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ATTITUDE CHANGE: AN OVERVIEW

ATTITUDE CHANGE: AN OVERVIEW

INTRODUCTION

  • Now that we have examined some important definitional and conceptual issues surrounding the attitude concept, we turn to a discussion of attitude change processes.
  • In the remainder of this chapter we describe the fundamental processes of attitude change that have been proposed by social psychologists in the modern era.
  • The study of attitude change is one of the oldest in social psychology and so many different theories and effects have been uncovered over the past 50 years that it can be challenging to understand them all.
  • The focus of theories of attitude to date has mostly been on understanding how to produce change in explicit or deliberative attitudes, though research is accumulating rapidly on methods of changing implicit or automatic attitudes.
  • In general, it appears that each technique that has worked to change deliberative attitudes has also worked to change automatic attitudes, though some techniques might work a bit better in one domain than the other. Because the change techniques are similar across the two kinds of measures, we make no further differentiation in discussing them. ATTITUDE CHANGE: AN OVERVIEW
  • In general, an attitude change technique is deemed effective to the extent that it modifies either a person’s self-report of attitudes or the attitude assessed with a more indirect or implicit measure.
  • For example, if a person is neutral toward an abstract symbol prior to the change treatment, but is more favorable afterward, attitude change was successful.
  • To organize the different theories of attitude change, we rely on the key ideas from contemporary dual process models of social judgment.
  • The two such models that are most popular for understanding attitude change are the elaboration likelihood model and the heuristic‑systematic model.
  • These models provide a meta-framework from which to understand the moderation and mediation of attitude change effects, and explain how the same variable (e.g., source credibility, emotion) can have different effects on attitude change in different situations (e.g., increasing attitude change in one situation but decreasing it in another), and produce the same effect by different processes in different situations.
  • Perhaps the key idea in the dual process models is that some processes of attitude change require relatively high amounts of mental effort, whereas other processes of attitude change require relatively little mental effort.
  • Thus, Petty and Cacioppo (1981) reasoned that most of the major theories of attitude change were not necessarily competitors or contradictory, but operated in different circumstances.
  • Later in this chapter we use this notion to organize the major processes of persuasion. Although the ELM and HSM stem from somewhat different traditions, today the models have many similarities and can generally accommodate the same empirical results, though the explanatory language and sometimes the assumed mediating processes vary. ATTITUDE CHANGE: AN OVERVIEW
  • After describing the Elaboration Likelihood Model of persuasion and reviewing some prominent factors that determine whether people will tend to exert high or low amounts of mental effort in a persuasion situation, we next describe in more detail the persuasion processes that tend to require relatively low versus high amounts of mental effort.

The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) of Persuasion [ATTITUDE CHANGE: AN OVERVIEW]

  • The Elaboration Likelihood Model of persuasion is a theory about the processes responsible for attitude change and the strength of the attitudes that result from those processes. A key construct in the ELM is the elaboration likelihood continuum.
  • This continuum is defined by how motivated and able people are to assess the central merits of an issue or a position. The more motivated and able people are to assess the central merits of an issue or position, the more likely they are to effort fully scrutinize all available issue relevant information.
  • Thus, when the elaboration likelihood is high, people will assess issue-relevant information in relation to knowledge that they already possess, and arrive at a reasoned (though not necessarily unbiased) attitude that is well articulated and bolstered by supporting information (central route).
  • When the elaboration likelihood is low, however, then information scrutiny is reduced and attitude change can result from a number of less resource demanding processes that do not require as much effortful evaluation of the issue-relevant information (peripheral route).
  • Attitudes that are changed by low effort processes are postulated to be weaker (e.g., not at impactful on behaviour) than attitudes that are changed the same extent by high effort processes (see prior discussion of attitude strength).
  • The elaboration likelihood continuum incorporates both a quantitative and a qualitative distinction. That is, as one goes higher on the elaboration continuum, central route processes increase in magnitude (cognitive effort increases), and as one goes down the continuum, central route processes diminish in magnitude (cognitive effort decreases). ATTITUDE CHANGE: AN OVERVIEW
  • This quantitative variation suggests that at high levels of elaboration, people’s attitudes
    will be determined by their effortful examination of all relevant information, but at lower levels of elaboration, attitudes can be determined by effortful examination of less information (e.g., the person critically examines just the first argument in a message, but not the remaining arguments), or less effortful examination of all of the information.
  • However, the ELM holds that when the elaboration likelihood is low, people also can process the arguments in a qualitatively different way. For example, rather than assessing the substantive merits of the arguments, they might simply count them and reason, “there are so many arguments, it must be good”.
  • In the low effort processes section of this chapter we describe a variety of relatively low effort mechanisms that can produce attitude change.
  • In addition to the elaboration continuum and the various processes that operate along it, two other ELM notions are worth explaining.
  • The first is that the ELM postulates a tradeoff between the impact of high and low effort processes on judgments along the elaboration continuum.
  • That is, as the impact of high effort processes on judgments ‘increases, the impact of low effort processes on judgments decreases.
  • This tradeoff hypothesis implies a number of things.
  • First, at most points along the continuum various change processes can co-occur and jointly influence judgments.
  • Second, however, movement in either direction along the continuum would tend to enhance the relative impact of one or the other process (e.g., effortful scrutiny for merit versus reliance on a counting heuristic) on judgments.  ATTITUDE CHANGE: AN OVERVIEW
  • Another important ELM notion is called the multiple roles hypothesis. This is the idea that any given variable can influence attitudes by different processes at different points along the elaboration continuum.
  • For example, if a pleasant television show makes you feel happy, this happiness might make you develop a positive attitude toward the products featured in the commercials shown during the show.
  • But the mechanism by which this happens can vary depending on the overall elaboration likelihood. When the elaboration likelihood is low (e.g., high distraction), happiness could affect judgments by serving as a simple associative cue (e.g., if I feel good, I must like it).
  • On the other hand, if the elaboration likelihood is high, happiness could affect judgments by biasing the thoughts that come to mind. If the elaboration likelihood is not constrained to be high or low, being happy can affect the extent of processing of the message arguments.
  • In particular, if the message is counter attitudinal or unpleasant in some way, being happy reduces message processing.
  • But if the message is uplifting and pleasant, happiness can increase message processing over neutrality (Wegener, Petty, & Smith, 1995). Other variables similarly can serve in different roles depending on the overall elaboration likelihood.

Determinants and Dimensions of Elaboration [ATTITUDE CHANGE: AN OVERVIEW]

  • According to the ELM, in order for high effort processes to influence attitudes, people
    must be both motivated to think (i.e., have the desire to exert a high level of mental effort) and have the ability to think (i.e., have the necessary skills and opportunity to engage in thought).
  • There are many variables capable of affecting the elaboration likelihood and thereby influencing whether attitude change is likely to occur by the high or low effort processes we describe in more detail shortly.
  • Some of these motivational and ability variables are part of the persuasion situation whereas others are part of the individual. Some variables affect mostly the amount of information processing activity that takes place whereas others tend to influence the direction or valence of the thinking.
  • One of the most important variables influencing a person’s motivation to think is the perceived personal relevance or importance of the communication. When personal relevance is high, people are more influenced by the substantive arguments in a message and are less impacted by peripheral processes.
  • There are many ways to render a message self-relevant such as including many first person pronouns, or matching the message in some way to a person’s self-conception.
  • For example, framing a message as intended for extraverts rather than introverts increases message processing among extraverts. Furthermore, simply priming a concept can lead people to identify with that concept and therefore process concept-relevant messages more.
  • For example, simply priming extraversion leads people to process messages framed for extraverts more than messages framed for introverts and merely priming the concept of African Americans can enhance processing of messages framed for Blacks among White college students.
  • In addition, people are more motivated to scrutinize information when they believe that they are solely responsible for message evaluation, when they are individually accountable, and when they expect to discuss the issue with a partner. 
  • In addition, processing is increased when people recently have been deprived of control or are made to feel powerless.
  • Increasing the number of message sources can enhance information processing activity, especially when the sources are viewed as providing independent assessments of the issue.
  • Various incongruities can increase information processing such as when an expert source presents surprisingly weak arguments, or when the message does not present the information in a form that was expected. People are more likely to engage in processing information if they hold ambivalent attitudes, especially if processing that information will help them to resolve the ambivalence. Conflict between individuals’ automatic and deliberative attitudes also increases the tendency to process attitude-relevant information.
  • Along with factors associated with the persuasive message or the persuasion context,there are individual differences in people’s motivation to think about persuasive communications.
  • For example, people who enjoy thinking tend to form attitudes on the basis of the quality of the arguments in a message rather than on peripheral cues.
  • Low need for cognition individuals will engage in thinking, however, if they are sufficiently motivated to do so such as when they are told that the message is simple to process.
  • Factors associated with the attitude itself can also influence the extent of information processing. For example, people tend to think more about messages relevant to their accessible rather than their relatively inaccessible attitudes, at least when the message is counter to existing attitudes.
  • Among the important variables influencing a person’s ability to process issue-relevant arguments is message repetition. Moderate message repetition provides more opportunities for argument scrutiny, which will prove beneficial for processing as long as tedium is not induced.
  • External distractions, fast presentations external pacing of messages (such as those on radio or TV rather than in print), time pressures on processing, enhancing recipients’ physiological arousal via exercise, placing recipients in an uncomfortable posture and rendering the message difficult to understand all decrease substantive message processing and should increase the impact of low effort persuasion processes.
  • Interestingly, even though a number of studies have examined differences in the actual ability of recipients to process a persuasive message, little work has examined differences in perceived ability to process.
  • For example, a message that appears technical or overly quantitative might reduce processing not because it interferes with actual ability, but because it interferes with a person’s perceived ability to process (e.g., “it’s probably too complicated for me, so why bother”). ATTITUDE CHANGE: AN OVERVIEW
  • On the other hand, individuals high in need for cognition become less motivated to process if the message is described as simplistic and beneath their perceived abilities.
  • Individual differences also exist in the ability of people to think about a persuasive communication. For example, as general knowledge about a topic increases, people can become more able (and perhaps more motivated) to think about issue-relevant information.
  • Knowledge is only effective to the extent that it is accessible. When knowledge is low or inaccessible, people are more reliant on simple cues.
  • Of course, in most communication settings. a confluence of factors determines the nature of information processing rather than one variable acting in isolation.
  • Although the effects of single variables on information processing have been studied extensively, there is relatively little work examining possible interactions among variables.

Relatively Objective vs. Biased Information Processing [ATTITUDE CHANGE: AN OVERVIEW]

  • The variables we have discussed, such as distraction or need for cognition tend to influence information processing activity in a relatively objective manner. ATTITUDE CHANGE: AN OVERVIEW
  • That is, all else being equal, distraction tends to disrupt whatever thoughts a person is thinking. The distraction per se does not specifically target one type of thought (e.g., favourable or unfavourable) to impede.
  • Similarly, individuals with high need for cognition are more motivated to think in general than people low in need for cognition.
  • They are not more motivated to think certain kinds of thoughts over others. Some variables, however, are selective in their effects on thinking.
  • For example, when people are highly motivated to think, a positive mood tends to encourage positive thoughts and/or discourage negative thoughts (Petty et al., 1993) and expert sources tend to encourage favourable rather than unfavourable interpretations of message arguments.
  • The ELM accommodates both relatively objective and relatively biased information processing by pointing to the motivational and ability factors involved. Regarding motivation, the ELM assumes that motivation is relatively objective . When no apriority judgment is preferred and a person’s implicit or explicit goal is to seek the truth “wherever it might lead”.
  • In contrast, a motivated bias can occur whenever people implicitly or explicitly prefer one judgment over another. A wide variety of motivations can determine which particular judgment is preferred in any given situation.
  • For example, if the reactance motive is aroused, people will prefer to hold whatever judgment is forbidden. If balance motives are operating, people would prefer to adopt the position of a liked source but distance themselves from a disliked source. ATTITUDE CHANGE: AN OVERVIEW
  • If impression management motives are operating, people would prefer to hold whatever position they think would make them look good.
  • Importantly, many of these biasing motives could have an impact on judgments by either the central or the peripheral route.
  • For example, invocation of reactance could lead to simple rejection of the forbidden position without much thought or through active counter arguing of the position.
  • The ELM holds that biased processing can occur even if no specific judgment is preferred (i.e., if based on motivational factors alone, processing would be relatively objective).
  • This is because ability factors can also determine bias. For example, some people might simply possess a biased store of knowledge compared to other people. If so, their ability to process the message objectively can be compromised.
  • That is, recipients with a biased store of knowledge might be better able to see the flaws in opposition arguments and the merits in their own side compared to recipients with a more balanced store of knowledge.
  • In addition, variables in the persuasion situation can bias retrieval of information even if what is stored is completely balanced and no motivational biases are operating. For example, a positive mood can increase access to positive material in memory. In general, biases in processing a persuasive message are fostered when the message contains information that is ambiguous or mixed rather than clearly strong or weak.
  • Finally, just because some motivational or ability factor results in biased information processing, this does not mean that a biased judgment will result.
  • This is because people sometimes attempt to correct for factors they believe could have unduly biased their evaluations.
  • The available research suggests that corrections can proceed in different directions depending on recipients’ theories of how the biasing event or stimulus (e.g., an attractive source) was likely to have influenced their views. According to the Flexible Correction Model, in order for corrections to occur, people should:
  •   be motivated and able to identify potentially biasing factors
  • possess or generate a naive theory about the magnitude and direction of the bias
  • be motivated and able to make the theory-based correction.

People not only correct their judgments to render them more accurate, but they can also be motivated to correct by motives for fairness, self-enhancement, and others.

Assessing Information Processing [ATTITUDE CHANGE: AN OVERVIEW]

  • Persuasion researchers have identified a number of ways to assess the extent to which persuasion is based on effortful consideration of information.
  • Perhaps the most popular procedure to assess the amount of objective information processing that takes place has been to vary the quality of the arguments contained in a message and to gauge the extent of message processing by the size of the argument quality effect on attitudes and valenced thoughts. Greater argument quality effects suggest greater objective scrutiny.
  • Because strong arguments elicit more favourable thoughts and become more persuasive with thought, but weak arguments elicit more unfavourable thoughts and become less persuasive with thought, thinking enhances the argument quality effect on attitudes and valenced thoughts.
  • If the message processing is biased, however, the size of the argument quality effect on these variables can be attenuated over what it is with objective processing.
  • This is because when engaged in biased processing, people may fail to appreciate the merits or demerits of the arguments (e.g., seeing strengths in even weak arguments and finding some flaws in strong ones).
  • When biased processing is an issue, there are other means to gauge the extent of thinking. In particular, one can assess the mere number of issue relevant thoughts generated.
  • High elaboration conditions are associated with more thoughts.
  • Also, correlations between valence message-relevant thoughts and post-message attitudes tend to be greater when argument scrutiny is high, though other variables can affect this correlation such as the confidence people have in their thoughts.
  • Finally, high message elaboration can produce longer reading or exposure times than more cursory analyse, though longer reading times might also reflect daydreaming rather than careful message scrutiny. ATTITUDE CHANGE: AN OVERVIEW

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