitude exhibit substantial criterion validity. That is, semanticdifferential and Likert scales yield attitude scores that predict behavior (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1977; Kraus, 1995). In addition, the unidimensional model is consistent with Judd and Kulik’s (1980) observation that people are faster at identifying their agreement or disagreement with extreme attitude positions than with neutral attitude positions. These researchers argued that this result should occur if people easily represent strong positivity (without any negativity) and strong negativity (without any positivity) in their minds.

Bidimensional Model

Guiding Assumptions The bidimensional model rejects the notion that attitudes exist only on a single evaluative continuum from negativity to positivity. Instead, the bidimensional model suggests that attitudes subsume an evaluative tendency that varies in positivity and a separate evaluative tendency that varies in negativity. Consequently, attitudes can take the form of (a) favorability, (b) unfavorability, (c) neither favorability nor unfavorability, and (d) both favorability and unfavorability toward the attitude object.

Measurement To measure attitudes from the bidimensional perspective, the positive and negative responses must be assessed separately. Kaplan (1972) suggested that any single semantic-differential scale could be split to yield separate positive and negative dimensions. For example, researchers could use a semantic-differential scale from – 3 (very bad) to 0 (neutral) and a semantic-differential scale from 0 (neutral) to 3 (very good), rather than use a single semantic-differential scale from -3 (very bad) to 3 (very good). In this manner, separate negative and positive dimension scores are obtained. This approach prevents ambiguous neutral responses (Kaplan, 1972). That is, in single semantic-differential and Likert items, neutrality may stem from an absence of both positivity and negativity toward the attitude object, or it may stem from the simultaneous presence of both positivity and negativity; the split scales can differentiate between these two types of neutrality.

Split scales may be unnecessary when an attitude measure includes many items that assess both positive and negative attributes of the attitude object. For example, open-ended measures of attitude ask participants to list their beliefs about an attitude object and the emotions that the object elicits in them (see Esses & Maio, 2002; Haddock & Zanna, 1998). Using a traditional semantic-differential scale, participants then rate the valence of each response. This approach enables respondents to indicate some beliefs and emotions that are positive and some beliefs and emotions that are negative. Using this technique, a positive-dimension score can be derived from the sum or average of the positive ratings, and a negative-dimension score can be derived from the sum or average of the negative ratings (Bell, Esses, & Maio, 1996; Maio, Esses, & Bell, 2000).

Separation of the positive and negative dimensions enables the calculation of ambivalence, which is the simultaneous existence of positivity and negativity toward the attitude object (Kaplan, 1972; Olson & Zanna, 1993). Ambivalence is calculated using formulas that are designed to assess the extent to which there are high amounts of positivity and negativity rather than a high amount of positivity or negativity alone (e.g, Bell et al., 1996; Priester & Petty, 1996; M. M. Thompson, Zanna, & Griffin, 1995). We find it interesting, however, that the scores derived from these formulas exhibit only moderate correlations with subjective self-reports of ambivalence (approximately r  .40; Priester & Petty, 1996). Thus, although the objective and subjective measures possess some convergent validity, they must be tapping psychological processes that are at least somewhat distinct.

Evidence If the bidimensional view is valid, people’s favorability toward an attitude object should at least sometimes be largely unrelated to their unfavorability toward the object. In contrast, the unidimensional view suggests that there should be a strong negative correlation between positivity and negativity. In support of the bidimensional view, past research has found only moderate negative correlations between positivity and negativity, across a variety of attitude objects (e.g., different ethnic groups; Bell et al., 1996; Kaplan, 1972; I. Katz & Hass, 1988; M. M. Thompson et al., 1995; cf. Jonas, Diehl, & Brömer, 1997).

Cacioppo, Gardner, and Berntson (1997) observed that positivity and negativity toward an object do not change in parallel: (a) There is a tendency for people to initially possess more positivity than negativity toward attitude objects, and (b) positivity increases more slowly than does negativity. Therefore, it is plausible that positivity and negativity summarize different mental processes. Also, if the positive and negative dimensions are distinct, they should exhibit somewhat different correlations with other variables. Unfortunately, researchers have not yet systematically examined this issue.

Finally, if the bidimensional view is valid, the simultaneous existence of positivity and negativity (i.e., ambivalence) should have unique psychological consequences that are not predicted by the unidimensional model. And, indeed, researchers have found unique consequences of ambivalence (see the section on characteristics of attitudes later in this research paper).

Reconciling the Unidimensional and Bidimensional Perspectives

Despite the empirical support for the bidimensional view, it should be noted that most researchers have not examined the correlations between positivity and negativity while simultaneously controlling random and systematic measurement error. Failure to control for both sources of error can artifactually decrease the magnitude of the observed correlation (Green, Goldman, & Salovey, 1993), leaving the impression that the positive and negative dimensions are less strongly related than they actually are.

Even if future evidence supports the bidimensional model, it is plausible that the unidimensional model and bidimensional model are valid at different psychological levels. For instance, the bidimensional model may apply to attitude formation, in which people perceive the attitude object on both positive and negative dimensions; these dimensions might then be integrated to form a single, unidimensional evaluation (see Cacioppo et al., 1997). Alternatively, the unidimensional model may lose predictive validity as knowledge about the attitude object becomes more complex, because it becomes difficult to integrate the object’s positive and negative attributes.

Neither perspective on attitude dimensionality explicitly considers implications of the fact that people can be made aware of many different exemplars of the attitude object, in addition to many attributes of each exemplar (Lord & Lepper, 1999). For example, when thinking of their attitude toward cheese, people can imagine the most recent type of cheese that they ate (e.g., fresh brie vs. processed cheese slices). The reported attitude will depend on which exemplar is retrieved because different exemplars are often associated with different attributes and evaluations. Thus, it is likely that attitudes subsume many different exemplars of the attitude object in addition to the varied attributes of the exemplars.

Alternative Attitude Measures

Past researchers have most often measured attitudes using self-report scales. An important limitation of self-report scales is that they are affected by tendencies to respond in a socially desirable manner (Paulhus, 1991). For example, people might be reluctant to report prejudice against ethnic groups because of the social stigma attached to prejudicial attitudes.

To overcome this problem, various techniques have been developed. For example, the bogus pipeline procedure (Jones & Sigall, 1971) deceives participants into believing that the researcher can detect their true feelings about an attitude object, after which participants are asked to report their attitude toward the attitude object. This technique has been shown to reduce social desirability in responses to simple self-report attitude measures (Roese & Jamieson, 1993).

Another approach involves assessing participants’physiological responses to attitude objects. Unfortunately, many physiological measures are incapable of distinguishing positive and negative affective reactions (e.g., skin conductance, papillary response; Petty & Cacioppo, 1983; Guglielmi, 1999). Positive and negative evaluations can be distinguished, however, using facial electromyography (EMG) recordings (Cacioppo, Petty, Losch, & Kim, 1986), which detect the relative amount of electrical activity in the muscles that control smiling and frowning.

Two other psychophysiological techniques show considerable promise. One technique detects a specific pattern of electrical activity in the centroparietal region of the brain (amplitude of the late positive potential: Cacioppo, Crites, & Gardner,1996;Gardner,Cacioppo,Crites,&Berntson,1994), whereas the other examines the frequency and latency of eye blinks for attitude objects (Ohira, Winton, & Oyama, 1998). Future research should test whether these techniques are more closely linked to one attitude component (e.g., affect) than to others and whether the techniques yield support for separate positive and negative dimensions in evaluations.

Implicit Attitudes

Another limitation of most self-report measures of attitudes is that they assess only explicit attitudes, which are consciously retrievable from memory. Explicit, conscious attitudes may differ in numerous ways from implicit, nonconscious attitudes (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995; Wilson, Lindsey, & Schooler, 2000). Thus, it is useful to measure directly the nonconscious attitudes.

Several techniques are available to accomplish this goal. One approach involves extracting self-report, attituderelevant information without relying directly on participants’conscious determination of their attitude. For example, researchers can calculate participants’ attitudes from their responses to open-ended measures, even though these measures do not directly ask participants to report their attitudes. Other measures circumvent respondents’ inferential processes more strongly by recording behavior that occurs outside of participants’ conscious control. For example, researchers can unobtrusively measure participants’ nonverbal and verbal behaviors toward other people as an indication of liking (e.g., Fazio, Jackson, Dunton, & Williams, 1995; Word, Zanna, & Cooper, 1974). Because people have difficulty consciously monitoring such behaviors, their behaviors may often reveal attitudes of which the participants are unaware (see Dovidio, Kawakami, Johnson, Johnson, & Howard, 1997).

The most common measures of implicit attitudes use elaborate priming techniques (e.g., Dovidio et al., 1997; Fazio et al., 1995; Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998). For example, Fazio et al.’s (1995) “bona fide pipeline” presents participants with a target attitude object and asks participants to classify subsequently presented adjectives as being good or bad. Theoretically, positive evaluations should be activated in memory after viewing an attitude object that evokes a positive attitude. This priming of positive affect should cause participants to be faster at classifying positive adjectives (e.g., nice, pleasant) than at classifying negative adjectives (e.g., disgusting, repugnant). In contrast, after viewing an attitude object that evokes a negative attitude, participants should be slower at classifying positive adjectives than at classifying negative adjectives. Indeed, evidence from several studies suggests that the latency to classify positive versus negative adjectives is affected by the prior presentation of a liked or disliked attitude object, particularly when participants hold a strong attitude toward the attitude object (Fazio, 1993; Fazio, Sanbonmatsu, Powell, & Kardes, 1986; cf. Bargh, Chaiken, Govender, & Pratto, 1992). Moreover, attitude scores can be derived from the speed of responding to the positive versus negative adjectives following the positive versus negative primes, and these attitude scores predict attitude-relevant behavior toward the attitude object (Fazio et al., 1995). Greenwald et al.’s (1998) “implicit association test” similarly relies on facilitating versus inhibiting effects of evaluation on task performance. An interestingissueiswhethersuchmeasuresofimplicitattitudes can be adapted to test the models of attitude content and attitude dimensionality.

Attitude Functions

Although models of attitude structure are useful for describing ways in which attitudes may be represented in memory, these models do not address attitude functions, which are the psychological motivations that attitudes fulfill (Olson & Zanna, 1993). Understanding the functions of attitudes should clarify why people bother to form and maintain attitudes, as well as how underlying motivations influence the valence and structure of attitudes.

Two early theoretical statements are the best-known models of attitude function (D. Katz, 1960; Smith, Bruner, & White, 1956). Smith et al. (1956) suggested that attitudes serve three functions: object appraisal, social adjustment, and externalization. Object appraisal refers to the ability of attitudes to summarize the positive and negative attributes of objects in our environment; social adjustment is served by attitudes that help us to identify with people whom we like and to dissociate from people whom we dislike; and externalization is fulfilled by attitudes that defend the self against internal conflict. D. Katz (1960) proposed four attitude functions, which overlap with those proposed by Smith et al. (1956): knowledge, utility, value expression, and ego defense. The knowledge function represents the ability of attitudes to summarize information about attitude objects; the utilitarian function exists in attitudes that maximize rewards and minimize punishments obtained from attitude objects; the value-expressive function exists in attitudes that express the self-concept and central values (e.g., equality, freedom; Maio & Olson, 1998; Rokeach, 1973; Schwartz, 1992); and the ego-defensive function protects self-esteem.

The object-appraisal function (which combines aspects of the utilitarian and knowledge functions) perhaps best explains why people form attitudes in the first place. This function implies that attitudes classify objects in the environment for the purposes of action. Moreover, it can be argued that all strong attitudes simplify interaction with the environment in this way, regardless of whether the attitudes imply favorabity or unfavorability toward the attitude object.

Two important themes have emerged in research on attitude functions since these early theoretical statements. First, as just noted, evidence suggests that strong attitudes fulfill an object-appraisal function. Second, a distinction between instrumental attitudes (serving a utilitarian function) and symbolic attitudes (serving a value-expressive function) appears to be useful. In the following sections, we describe the evidence regarding these observations.

Object Appraisal

In their description of the object-appraisal function, Smith et al. (1956) hypothesized that attitudes are energy-saving devices, because attitudes make attitude-relevant judgments faster and easier to perform. Two programs of research have directly supported this reasoning while suggesting important caveats. First, Fazio (1995, 2000) argued that the objectappraisal function should be more strongly served by attitudes that are spontaneously activated from memory when the object is encountered than by attitudes that are not spontaneously retrieved. This prediction is based on the assumption that activated attitudes guide relevant judgments and behavior, whereas dormant attitudes have little effect during judgment and behavior processes. Consistent with this hypothesis is that highly accessible attitudes (either measured via response latency or manipulated via repeated attitude expression) have been shown to increase the ease with which people make attitude-relevant judgments. For example, people who have accessible attitudes toward an abstract painting have been shown to be subsequently faster at deciding whether they prefer the painting over another painting; they also exhibit less physiological arousal during these preference decisions than do people who have less accessible attitudes (see Fazio, 2000).

Another program of research has revealed that the strength of the object-appraisal motivation is influenced by levels of the need for closure, which is a “desire for a definite answer on some topic, any answer as opposed to confusion and ambiguity” (Kruglanski, 1989, p. 14). Of course, the objectappraisal function reflects the notion that attitudes can provide such answers because attitudes help people to make decisions about attitude objects. Consequently, a high need for closure should increase the desire to form and maintain attitudes. Kruglanski (1996) has tested this hypothesis using an individual difference measure of need for closure and situational manipulations of the need for closure (which involve imposing or withdrawing situational pressures to resolve uncertainty). As expected, the effects of need for closure on attitude change depended on whether participants had already formed an attitude toward the assigned topic. If participants had already formed an attitude, those who were high in need for closure were less persuaded by new information than were participants who were low in need for closure. In contrast, if participants had not yet formed an attitude, those who were high in need for closure were more persuaded by new information than were participants who were low in need for closure. Thus, the need for closure was associated with a tendency to form and maintain attitudes.

Instrumental Versus Symbolic Attitudes

Numerous researchers have argued for a distinction between instrumental (or utilitarian) and symbolic (or valueexpressive)attitudes(e.g.,Herek,1986;Prentice,1987;Sears, 1988). Instrumental attitudes classify attitude objects according to their ability to promote self-interest, whereas symbolic attitudes express concerns about self-image and personal values (Herek, 1986; Sears, 1988). This distinction has been used to understand attitudes toward many social groups (e.g., homosexual persons, persons with HIV, African Americans; Herek, 2000; Reeder & Pryor, 2000; Sears, 1988), consumer objects (Ennis & Zanna, 2000; Prentice, 1987; Shavitt, 1990), altruistic behaviors (Maio & Olson, 1995; Snyder, Clary, & Stukas, 2000), and political issues (Kinder & Sears, 1985; Lavine & Snyder, 2000).

At least three lines of research support this distinction. First, some attitude objects elicit attitudes that are associated primarily with one or the other of these functions. For example, Shavitt (1990) found that people’s thoughts about air conditioners and coffee focus on the utility of the objects, whereas thoughts about greeting cards and flags tend to focus on the objects’ capacity to symbolize the self and social values.

Second, evidence indicates that people are more persuaded by messages containing arguments that match the instrumental or symbolic functions of their attitudes than by messages containing arguments that do not match the functions of their attitudes. For example, Shavitt (1990) found that instrumental ads for instrumental products (e.g., an air conditioner) were more persuasive than were symbolic ads for instrumental products. Similarly, Snyder and DeBono (1985) found that low selfmonitors (who typically possess instrumental attitudes) were more persuaded by instrumental ads for various products (e.g., whiskey, cigarettes) than were high self-monitors (whose attitudes typically fulfill social-adjustive functions). Also, Prentice (1987) found that participants who attached high importance to symbolic values (e.g., mature love, self-respect) and symbolic possessions (e.g., family heirlooms) were less persuaded by messages that contained instrumental arguments than by messages that contained symbolic arguments. Presumably, these match effects occurred because people scrutinize arguments that match the function of their attitude more carefully than they scrutinize arguments that do not match the function of their attitude (Petty & Wegener, 1998).As a result, match effects occur only when the persuasive arguments are strong, but not when the persuasive arguments are weak (Petty & Wegener, 1998).

Finally, the distinction between instrumental and symbolic attitudes improves the measurement of attitudes and the prediction of behavior. Regarding attitude measurement, many studies have shown that attitudes toward ethnic groups are related to beliefs about the group members’ values, over and above beliefs about the group members’ implications for personal well-being (e.g., Esses et al., 1993; I. Katz & Hass, 1988; see also Schwartz & Struch, 1989). Also, when an attitude serves a symbolic function, personal values enhance the prediction of attitude-relevant behavior over and above beliefs about the positive or negative instrumental attributes of the behavior and perceptions of group norms (Beck & Ajzen, 1991; Maio & Olson, 1995). Values exhibit weaker relations to attitudes and behaviors that serve utilitarian functions (Kristiansen & Zanna, 1988; Maio & Olson, 1994, 1995; cf. Maio & Olson, 2000).

Attitudes and Higher-Order Constructs

Attitudes do not, of course, exist in isolation from each other or from other constructs. For example, people who favor social assistance payments to the poor may on average possess positive attitudes toward other social welfare programs such as national health care and subsidized housing. The positive attitudes toward all of these programs may in turn arise because the person attaches high importance to the social value of helpfulness. Such relations among attitudes and values may have implications for stability and change in attitudes. In this section, we consider how attitudes are structurally and functionally related to each other and how sets of attitudes may be related to higher-order constructs such as values and ideologies.

Interattitude Structure

Heider’s (1958) balance theory is one of the earliest models of relations between attitudes. This theory examined a situation in which a person (P) holds a positive or negative attitude toward another person (O), and both people (P and O) hold a positive or negative attitude toward a particular object (X). According to Heider, such P-O-X triads are balanced when P likes O and they hold the same (positive or negative) attitude toward X, or when P dislikes O and they hold different attitudes toward X. A state of imbalance occurs when P likes O and they hold different attitudes toward X, or when P dislikes O and they hold the same attitude toward X. In other words, balance exists when a person agrees with someone whom he or she likes, or when a person disagrees with someone whom he or she dislikes.

Heider (1958) predicted that unbalanced states create an unpleasant tension, which causes people to prefer balanced states. Subsequent research documented that participants report more discomfort with hypothetical unbalanced triads than with hypothetical balanced triads (e.g., Jordan, 1953). Individuals can convert unbalanced states to balanced states by using three strategies: Change the attitude toward O or X (attitude change), change the beliefs about O’s attitude (belief change), or focus on some aspect of O or X that balances the triad (differentiation). In cases in which attitude change is the selected route to imbalance reduction, Heider did not indicate whether the attitude toward O or the attitude toward X is more likely to change.

Osgood and Tannenbaum’s (1955) congruity theory addressed this latter issue by proposing that attitudes toward both O and X would change in the face of imbalance. In addition, these researchers predicted that the amount of attitude change would depend on the extremity of each attitude, such that the more extreme attitude would change the least. (Balance theory did not consider the role of attitude extremity.) These predictions have received some support (e.g., Tannenbaum, 1966), with important exceptions (e.g., Tannenbaum & Gengel, 1966).

Relations Between Attitudes, Values, and Ideologies

Attitudes and Values

Not only are different attitudes interconnected, but they may also be related to other, higher-order constructs such as values. The capacity of attitudes to express values is highlighted by theories describing the value-expressive function of attitudes (e.g., Herek, 1986; D. Katz, 1960) and by measures that specifically include value-relevant beliefs in the assessment of attitude components (e.g., Esses et al., 1993). In addition, Rokeach’s (1973) seminal theory of values emphasized the role of values in driving attitudes. He suggested that a relatively small set of social values underlie most attitudes. Consistent with this reasoning, rankings of the importance of values have been shown to predict a large variety of attitudes and behavior (e.g., Maio, Roese, Seligman, & Katz, 1996). Moreover, priming a value makes accessible a variety of value-relevant attitudes, but priming value-relevant attitudes does not make accessible a variety of values (Gold & Robbins, 1979; Thomsen, Lavine, & Kounios, 1996), suggesting that values are above attitudes in the hierarchical network of attitudes, beliefs, and values.

The potential centrality of values is also reflected in Rosenberg’s (1960, 1968) evaluative-cognitive consistency theory. According to this theory, people strive for consistency between their attitudes and social values. This pursuit of consistency is similar to the pursuit of balance in P-O-X triads. Specifically, people seek consistency across a series of person-value-object (P-V-X) triads or bands. Each band contains the person’s attitude toward the attitude object (e.g., censorship), the person’s belief in the importance of a particular value (e.g., freedom), and the perceived relation between the attitude object and the value (e.g., censorship threatens freedom). Moreover, for any given attitude object, the number of bands equals the number of relevant values, such that the bands differ only in their referent values (e.g., P-V1-X, P-V2-X, P-V3-X). Rosenberg (1960) suggested that people are unlikely to restore consistency by changing personal values because each value can be relevant to many attitudes. Thus, changing a value may balance triads for one attitude object, but could also create imbalance in other triads. Consistent with this reasoning, Rosenberg observed that people were more likely to change their beliefs about the relations between an attitude object and relevant values than to change the values themselves.

Attitudes and Ideologies

Attitudes may also express ideologies, which are clusters of thematically related values and attitudes (Converse, 1964; McGuire, 1985). Liberalism and conservatism are wellknown ideologies. Liberal ideologies encompass attitudes and values that promote universal rights and benevolence, whereas conservative ideologies encompass attitudes and values that promote freedom and self-enhancement (e.g., Kerlinger, 1984).

If the liberal-conservative dimension is a valid means for sorting political attitudes, then people should tend to endorse either conservative attitudes or liberal attitudes, but not both. Yet people’s actual endorsement of liberal and conservative attitudes does not follow this simple pattern (Converse, 1964; Fleishman, 1986). Multidimensionality is most evident among people who lack expertise in political issues (Lavine, Thomsen, & Gonzales, 1997; Lusk & Judd, 1988). Researchers have found at least two distinct ideological dimensions within political attitudes: attitudes toward moral regulation versus individual freedom, and attitudes toward compassion versus competition (e.g., Ashton, Esses, & Maio, 2001; Boski, 1993).

There has been recent interest in ideologies from researchers examining nonpolitical attitudes as well. For example, researchers in the area of intergroup attitudes have examined several ideological dimensions, including multiculturalism versus color blindness (Wolsko et al., 2000) and individualism versus communalism (I. Katz & Hass, 1988). Diverse ideologies have also been examined in studies of attitudes toward gender roles (Spence, 1993), body weight and obesity (Quinn & Crocker, 1999), ways of life (de St. Aubin, 1996), and violence (Cohen & Nisbett, 1994).

At present, there is little evidence documenting precisely how attitudes express broad values and ideologies. For example, values may occasionally function as post hoc justifications for attitudes, rather than as their psychological basis (Kristiansen & Zanna, 1988). When causal influences of values and ideologies do occur, the effects may be indirect or direct. In an indirect effect, values and ideologies influence a specific attitude indirectly through other attitudes, whereas a direct effect occurs when people perceive the value itself as relevant to their attitude (Maio & Olson, 1994, 1995). The latter, direct process may be more likely when the value and the reasons for its importance have been consciously articulated (Maio & Olson, 1998).

Characteristics of Attitudes

Attitudes vary along numerous dimensions, or characteristics, that have significant implications for information processing, persistence, and behavior. A continuing issue in the literature on attitude has been the relations among these dimensions; some researchers have argued that the various characteristics are distinct and should be treated as independent, but other researchers have argued that the characteristics are interdependent and should be treated as manifestations of a smaller set of constructs. In this section, we briefly describe these dimensions and address the controversy surrounding the interrelations among them.


Attitude extremity is the oldest and most basic dimension of attitudes. Extremity refers to the extent to which the attitude deviates from a neutral midpoint—that is, the extent to which the individual’s evaluation is strongly favorable or strongly unfavorable. Extreme attitudes (compared to moderate attitudes) are more resistant to influence (e.g., Osgood & Tannenbaum, 1955), more likely to be projected onto others (e.g., Allison & Messick, 1988), and more likely to predict behavior (e.g., Fazio & Zanna, 1978). Attitude theorists have generally assumed that extreme attitudes develop over time, often resulting from actions that publicly commit the individual to his or her position.

Direct-Indirect Experience

Attitudes can be based on direct, personal experience with the attitude object, or they can be based on indirect information from others about the object. For example, students’ attitudes toward chemistry courses can be based on their own experiences with previous chemistry courses or on things they have heard from others who have taken chemistry courses. Researchers have found that attitudes based on direct experience (compared to those based on indirect experience) are more confidently held (e.g., Fazio & Zanna, 1978), more stable over time (e.g., Doll & Ajzen, 1992), more resistant to influence (e.g., Wu & Shaffer, 1987), and more likely to predict behavior (e.g., Fazio & Zanna, 1981). Presumably, these effects of direct experience reflect that we trust our own senses more than we do others’ reports, which increases confidence in attitudes based on direct experience.


Accessibility refers to the ease of activation (activation potential) of a construct (Higgins, 1996). Highly accessible attitudes are evaluations that come to mind quickly and spontaneously when the attitude object is encountered. Accessibility depends at least in part on the frequency with which the attitude has been activated in the recent past. Researchers have found that highly accessible attitudes (compared to less accessible attitudes) are more resistant to change (e.g., Bassili, 1996), more likely to influence perceptions of attitude-relevant events (e.g., Houston & Fazio, 1989), and more likely to predict behavior (e.g., Fazio & Williams, 1986). These effects of accessibility presumably reflect that highly accessible attitudes are always activated by the attitude object, so they exert an impact (compared to low accessibility attitudes, which are more likely to remain dormant).


Attitude embeddedness (also called working knowledge) refers to the amount of attitude-relevant information, such as beliefs and experiences, that is linked to the attitude (Scott, 1968; Wood, 1982). The more information that comes to mind when one encounters the attitude object, the more embedded is the attitude. Highly embedded attitudes are more resistant to change (e.g., Wood, Rhodes, & Biek, 1995), more likely to influence perceptions of attitude-relevant stimuli (e.g., Vallone, Ross, & Lepper, 1985), and more predictive of behavior (e.g., Kallgren & Wood, 1986) than are attitudes with low embeddedness. These effects of embeddedness presumably reflect that attitudes based on a lot of information are held more confidently and provide the individual with many bits of knowledge to counteract the potential influence of new information. Also, embedded attitudes can be more accessible than are attitudes low in embeddedness (see Wood et al., 1995).

Evaluative Consistency

Evaluative consistency refers to the degree of consistency between the overall attitude (the evaluation) and one of its components (cognitive, affective, or behavioral information). Evaluative consistency occurs when the favorability of the overall evaluation of the object is similar to (a) the favorability implied by the individual’s beliefs about the object (evaluativecognitive consistency), (b) the favorability implied by the individual’s feelings toward the object (evaluative-affective consistency), or (c) the favorability implied by the individual’s behavioral experience with the object (evaluative-behavioral consistency). Most past research has examined evaluativecognitive consistency (see Eagly & Chaiken, 1993, 1998). Attitudes that are high in evaluative consistency are more stable (e.g., Rosenberg, 1968), more resistant to change (e.g., Chaiken & Baldwin, 1981), more likely to influence information processing (e.g., Chaiken & Yates, 1985), and more likely to predict behavior (e.g., Chaiken, Pomerantz, & Giner-Sorolla, 1995) than are attitudes that are low in evaluative consistency. These effects of evaluative consistency probably reflect—at least in part—that consistent attitudes yield similar evaluative reactions to the object regardless of the situational salience of attitude components. Consistent attitudes might also be held more confidently and be more accessible than are inconsistent attitudes (see Chaiken et al., 1995).


Ambivalence refers to the simultaneous presence of conflicting positive and negative elements within an attitude (Bell et al., 1996; Kaplan, 1972; I. Katz & Hass, 1988; M. M. Thompson et al., 1995). Ambivalence can occur between elements of the same component of an attitude, such as when people possess both positive and negative feelings about a minority group (intracomponent ambivalence), or between two components of an attitude, such as when people possess negative beliefs but positive feelings about junk food (intercomponent ambivalence). Attitudes that are ambivalent are likely also to be low in evaluative consistency, but the constructs are distinct: Low consistency refers to discrepancies between the overall evaluation and one component, whereas ambivalence refers to discrepancies between elements of a component or between components (Maio et al., 2000). Ambivalent attitudes have been shown (compared to nonambivalent attitudes) to be easier to change (e.g., Armitage & Conner, 2000) and to be less predictive of behavior (e.g., Lavine et al., 1998). Ambivalent attitudes have also been shown to polarize judgments when one of the conflicting elements is made more salient than another. For example, MacDonald and Zanna (1998) showed that individuals with ambivalent attitudes toward feminists made either more favorable or more unfavorable judgments about a feminist job applicant, depending on whether positive or negative information was made salient, whereas individuals with nonambivalent but equally extreme attitudes were not affected by the salience of positive or negative information. Ambivalent attitudes are hypothesized to have these polarizing effects because such attitudes contain both positive and negative information; priming can make available one or the other category of information, which then influences judgments. There is also some evidence that ambivalent attitudes are less accessible than are nonambivalent attitudes (Bargh et al., 1992), which might explain in part why the former are more pliable and less predictive of behavior (Armitage & Conner, 2000).

Strength: An Integrative Concept?

The characteristics of attitudes discussed to this point overlap in several ways. First, they all tend to influence the degree to which attitudes are stable, resist change, affect the perception of attitude-relevant stimuli, and influence behavior. Also, the characteristics tend to be interrelated. For example, attitudes based on direct experience tend to be more extreme, less ambivalent, and more accessible; evaluatively consistent attitudes tend to be more accessible and less ambivalent; ambivalent attitudes tend to be less extreme and less accessible; and so on.

Intuitively, all of these characteristics reflect the extent to which attitudes are important to individuals (Krosnick, 1989) or are held with conviction (Abelson, 1988). The term attitude strength has become a common label for this quality (e.g., Petty & Krosnick 1995). Theorists have linked many attitude characteristics with strength, including extremity, intensity, certainty, importance, embeddedness, direct experience, accessibility, conviction, evaluative consistency, ambivalence, and vested interest (see Bassili, 1996; Krosnick & Abelson, 1992; Raden, 1985). Each of these characteristics incorporates aspects of subjective certainty, personal importance, and significant psychological and behavioral consequences.

Given the conceptual overlap among these various characteristics, theorists have wondered whether the variables represent more-or-less-interchangeable terms for attitude strength—in other words, whether the characteristics form a single dimension ranging from weak to strong attitudes. The most common way to investigate this issue has been to measure numerous characteristics and conduct a factor analysis of the data. If a single factor emerged, the unidimensional attitude strength notion would be supported, whereas if multiple factors emerged, a more complex framework would be suggested. Such studies have generally supported the multidimensional view (e.g., Abelson, 1988; Krosnick, Boninger, Chuang, Berent, & Carnot, 1993), although the precise structures of the factors emerging from the analyses have been inconsistent. Based on these data, the most common conclusion has been that the various characteristics should be viewed as distinct but related constructs (e.g., Krosnick et al., 1993; Raden, 1985).

Bassili (1996) proposed a distinction between “operative” and “meta-attitudinal” measures of attitude strength. Operative measures reflect ongoing processes that are related to attitude strength, whereas meta-attitudinal measures reflect the individual’s conscious judgments about qualities that are related to the strength of his or her attitude. For example, response latency is an operative measure—it unobtrusively reveals the accessibility of the evaluation (one feature of attitude strength). In contrast, a subjective judgment of the importance of the attitude is a meta-attitudinal measure—it reflects a conscious judgment about a strength-related feature. In two studies, operative and meta-attitudinal measures of attitude strength were obtained from participants and used to predict resistance to influence and stability (two presumed consequences of attitude strength). Results showed that the operative measures predicted the criteria better than did the meta-attitudinal measures. Bassili concluded that operative measures of attitude strength are more valid than metaattitudinal measures.

Attitude Formation

Where do attitudes come from? How do they develop? As described in the earlier section on attitude structure, attitudes can be based on cognitive, affective, and behavioral information. Each of these possible avenues of attitude formation is discussed in the following section; a biological perspective on attitude formation is also introduced.

It is important to note that the psychological processes involved in attitude formation can also lead to attitude change (i.e., the alteration of an existing attitude to a different evaluative position), and that theories of attitude formation are also theories of attitude change.

Cognitive Processes

One crucial source of attitudes is cognitive information about the target—that is, beliefs about the attributes of the target. Indeed, as discussed in the section of this research paper on attitude structure, beliefs play a prominent role in both major models of attitude content. Knowledge about an object can come either from direct experience with the object or from indirect sources such as parents, peers, and the media. As already noted, attitudes based on direct experience tend to be stronger than are attitudes derived from indirect information.

The best-known theory of attitude formation based on cognitive beliefs is the theory of reasoned action (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975), which is an expectancy-value model in which salient (i.e., highly accessible) beliefs are hypothesized to combine additively to form the overall evaluation of the target (attitude toward the target). As noted earlier in the paper, many researchers have documented a strong relation between attitudes and expectancy-value products (e.g., Budd, 1986; van der Pligt & de Vries, 1998). This model of attitudes is based on a conception of humans as rational, deliberate thinkers who base their attitudes and behavior on information about the positive and negative consequences of various actions.

Affective Processes

Individuals’ evaluations of targets can also be based on how the target makes them feel—that is, on the emotions or affect aroused by the target. Indeed, as noted in this research paper’s section on attitude structure, affect sometimes predicts attitudes better than does cognition (e.g., see Esses et al., 1993). Of course, affect and cognition are often (or even usually) consistent with one another because these processes are mutually interdependent (e.g., knowledge can influence feelings, and feelings can guide thoughts).

Although affect toward objects can spring from beliefs about those objects, there are a number of processes that can result in affect’s becoming associated with an object independently of cognition (i.e., independently of information about the characteristics of the object). One process is classical conditioning, which occurs when a stimulus comes to evoke a response that it did not previously evoke, simply by being paired with another stimulus that already evokes that response. For example, the receptionist at a dental office might come to evoke negative affect for patients who are very fearful of dental work. Although a conditioning perspective on attitudes has been around for many years in social psychology (e.g., Staats & Staats, 1958), the past decade has continued to see very sophisticated studies documenting conditioning effects on attitudes (e.g., Cacioppo, Marshall-Goodell, Tassinary, & Petty, 1992).

A second process through which affect can become linked to objects without necessary cognitive mediation is mere exposure. The mere exposure effect (Zajonc, 1968) occurs when repeated, simple exposure to an object (i.e., exposure without reinforcement feedback) leads to more favorable feelings toward the object. For example, an abstract painting that initially evokes confusion might come to be liked over time— simply because the painting is more familiar. The results of several fascinating studies have shown that conscious recognition that stimuli are familiar is not necessary for the mere exposure effect to occur (e.g., Moreland & Beach, 1992), nor, in fact, is conscious perception of the object—subliminal exposures can increase liking for a stimulus (e.g., Bornstein & D’Agostino, 1992).

Behavioral Processes

A third potential source of attitudes is behavioral information—specifically, knowledge of one’s previous actions toward a target. This knowledge can influence attitudes through a variety of processes, including dissonance arousal and self-perception processes. From the perspective of dissonance theory (Festinger, 1957), knowing that one has acted favorably or unfavorably toward a target will motivate an individual to evaluate the target in a manner consistent with those actions (e.g., Cooper & Fazio, 1984). From the perspective of self-perception theory (Bem, 1972), individuals might logically infer that their attitudes are consistent with their actions (e.g., Olson, 1992). Thus, an effect of past behavior on attitudes may reflect both cognitive and affective processes.

In a recent paper, Albarracin and Wyer (2000) reported several studies in which they cleverly tested the effects of knowledge about past behavior by leading participants to believe that they had expressed either support for or opposition to a particular position without being aware of it. Because participants had not actually engaged in such behavior, the research tested directly the effects of believing that one has behaved in a certain fashion. Results showed that participants reported attitudes that were consistent with the alleged past behavior and that subsequent behavior toward the target also tended to be consistent with the alleged prior action. Thus, behavioral information had a direct effect on attitudes and subsequent behavior.

Biological Processes

Social psychologists have directed little attention to biological processes in attitude formation. A few biological issues have been examined, including physiological concomitants of attitudes (e.g., Cacioppo & Petty, 1987), the impact of certain drugs on attitudes and persuasion (e.g., MacDonald, Zanna, & Fong, 1996), and the role of physiological arousal in specific attitudinal phenomena (e.g., Zanna & Cooper, 1974). In general, however, biological processes have been neglected by attitude researchers.

Aprovocative biological perspective on attitudes concerns the role of genetic factors. The field of behavioral genetics has begun to influence social psychologists, including attitude researchers. It is extremely unlikely, of course, that there are direct, one-to-one connections between genes and attitudes (e.g., a gene that causes attitudes toward capital punishment). Nevertheless, genes could establish general predispositions that shape environmental experiences in ways that increase the likelihood of an individual’s developing specific traits and attitudes. For example, children who are naturally small for their age might be picked on by other children more than their larger peers are, with the result that the smaller children might develop anxieties about social interaction, resulting in consequences for their attitudes toward social events.

Arvey, Bouchard, Segal, and Abraham (1989) found that approximately 30% of the observed variance in job satisfaction in their sample of identical twins raised apart was attributable to genetic factors. Thus, respondents’ attitudes toward their jobs appeared to be partly inherited. In addition, Eaves, Eysenck, and Martin (1989) reported the results of two surveys involving almost 4,000 pairs of same-sex twins. A variety of social attitudes were assessed, including those toward crime, religion, race, and lifestyle. Heritability estimates for individual items ranged from 1% to 62%, with a median of 39%.

But how do genes impact attitudes? What are some specific, genetically influenced characteristics that can systematically bias environmental experience so as to induce particular attitudes? Tesser (1993) identified several possibilities, including intelligence, temperament, and sensory structures. Olson, Vernon, Harris, and Jang (2001) measured some potential mediators of attitude heritability, including physical characteristics and personality factors, in a study of more than 300 pairs of same-sex twins. Most of these possible mediators were themselves highly heritable in the sample of twins, and multivariate analyses showed that several of the variables correlated at a genetic level with attitudes that were heritable. For example, the personality trait of sociability yielded a significant heritability coefficient and significant genetic correlations with five of the six heritable attitude measures. These data suggest that the heritability of sociability (see Zuckerman, 1995) might account in part for the heritable components of some attitudes.

Tesser (1993) hypothesized that attitudes that are highly heritable might have a biological basis that makes attitude change difficult, which could lead individuals to develop psychological defenses to protect the attitudes. For example, niche building might occur (see Plomin, DeFries, & Loehlin, 1977), such that individuals seek out environments that are compatible with their highly heritable attitudes. Tesser (1993; Tesser & Crelia, 1994) tested this idea in several ingenious ways. In all of his studies, attitudes that had been shown by Eaves et al. (1989) to have either high or low heritability coefficients were studied. In one study, individuals were found to provide answers more quickly for high than for low heritability attitudes. In another study, individuals were found to be less affected by conformity pressure when reporting high than when reporting low heritability attitudes. In a third study, interpersonal similarity on high heritability attitudes was shown to affect liking for others more than did similarity on low heritability attitudes. Finally, in two studies, individuals found agreement feedback more reinforcing when the agreement occurred for highly heritable attitudes than when it occurred for less heritable attitudes. These findings suggest that attitude strength is positively correlated with attitude heritability (see also Olson et al., 2001).

Attitudes and Information Processing

One of the fundamental functions of attitudes, as discussed earlier, is the object-appraisal function, which refers to the capacity of attitudes to facilitate both the identification of objects and the rapid appraisal of the objects’ implications for the self. This function underscores that attitudes influence how objects are perceived and how information about those objects is processed. In this section we review research on the effects of attitudes on information processing. The theme of this section is selectivity—attitudes tend to facilitate the processing of information that is consistent with them and to inhibit the processing of inconsistent information.

Selective Attention

Festinger (1957) proposed in his dissonance theory that people want to believe that their decisions and attitudes are correct. Whereas individuals attend in an unbiased way to information prior to making decisions or forming attitudes, Festinger argued that after attitudes are formed, they motivate people to pay attention to consistent information and avoid inconsistent information. Early tests of this selective exposure hypothesis yielded little support (see Freedman & Sears, 1965), but researchers gradually identified boundary conditions for the effect (see Frey, 1986). For example, the utility, novelty, and salience of consistent versus inconsistent information must be controlled so that the effects of attitudinal consistency can be tested clearly. Researchers have documented selective attention in the laboratory (e.g., Frey & Rosch, 1984) and in field settings (e.g., Sweeney & Gruber, 1984), and there is evidence that individuals with repressing-avoidance defensive styles may exhibit selective attention to consistent information more than do individuals with ruminative-approach defensive styles (Olson & Zanna, 1979).

There is also some evidence of a broader form of selective attention, which relates to the existence of strong attitudes per se. Specifically, Roskos-Ewoldsen and Fazio (1992) showed that objects toward which individuals have highly accessible attitudes (whether positive or negative) are more likely to attract attention than are objects toward which individuals have less accessible attitudes. Presumably, this selectivity effect is not motivated by a desire to believe one’s attitudes to be correct, but rather by the functional value of quickly attending to objects that personal experience has shown to be potentially rewarding or punishing.

Selective Perception

Many researchers have shown that attitudes influence the perception or interpretation of attitude-relevant information, with the effect generally of interpreting information as more supportive of one’s attitudes than is actually the case. For example, Vidmar and Rokeach (1974) found that viewers’ perceptions of the television show All in the Family were related to their racial attitudes: Low-prejudice viewers saw the bigoted character of Archie Bunker as the principal target of humor and sarcasm in the show, whereas high-prejudice viewers saw Archie sympathetically and considered his liberal sonin-law Mike to be the principal target of humor and sarcasm. Similarly, Lord, Ross, and Lepper (1979) found that individuals’ attitudes toward capital punishment predicted their assessments of the quality of two alleged scientific studies, one supporting and one questioning the deterrence value of the death penalty: Participants evaluated the study that apparently supported their own view more favorably than they evaluated the study that apparently disconfirmed their view. Houston and Fazio (1989) replicated this study and showed that the biasing effect of attitudes on the interpretation of information was significant only when the attitudes were highly accessible (see also Fazio & Williams, 1986; Schuette & Fazio, 1995). In another domain, Vallone et al. (1985) found that individuals’ evaluations of the media coverage of an event were biased by their relevant attitudes (see also Giner-Sorolla & Chaiken, 1994).

If there is a general bias to perceive the world as consistent with one’s attitudes, then existing attitudes might reduce the ability of perceivers to detect that the attitude object has changed. Indeed, Fazio, Ledbetter, and Towles-Schwen (2000) have documented such an effect and related it to attitude accessibility. Specifically, attitudes tended to interfere with participants’ ability to perceive change in an attitude target, and this effect was stronger for highly accessible attitudes than for less accessible attitudes. In another set of studies, Stewart, Vassar, Sanchez, and David (2000) showed that participants’ attitudes toward women’s and men’s societal roles influenced whether they individuated male or female targets more: Individuals with traditional sex-role attitudes individuated male targets more than they did female targets, whereas individuals with nontraditional sex-role attitudes individuated female targets more than they did male targets.

Selective Memory

Attitudes have long been thought to influence memory and learning of attitude-related information.Avariety of processes could contribute to selective memory, including paying more attention to attitudinally consistent information (but see Roberts, 1985), finding it easier to store attitudinally consistent information, and finding it easier to retrieve attitudinally consistent information from memory. Early studies (e.g., Levine & Murphy, 1943) indicated that individuals learned and recalled information that was consistent with their attitudes better than they did information that was inconsistent with their attitudes. Subsequent researchers, however, had difficulty obtaining significant selective memory effects and questioned the reliability of the phenomenon (e.g., Greenwald & Sakumura, 1967).

In a comprehensive and detailed review and meta-analysis of research on attitude-memory effects, Eagly, Chen, Chaiken, and Shaw-Barnes (1999) concluded that the hypothesized attitude congeniality effect (i.e., information congenial with one’s attitudes is more memorable than is uncongenial information) has been small in magnitude and inconsistent across studies. Especially worrisome was evidence that the effect has grown weaker in more recent experiments (compared to earlier experiments), because the recent studies have generally used more rigorous methods. It appears that selective memory may be a phenomenon weaker than selective attention and selective perception.

Perhaps the clearest evidence of selective memory has been obtained in studies testing whether individuals use their attitudes as clues for searching memory (i.e., studies specifically testing selective search and retrieval effects, as opposed to selective learning and memory in general). Ross (1989) reviewed a number of studies showing that people used their attitudes as clues for searching memory, reconstructing past events, or both. For example, Ross, McFarland, and Fletcher (1981) exposed respondents to one of two messages that had previously been shown to have reliable persuasive effects in opposite directions. In an apparently separate study, respondents exposed to the persuasive message provided reports of the frequency with which they had performed a number of behaviors in the past month, including some behaviors related to the target of the persuasive message. Respondents reported more frequent behaviors consistent with the attitude promoted in their message than with the attitude promoted in the opposing message. Presumably, respondents used their newly formed attitudes to search their memories and to reconstruct their behaviors in the previous month.

Attitude Polarization

Attitudes guide information processing in another way— namely, they guide spontaneous thinking about the attitude object. Tesser (1978) showed that simply thinking about an attitude object tended to polarize the evaluation even in the absence of any new information. For example, simply thinking about a person who was either likable or unlikable led to stronger evaluations (positive for the likable target, negative for the unlikable partner) than did a control condition in which participants performed a distracting task. Presumably, the existing attitude led participants to generate thoughts that were consistent with it. This interpretation is supported by findings that polarization effects are stronger when the individual is knowledgeable about the attitude object and when the existing attitude is high in evaluative-cognitive consistency (see Chaiken & Yates, 1985).

Attitudes and Behavior

We discussed earlier how attitudes fulfill various functions for individuals, including the rapid appraisal of attitude objects (object-appraisal function), the approach of rewarding objects and the avoidance of punishing objects (utilitarian function), the expression of underlying values and identity (value-expressive function), and so on. All of these hypothesized functions are predicated in part on the assumption that individuals behave in ways that are consistent with their attitudes—in other words, on the assumption that attitudes influence action. In this final section, we review some of the literature on attitude-behavior consistency.

The hypothesized strong relation between attitudes and behavior has sometimes proven difficult to document. For example, Wicker (1969) reviewed 30 studies that examined attitude-behavior consistency and concluded that there was “little evidence to support the postulated existence of stable, underlying attitudes within the individual which influence both his verbal expressions and his actions” (p. 75). Fortunately, since that time, researchers have identified several factors that influence attitude-behavior consistency, and the appropriate conclusion seems to be that measures of attitudes and behavior are closely related in some circumstances but not in others.We outline these factors in the following sections.

Compatibility of Attitude and Behavior Measures

An important conceptual advance came from Fishbein and Ajzen’s (1975) theory of reasoned action. These theorists distinguished between attitudes toward objects and attitudes toward behaviors—a distinction that can also be viewed as general attitudes versus specific attitudes. Hypothetically, attitudes toward objects should influence the favorability of the class of behaviors related to the object, whereas attitudes toward behaviors should influence the favorability of those specific behaviors.

The point made by Fishbein and Ajzen was that for there to be a strong relation between measures of attitudes and behavior, the measures must be compatible (or congruent) in terms of their specificity: Measures of general attitudes (toward objects) predict general or broad behavior measures (encompassing the class of relevant behaviors, also called multiple act behavioral criteria), whereas measures of specific attitudes (toward behaviors) predict specific behavior measures (the single, focal behavior). Single behaviors can be specified along four dimensions: action (e.g., giving money), target (e.g., to a homeless person), context (e.g., on the street), and time (e.g., at lunchtime today). To predict single behaviors maximally, the measure of attitude should correspond on as many dimensions of specification as possible. For example, a measure of the individual’s attitude toward giving money to a homeless person on the street at lunchtime today would be the best predictor of this specific behavior, whereas measures of attitudes that corresponded only on the action dimension (attitudes toward giving money) or only on the target dimension (attitudes toward homeless people) would rarely yield strong correlations. Many early researchers inappropriately used general attitude measures (e.g., participants’ attitudes toward an ethnic group) to try to predict specific behavior measures (e.g., how participants behaved toward a particular member of the ethnic group in a particular setting at a particular time). When measures of attitudes and behavior have been highly compatible in terms of their specificity, attitude-behavior correlations have been substantial (see Ajzen & Fishbein, 1977; Kraus, 1995).

The impact of another kind of compatibility on attitudebehavior consistency was investigated by Lord, Lepper, and Mackie (1984). These researchers proposed a “typicality effect,” such that attitudes toward a social group would predict individuals’ behavior toward typical members of the group better than the same attitudes would predict behavior toward atypical members of the group. Results showed that individuals’attitudes toward gay men predicted how they behaved toward a gay man who closely matched the stereotype better than the same attitudes predicted how they behaved toward a gay man who differed substantially from the stereotypical image of gay men. Thus, compatibility between group stereotypes and individual group members influences whether attitudes toward the group predict behavior toward those individual members (see also Blessum, Lord, & Sia, 1998).

Nature of the Behavior

Certain kinds of behavior are more predictable from attitudes than are other kinds of behavior. In particular, attitudes are hypothesized to guide only volitional actions—behaviors that individuals are free to perform or to not perform. When strong external incentives or constraints exist regarding an action, attitudes may not play much role in determining behavior. For example, politeness norms may cause people to say hello to coworkers whom they dislike. This conceptual point—that social pressures often guide behavior—was recognized in the theory of reasoned action (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975) by including subjective norms as a determinant of behavioral intentions that was distinct from attitudes. Subjective norms refer to individuals’perceptions that other people who are important to them want them to act in certain ways.

Researchers have identified several factors, including the nature of the behavior, that influence the degree of impact that attitudes and norms exert on behavior. For example, Ybarra and Trafimow (1998) showed that increasing the accessibility of individuals’private self cognitions (i.e., assessments of the self by the self) led participants to place more weight on attitudes than on perceived norms in behavioral choices, whereas increasing the accessibility of individuals’ collective self cognitions (assessments of the self by other people and reference groups) led participants to place more weight on perceived norms than on attitudes in behavioral choices. Presumably, these findings reflected that attitudes derive from personal preferences, whereas norms derive from other people.

Ajzen (1985, 1991) proposed a revision to the theory of reasoned action, which he labeled the theory of planned behavior (for a review, see Conner & Armitage, 1998). This model includes perceived behavioral control as another determinant of intentions and behavior, distinct from both attitudes and subjective norms. The construct of perceived behavioral control extends the model to behavior that is not fully under volitional control; for example, individuals who believe that they cannot easily perform a behavior might not do it even if they have a positive attitude toward the behavior, perceive that other people want them to perform it, or both (see also Gollwitzer & Moskowitz, 1996). Thus, the nature of the behavior—specifically, its controllability or difficulty— influences the strength of the attitude-behavior relation.

Nature of the Attitude

Characteristics of the attitude also influence the strength of the attitude-behavior relation, a point that we noted earlier in this research paper. One of the first attitude qualities to be studied in this regard was direct versus indirect experience: Attitudes that are based on direct experience with the attitude object predict behavior better than do attitudes that are based on indirect experience (see Fazio & Zanna, 1978, 1981). Presumably, these findings reflected that attitudes based on direct experience are stronger—more confidently held, more stable, and so on—than are attitudes based on indirect experience. Indeed, in a meta-analysis of the attitude-behavior consistency literature, Kraus (1995) concluded that such attitudinal qualities as direct experience, certainty, and stability predicted the strength of the attitude-behavior relation.

Fazio (1990) has proposed that the effects of direct experience operate through another manifestation of attitude strength—namely, the accessibility of the attitude. As noted earlier, accessible attitudes are more likely to be associated with biased perceptions of stimuli (e.g., Houston & Fazio, 1989; Schuette & Fazio, 1995). If accessible attitudes are more likely to be evoked spontaneously in the presence of the attitude object (e.g., Fazio et al., 1986) and to guide individuals’ perceptions of situations, then they seem likely to serve as the basis for action as well. In line with this reasoning, Fazio and Williams (1986) found that voters who reported their evaluations of candidates quickly were subsequently more likely to vote for their preferred candidate than were voters who reported their evaluations more slowly. In his meta-analysis of past studies, Kraus (1995) also found that attitude accessibility predicted attitude-behavior consistency.

Another attitude characteristic that has been related to attitude-behavior consistency is ambivalence, which (as described in earlier sections) refers to inconsistency within or between the components of an attitude (e.g., affectivecognitive ambivalence involves oppositely valenced affect versus cognition). Ambivalent attitudes are generally less predictive of behavior than are nonambivalent attitudes (e.g., Armitage & Conner, 2000), presumably because the conflicting elements may become differentially salient at various times or in various settings, thus inducing inconsistent actions. In an interesting twist on this reasoning, however, Jonas et al. (1997) showed that encountering a new attitude object that has both positive and negative aspects can arouse attitudinal ambivalence, which in turn can cause individuals to process information systematically (because of uncertainty; see also Maio, Bell, et al., 1996—which in turn can actually produce higher attitude-behavior consistency. Thus, although ambivalence in existing attitudes may serve to reduce attitude-behavior consistency, ambivalence in newly forming attitudes may have the opposite effect.

Lavine et al. (1998) showed that when attitudes were high in affective-cognitive ambivalence, the affective component predicted behavior better than did the cognitive component. In contrast, for nonambivalent participants, the affective and cognitive components of attitudes were equally predictive of behavior. MacDonald and Zanna (1998) found that manipulations of evaluative priming had a significant effect on the behavioral intentions of attitudinally ambivalent individuals but did not affect the intentions of nonambivalent individuals. Consistent with the studies described in the preceding paragraph, these data indicate that ambivalent attitudes yield greater behavioral variability across time and settings than do nonambivalent attitudes.

Personality Variables

Finally, some people may behave in accordance with their attitudes to a greater extent than do other people—that is, collapsing across attitude-behavior domains (hence, ignoring the nature of the attitude and the nature of the behavior), personality variables might predict the strength of attitudebehavior consistency.

The variable that has received the most attention in this regard is self-monitoring (Snyder, 1987). Self-monitoring reflects the extent to which people base their behavioral choices on internal versus external cues. Low self-monitors rely on internal cues to guide their behavior, whereas high selfmonitors use external, situational cues as guides to action. Given that attitudes are an internal construct, low selfmonitors should exhibit stronger attitude-behavior consistency than do high self-monitors. Several researchers have produced data in support of this prediction (e.g., Snyder & Kendzierski, 1982; Zanna, Olson, & Fazio, 1980). Ajzen, Timko, and White (1982) obtained evidence that the source of the heightened attitude-behavior consistency for low selfmonitors was that these individuals were more likely to follow through on their behavioral intentions than were high self-monitors. Presumably, high self-monitors are easily diverted from their intended courses of action by unanticipated situational demands. Kardes, Sanbonmatsu, Voss, and Fazio (1986) found that the attitudes of low self-monitors were more accessible than were the attitudes of high self-monitors, perhaps because low self-monitors think about their attitudes more often than do high self-monitors. As noted earlier, attitudes high in accessibility predict behavior better than do attitudes low in accessibility (e.g., Fazio & Williams, 1986). Thus, there are probably multiple determinants of the differences in attitude-behavior consistency between low and high self-monitors.

Private self-consciousness (Fenigstein, Scheier, & Buss, 1975) is another variable that has been examined in the attitude-behavior consistency literature. Private self-consciousnessreflectstheextenttowhichindividualsareawareof their internal states (e.g., moods, values, and attitudes); it corresponds to stable individual differences in the state of objective self-awareness or self-focused attention (Duval & Wicklund, 1972). If awareness of one’s attitudes increases the likelihood of attitude-consistent behavior (which seems likely), then individuals who are high on this dimension should exhibit stronger attitude-behavior correlations than should those who are low in private self-consciousness. This result has in fact been obtained (Scheier, Buss, & Buss, 1978; Wicklund, 1982).

Composite Model of Attitude-Behavior Consistency

As the preceding sections have indicated, social psychologists have made significant advances in the understanding of when and how attitudes predict behavior. Distinctions between types of attitudes, types of behaviors, and personality subgroups have all helped to clarify the relation between measures of attitudes and measures of behavior.

Numerous models have been proposed to account for attitude-behavior consistency, such as the theory of reasoned action (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975), the theory of planned behavior (Ajzen, 1985), and the MODE (motivation and opportunity as determinants of how attitudes influence behavior) model (Fazio, 1990). Based on a comprehensive review of the literature and building on these previously proposed models, Eagly and Chaiken (1993, 1998) developed a composite model of attitude-behavior consistency. The model parallels the theory of reasoned action by proposing that attitudes toward behaviors predict intentions, which in turn predict behaviors. Working back from attitudes toward behaviors, however, the model identifies five factors that influence attitudes toward behaviors: habits (past behavior), attitudes toward targets (especially the target of the behavior), utilitarian outcomes (rewards and punishments that are expected to follow from engaging in the behavior), normative outcomes (approval and disapproval from others that are expected to follow from engaging in the behavior), and self-identity outcomes (implications of engaging in the behavior for the self-concept). Some of these factors are also hypothesized to influence either intentions or behavior directly; for example, habits are proposed to affect behavior directly (i.e., not via attitudes toward the behavior).

Eagly and Chaiken’s model is unique in its inclusion of both attitudes toward behaviors and attitudes toward targets as predictors of specific actions. The inclusion of habits is also noteworthy; many researchers have found that past behavior predicts future behavior even when attitudes and norms are held constant (see Ouellette & Wood, 1998). Finally, the categorization of expected outcomes into utilitarian, normative, and self-identity classes extends previous models. Although this model has not yet been exposed to direct empirical tests, it provides a heuristically useful framework for future research.

Applications to Social Behavior

We have reviewed various theories of attitude-behavior consistency and outlined the conditions under which strong relations between attitudes and behavior can be expected. The title of this research paper is “Attitudes in Social Behavior,” so we close with the consideration of some of the important social behaviors to which the concept of attitude can be applied. In each case, data support the hypothesis that attitudes facilitate attitude-consistent behaviors.

Prejudice is one of the oldest topics in social psychology; it continues to be a vibrant research area today—recent attention has expanded to incorporate the consequences of being a target of prejudice (e.g., impaired performance on intellectual tasks caused by fear of confirming a stereotype; Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999; Steele & Aronson, 1995). Altruism is another domain in which attitudes are important. Positive evaluations of potential recipients of assistance serve to motivate prosocial actions (e.g., Goodstadt, 1971). Similarly, attitudes influence individuals’ responses to situations involving justice considerations. For example, individuals are more likely to tolerate a situation in which distributive or procedural justice was violated when they have positive attitudes toward the responsible authority (see Tyler & Smith, 1998). Family and close relationships are built upon positive attitudes, encompassing such concepts as love, trust, caring, and intimacy. Positive attitudes encourage good communication, which is the basis of effective relationships.

Research on consumer behavior is one of the clearest examples of the application of social psychological findings on attitudes (e.g., Cialdini, 1993; Reardon, 1991), with topics ranging from advertising to purchasing behavior. Finally, research on expectancies (see Olson, Roese, & Zanna, 1996) has shown that expectancies influence information processing and behavior. One of the principal sources of expectancies is attitudes—we expect good things from positively evaluated objects and bad things from negatively evaluated objects. These attitude-induced expectancies can lead to errors in information processing, biased hypothesis-testing, and self-fulfilling prophesies (see Olson et al., 1996).


Many issues and questions must be addressed in future research on attitudes in social behavior. One important issue is the internal structure of attitudes, including the dimensionality of attitudes and the conditions under which different components of attitudes are more influential than are other components. A related issue is the distinction between implicit attitudes and explicit attitudes (or between implicit and explicit measures of attitudes), including the question of which sorts of behavior are best predicted by each type of attitude (measure). The connections between attitudes and broader constructs like values and ideologies also need to be clarified. Turning to a different domain, the role of biological factors in attitude formation and change seems likely to receive more attention over the next decade. Finally, the connection between attitudes and behavior will continue to interest social psychologists, with models of attitude-behavior consistency becoming increasingly complex. For example, prediction may be improved by simultaneously taking into account attitudes toward all of the different behavioral options in a setting.

In closing, the evidence described in this research paper supports the importance of the construct of attitude. Because of their broad evaluative nature, attitudes may potentially reflect diverse beliefs, feelings, and behaviors. In addition, these evaluations serve a number of attitude functions and vary on several characteristics (e.g., ambivalence, certainty). Most important is that attitudes influence a wide variety of important social behaviors. Indeed, no matter what the setting, personal evaluations play a role in information processing and in behavior. The obsession of popular culture with the concept of attitude, noted at the outset of this research paper, is comprehensible when the ubiquity of attitudes is recognized.


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