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ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function

ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function


  • Attitudes can be thought of as a global evaluation (e.g., like—dislike) of an object. This perspective has generated a number of conceptual models of the attitude concept.
  • The most influential model of attitude has been the multi component model. According to this perspective, attitudes are summary evaluations of an object that have Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioural components.
  • We like to think of these components as a taxi CAB that will get you where you want to go. A number of researchers have considered how the CAB components contribute to the formation and expression of attitudes.

GETTING INTO THE CAB [ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function]

  • What do we mean when we say that attitudes have cognitive, affective, and behavioural components? The cognitive component of attitudes refers to the beliefs, thoughts, and attributes we associate with an object.
  • In many cases, a person’s attitude might be based primarily upon the positive and negative attributes they associate with an object.
  • For example, when one author recently bought a new car, he devoted considerable attention to different vehicles’ safety records, gas mileage, and repair costs.
  • In this example, attitudes toward the different cars were formed through a methodical consideration of the positive and negative characteristics of each car.
  • Similarly, an individual’s favourable attitude toward a particular politician might be based on the belief that the politician is charismatic, intelligent, and has economic policies that promote social equality.
  • The affective component of attitudes refers to feelings or emotions linked to an attitude object. Affective responses influence attitudes in a number of ways. ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function
  • A primary way in which feelings shape attitudes is through feelings that are aroused in response to an attitude object. For instance, many people indicate that spiders make them feel scared.
  • This negative affective response is likely to cause a negative attitude toward spiders.
  • The behavioural component of attitudes refers to past behaviours or experiences regarding an attitude object. For instance, people might guess that they must have a negative attitude toward factory farming, if they remember having signed a petition against the unethical treatment of animals.
  • The idea that people might infer their attitudes from their previous actions was best articulated by Daryl Bern.
  • According to Bern’s (1972) self-perception theory, individuals do not always have access to their opinions about different objects, and sometimes infer their attitudes by thinking about how they have behaved with respect to the attitude object in the past.


  • Having read the previous section, you might be thinking “Hey, aren’t these components pretty much the same thing?” You will be pleased to hear that attitude researchers have asked the same question and devoted a lot of energy to answering it.
  • To cut a long story short — the components are different.
  • Perhaps the best evidence showing that the CAB components are not the same comes from research conducted by Steven Breckler (1984).
  • In one experiment, Breckler had participants report their cognitive, affective, and behavioural responses about snakes.
  • Whilst in the presence of a real snake, participants indicated whether
  • snakes are kind and cruel (cognition)
  • snakes make them feel anxious and happy (affect), and
  • they like to handle snakes (behaviour).  ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function
  • Breckler (1984) used the content of participants’ responses to compute a score for each of the components.
  • He found that these cognitive, affective, and behavioural scores were only moderately correlated with each other. Thus, these components were empirically distinct.
  • While Breckler (1984) provided strong evidence that the cognitive, affective, and behavioural components of attitude are not the same, this does not mean that they are completely independent of each other. For example, one of the authors is a big fan of the music of Bruce Springsteen.
  • If you asked him for his thoughts about Bruce Springsteen’s music, he would answer that the music has well-constructed lyrics that express the importance Springsteen places on equality and social justice.
  • If you asked the author about the feelings he associates with the music, he would say that the music makes him feel happy. If you asked him about his past experiences with Bruce Springsteen’s music, he would wax lyrically about the many times he has attended a Springsteen concert. Unsurprisingly, the positive cognitions, affects, and behaviours all contribute to the author’s positive attitude toward Bruce Springsteen.
  • That said, it isn’t always the case that the CAB components have the same evaluative implications. Instead of asking this author about his perceptions of Bruce Springsteen ask him about blood donation.
  • He would tell you that blood donation is a noble endeavour that helps others; implying that he has positive cognitions. However, if you asked him about his feelings about blood donation, he would admit that it makes him feel afraid.
  • He would also recall the negative experience of having once been jabbed repeatedly by a sadistic nurse who was unable to locate a vein in his arm.
  • Thus, his cognitive, affective, and behavioural responses about blood donation differ in valence. (If you’re wondering, it turns out this author does not donate blood, though he thinks it is a great thing to do).
  • Taken together, while the cognitive, affective, and behavioral components are (usually) consistent in their evaluative implications, they are not simply different ways of saying the same thing.


  • Another way of demonstrating the relative independence of the CAB component is to address how they can be measured.
  • While attitude researchers have used a number of techniques to measure these components, this section describes some measures that are psychometrically sound and most popular among researchers.
  • The first type of measure we want to discuss is the semantic differential approach to the measuring of attitudinal components. ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function
  • We have already learned that researchers often use semantic differential scales such as positive-negative and good-bad to measure overall attitudes. This framework can also be used to measure the cognitive and affective components of attitude.
  • Most often, researchers using semantic differential scales to assess cognition and affect have either developed “generic” semantic differential dimensions that can be used to assess cognitive or affective information toward different types of attitude objects, or have used the same semantic differential dimensions to assess both cognitive and affective responses toward a particular attitude object (and change the instructions so that they highlight either cognition or affect).
  • Regarding the generic approach, Crites, Fabrigar, and Petty (1994) developed semantic differential measures of the cognitive and affective components of attitude. ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function
  • Their measure of the cognitive component features the dimensions of useful— useless, wise—foolish, beneficial—harmful, valuable—worthless, perfect—imperfect, and wholesome—unhealthy, while the affective component features the dimensions of love—hateful, delighted—sad, happy—annoyed, calm—tense, excited—bored, relaxed—angry, acceptance—disgusted, and joy—sorrow.
  • These measures have the advantage of being reliable and valid, and can be used across different attitude objects. Similarly, for both components, the word pairs are more specific than the broad, evaluative semantic dimensions (good—bad, like—dislike) used to measure overall attitudes.
  • In contrast to the generic approach, Breckler and Wiggins (1989) used the same semantic differential scales to assess both cognition and affect for a particular object, but framed the scales differently.
  • For instance, in assessing cognitive and affective reactions toward blood donation, Breckler and Wiggins (1989) measured cognitions by having participants respond to the stem “Blood donation is” on the dimensions bad—good, wise—foolish, useless—useful, and important—unimportant. Affective responses toward this object were assessed by having participants respond to the stem “Blood donation makes me feel” on the same semantic differential scales.
  • There are many benefits to the semantic differential approaches to measuring attitudinal components. First, they are simple to administer and complete.
  • Second, when they use the same dimensions across different attitude objects (as in the method of Crites and colleagues), they can be used to compare the favourability of responses across attitude objects. That said, there are also some problems with this type of measure. ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function
  • Most importantly, the attentive reader will have noticed that the semantic differential measures mentioned only the cognitive and affective components.
  • The diffuse nature of behaviour has made it difficult for researchers to imagine valid semantic differential scales for this component.


  • A second type of measure uses open-ended questions to measure all three attitudinal components. In this technique, participants are asked to write down the thoughts, feelings, and behavioural experiences they associate with an attitude object.
  • An example of this type of measure is provided in Figure 2. Looking at these measures, you can see that the cognition measure asks participants to list the characteristics, attributes, and values they associate with the attitude object.
  • The affect measure asks participants to list the feelings and emotions they associate with the attitude object. The behaviour measure asks participants to list relevant past experiences they have had with the attitude object.
  • So if participants list their own cognitive, affective, and behavioural responses, how are scores derived for each component? Let’s see how this is done by using the affect measure as an example.
  • For this exercise, let’s assume that the attitude object is the former American President George W. Bush. A participant might indicate that this person elicits two affective responses: “anger” and “disgust.”
  • Having listed the feelings they associate with the object, participants then rate how positive or negative each emotion is in relation to the attitude object.
  • Our participant might indicate that anger gets a rating of -1, while disgust gets a score of -2. From these responses, we can compute a score that is the average of these valence ratings (in this case, -1.5).
  • The open-ended technique for measuring attitudinal components has been used in many types of studies (Bell, Esses, & Maio, 1996; Haddock, Zanna, & Esses, 1994a, 1994b; see Esses & Maio, 2002; Haddock & Zanna, 1998, for reviews). There are a number of advantages to this approach.
  • First, this technique enabled researchers to devise a measure of the behavioural component, allowing for a more comprehensive test of the multi-component model of attitude (see e.g., Haddock et al., 1994b).
  • Second, respondents are asked to indicate the cognitive, affective, and behavioural responses that are the most personally salient and relevant, permitting them to be unrestrained from the dimensions provided by “close-ended” response formats. ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function
  • While there are many positive aspects of open-ended measures of ‘attitudinal components, this type of measure is not without its difficulties.
  • For example, participants may find it hard to articulate the thoughts, feelings, and past experiences they associate with a particular attitude object, meaning that they might not provide any responses for one or more components. Similarly, these measures require more time and effort from participants.
  • If researchers are interested in measuring cognitions, affective responses, and past behaviours for many attitude objects, it might not be feasible to use the open-ended approach.


  • So far, we have shown that cognitive, affective, and behavioural information are three separable components of attitude. But how well do they actually predict a person’s attitude? Numerous studies have addressed this important question.
  • The primary idea behind this line of research is to examine the degree to which the favourability of people’s cognitions, feelings, and behaviours are correlated with a person’s overall attitude.
  • In addition, the research tests whether each component explains the overall attitude in
    unique but complementary ways; in other words, does each component explain some part of the overall attitude that is not explained by the other components? Before we introduce this research, we have to add an important cave.
  • For the most part, this research has concentrated on how cognitive and affective information predicts attitudes, in the absence of behavioural information. Why? As we just discussed, semantic differential measures of the components have been limited to assessments of the cognitive and affective components. Given the popularity of these measures, most studies have focused on these two components.
  • One of the first studies examining the relative importance of cognition and affect was reported by Robert Abelson, Donald Kinder, Mark Peters, and Susan Fiske (1982), who explored the role of thoughts and feelings in predicting attitudes toward American presidential candidates.
  • In this study, survey respondents ascribed personality traits to the Democratic and Republican primary candidates in 1980 and reported their feelings about each candidate. The participants were also asked to indicate their attitude toward each candidate. ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function
  • Abelson and colleagues found that the favourability of affective responses associated with the presidential candidates correlated with individuals’ overall evaluations, above and beyond the correlations with the favourability of their beliefs about the candidates (which were also uniquely predictive of attitudes).
  • Subsequent research by Eagly, Mladinic, and Otto (1994), Haddock and Zanna (1997), and Lavine, Thomsen, Zanna, and Borgida (1998) has produced similar findings. Thus, both cognitive and affective information contribute to the prediction of political attitudes.
  • In the domain of inter-group attitudes, Vicki Esses, Geoff Haddock, and Mark Zanna (1993) conducted a series of studies assessing the relative importance of cognitive and affective information in prejudicial attitudes. This research employed open-ended measures of cognition and affect.
  • Participants listed the beliefs and feelings they associated with various ethnic groups and rated the positivity and negativity of each belief or feeling.
  • Correlations between participants’ overall attitudes and the average ratings for the beliefs and for the feelings indicated that the cognitive and affective responses were both important for predicting prejudice.
  • Further, the relative contribution of cognitive and affective responses depended on the target group under study. For instance, Esses et al. (1993) found that attitudes toward strongly disliked groups were best predicted by cognitive information, in the form of symbolic beliefs (i.e., beliefs that typical group members violate or promote the attainment of cherished values), whereas attitudes toward liked groups were best predicted by affective information (e.g., feelings or emotions elicited by members of the target group).

KEY POINTS [ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function]

  • Attitudes have cognitive, affective and behavioral components.
  • The cognitive component refers to beliefs, thoughts and attributes associated with an attitude object.
  • The affective component refers to feelings or emotions associated with an attitude object.
  • The behavioral component refers to past behaviors with respect to an attitude object.
  • These components have a “synergistic’ relation. When an individual possesses positive beliefs about an attitude object, they typically have positive affective and behavioral associations with the object.
  • Despite their synergism, the cognitive, affective, and behavioral components           are quantitatively and qualitatively Further, people differ in the degree to which their attitudes are based on each of the CAB components.ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function
  • In the domains of gender attitudes and attitudes toward social policy issues, Eagly et al. (1994) discovered that the evaluative implications of both cognition and affect were positively and significantly correlated with the favourability of attitudes, and that the unique contribution of each class of information is to some degree a function of the attitude object under examination.
  • Using open-ended elicitation measures similar to those used by Esses et al. (1993), Eagly and colleagues found that affect contributed significantly to the prediction of some attitudes, but beliefs were the most important predictor in most instances.
  • Steven. Breckler and colleagues explored the role of cognition and affect in predicting attitudes toward a range of attitude objects. Using a number of different assessment strategies (e.g., equal appearing interval scales, semantic differential scales, and thought-listing procedures) and stimuli (e.g., legalized abortion, blood donation, and college comprehensive exams), they discovered that both cognitive and affective information predicted attitudes.
  • Breckler and colleagues found that the relative importance of each class of information was, to some extent, a function of the stimulus object under examination. For instance, affect was found to best predict attitudes toward blood donation, whereas cognitive information was found to best predict attitudes toward abortion and comprehensive exams. ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function
  • Moreover, consistent with the idea that the components share a synergistic relation, all of the studies described above found that the evaluative implications of cognitive and affective information are positively correlated.
  • That is, maintaining positive beliefs about an attitude object is associated with positive affective responses about that object, whereas negative beliefs about an object are typically associated with unfavourable feelings.
  • For this reason, it was important that the researchers conducted additional analyses that revealed reliable associations between each component and attitude even after the other type of information was held constant in a statistical analysis (multiple regression).
  • A smaller number of studies have used measures of all three CAB components. One such study was conducted by Haddock and colleagues. In this study, the researchers were interested in assessing the content of Canadian university students’ attitudes toward Native Canadians.
  • Using open-ended measures of cognition, affect, and behaviour, and a measure of overall attitudes, the researchers found that the quality of participants’ past experiences with Native Canadians predicted attitudes independent of the favourability of participants’ thoughts and feelings about the group.
  • The research we have described suggests that attitudes toward different objects are more or less likely to be based on different sources of information.
  • Research has also addressed whether people differ in the degree to which their attitudes are derived from different sources of information. In one line of inquiry, Huskinson and Haddock (2004) tested whether people differ in the degree to which their attitudes are based on cognitive and affective information.
  • In a series of studies, these researchers asked participants to report their attitudes, beliefs, and feelings toward a large number of attitude objects.
  • Huskinson and Haddock (2004) found that people differ reliably in the extent to which they use the favourability of their beliefs and feelings to derive their overall attitudes.
  • Some people based their attitudes predominantly on their affective responses, whereas others based their attitudes predominantly on their cognitive responses.
  • Because of the synergistic relation between these components, these scientists also found that many people had attitudes that were based equally on cognition and affect. Importantly, these differences were found to have important implications for a number of outcomes, such as persuasion.

ATTITUDE STRUCTURE [ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function]

  • In addition to considering the content of attitudes, another important issue concerns how positive and negative evaluations are organized within and among the cognitive, affective, and behavioural components of attitudes.
  • It is typically assumed that the existence of positive beliefs, feelings, and behaviours inhibits the occurrence of negative beliefs, feelings, and behaviours.
  • For example, this assumption implies that an individual with positive beliefs, feelings, and behaviours about the New York Yankees baseball team is unlikely to have negative beliefs, feelings, and behaviours about this team.  ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function
  • In other words, according to this one-dimensional perspective, the positive and negative elements are at opposite ends of a single dimension, and people tend to experience either end of the dimension or a location in between.
  • This one-dimensional view is opposed by a two-dimensional view. This view suggests that one dimension reflects whether the attitude has few or many positive elements, and the other dimension reflects whether the attitude has few or many negative elements.
  • If this view is correct, then people can possess any combination of positivity or negativity in their attitudes. Some of these combinations fit the one-dimensional view: attitudes may consist of few positive and many negative elements, few negative and many positive elements, or few positive and few negative elements (i.e., a neutral position).
  • Another combination is inconsistent with the one-dimensional view: attitudes might occasionally contain many positive and many negative elements, leading to attitudinal ambivalence.
  • The two-dimensional perspective explicitly allows for this ambivalence to occur, whereas the one-dimensional perspective does not.
  • The one-dimensional and two-dimensional perspectives are presented in Figure 2.3. The
    top panel depicts the one-dimensional view of attitudes. In this panel, Person X, who is
    plotted on an axis depicting the one-dimensional view, would be slightly negative. The single axis does not permit one to mark Person X as being both negative and positive. v
  • The bottom panel of Figure depicts the two-dimensional view of attitudes, with one axis (from middle to top) representing variability in negative evaluations and the other axis (from middle to right) depicting variability in positive evaluations. ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function
  • From this perspective, a person can possess high amounts of negativity and positivity toward an object. For example, Person Y in the figure could be considered highly ambivalent.
  • Which perspective is superior? At first glance, the two-dimensional perspective seems as though it should be superior because it allows for the same patterns of positivity and negativity as the one-dimensional view, while also allowing for ambivalence.
  • For instance, it is difficult to interpret the meaning of the neutral point in one-dimensional scales for assessing attitudes. Imagine that people were asked to report their attitude toward eating rhubarb (a tart vegetable) on a nine-point scale that ranged from “1 —extremely unfavourable” to “9 — extremely favourable” as the end points, with “5 — neither unfavourable nor favourable” in the middle.
  • If someone indicated that his or her attitude was 5, it is half-way between the most extreme positive response option and the most extreme negative response option.
  • People could choose this option because it is a compromise between many positive and negative elements of their attitude (e.g., they have many positive and negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviours regarding eating rhubarb) or because they have no positive or negative elements whatsoever (e.g., they have never eaten rhubarb).
  • The failure to distinguish between these two reasons for the neutral selection is important, because measures that directly assess attitudinal ambivalence predict a variety of outcomes.
  • The best known outcome is response polarization. People who are highly ambivalent toward an object are more strongly influenced by features of their environment that make salient the object’s positive or negative attributes.
  • This causes them to behave more favorably toward the object when the positive elements are salient than when the negative elements are salient. In contrast, non-ambivalent people are less strongly influenced by the acute salience of the positive or negative attributes.
Key points

  • —      An important issue related to attitudes concerns how positive and negative evaluations are organized within and among the components of attitude.
  • —      The one-dimensional view postulates that the positive and negative elements are stored as opposite ends of a single dimension.
  • —      The two-dimensional view postulates that positive and negative elements are stored along two separate dimensions.
  • —      Feelings of ambivalence may only partly reflect the potential ambivalence in thoughts, Feelings, and behaviors relevant to our attitude.

 TYPES OF AMBIVALENCE [ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function]

  • Researchers interested in attitude ambivalence have described different types of ambivalence. Potential ambivalence is a state of conflict that exists when people simultaneously possess positive and negative evaluations of an attitudinal object.
  • This conflict can be measured by asking people to indicate the positive and negative elements of their attitude, perhaps by asking them to list the beliefs, emotions, and behaviours that occur to them (as outlined above). Inspection of these elements might reveal many positive and negative beliefs (cognitive ambivalence), positive and negative feelings affective ambivalence,), or positive and negative behavioural experiences (behavioural ambivalence). ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function
  • There may also be asymmetry in the valence among beliefs, feelings, and behaviours that produce conflicting evaluations. For example, people might possess many negative beliefs and strong positive feelings about an object (e.g., chocolate cake).
  • Researchers can calculate the amount of conflict between people’s positive and negative evaluations of an attitude object, using one of several different formulae developed for the purpose.
  • An important reason for labelling this type of ambivalence as “potential”ambivalence is that the ambivalence may or may not be consciously perceived by theindividual.
  • In contrast, felt ambivalence is the actual feeling of tension that peopleexperience when they consciously think about the attitude object.
  • This type of ambivalence is assessed by asking people to rate the extent to which their feelings are conflicted, mixed, and indecisive (e.g., “How mixed is your opinion about chocolate cake?”).
  • Numerous studies have examined the antecedents and consequences of potential and felt ambivalence. To date, research has revealed that potential and felt ambivalence don’t correlate highly, suggesting that they tend to measure somewhat different things.
  • Nonetheless, research has revealed that ambivalent and non-ambivalent attitudes influence how people process issue-relevant information and the degree to which attitudes predict behaviour.
  • With regard to the former issue, ambivalent attitudes tend to cause greater scrutiny of information that can help to resolve the ambivalence. ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function
  • With regard to the latter issue, research suggests that ambivalent attitudes are less likely to predict behaviour than non-ambivalent attitudes. A recent model suggests that these effects may occur because of ways in which ambivalence affects decision making processes.

ATTITUDE FUNCTIONS [ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function]

  • Individuals hold attitudes for a variety of reasons. For example, the authors’ affinity for the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team might have developed from their relatives and friends supporting the team.
  • In contrast, their attitude toward abortion might be based on the value they place on an individual’s freedom of choice or the sanctity of life. Attitude researchers have devoted considerable attention to understanding the’ needs or functions that are fulfilled by attitudes.
  • The most prominent models of attitude functions were developed almost 50 years ago (Katz, 1960; Smith et al., 1956). Smith et al. (1956) suggested that attitudes serve three primary 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 social world. For example, attitudes can help people to approach things that are beneficial for them and avoid things that are harmful to them. Social-adjustment is fulfilled by attitudes that help us to identify with people whom we like and to dissociate from people whom we dislike. ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function
  • For example, individuals may buy a certain soft drink because this drink is endorsed by their favourite singer.
  • Externalization is fulfilled by attitudes that defend the self against internal conflict. For example, bad golfers might develop an intense dislike for the game because their poor performance threatens their self-esteem.
  • In his own program of research, Daniel Katz (1960) proposed four attitude functions, some of which relate to those proposed by Smith et al. (1956): knowledge, utility, ego-defense, and value-expression.
  • The knowledge function represents the ability of attitudes to organize information about attitude objects; while the utilitarian function exists in attitudes that maximize rewards and minimize punishments obtained from attitude objects. These functions are similar to Smith et al.’s object-appraisal function.
  • Katz’s ego-defensive function exists in attitudes that serve to protect an individual’s self-esteem, and is similar to Smith et al’s externalization function.
  • Finally, Katz proposed that attitudes may serve a value-expressive function, such that an attitude may express an individual’s self-concept and central values. For example, a person might cycle to work because she values health and wishes to preserve the environment.
  • Interest in the study of attitude functions has fluctuated wildly. In the decade following the taxonomies developed by Smith et al. (1956) and Katz (1960), there was considerable interest in understanding the reasons people hold particular attitudes and the implications of holding attitudes that fulfil different functions.
  • Interest in the functional perspective then waned for a period of time, as researchers found it difficult to conduct experimental studies testing various aspects of functional theories.
  • A new generation of research has provided fresh new insights into the functional perspective. For example, Gregory Herek suggested a distinction between evaluative functions, which pertain to the ability of attitudes to summarize information about the attitude object itself, and expressive functions, which are fulfilled upon the expression of an attitude. Herek (1987) also developed a measure assessing the degree to which an attitude fulfils different functions.
  • His Attitudes Functions Inventory (AFI) is a self-report measure asking participants to rate the extent to which their attitude reflects various concerns. This approach provides a simple method for determining the primary function of an individual’s attitude toward a particular object.
  • At around the same time as the development of Herek’s AFI measure, Sharon Shavitt considered whether different attitude objects are likely to fulfil a particular function. For example, Shavitt (1990) tested whether consumer products such as coffee, air conditioners, watches, and sunglasses serve a single purpose or have multiple functions.
  • Shavitt found that, across individuals, coffee and air conditioners tended to serve a utilitarian function (as indicated by researchers’ coding of participants’ thoughts about these items) and that people’s attitudes toward particular brands of these products were most likely to be changed by utilitarian arguments (for example, the quality of a product). ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function
  • In contrast, Shavitt found that objects such as watches and sunglasses could fill different functions. One person might wear a particular brand of sunglasses because of the quality of the brand (for example, they are effective in blocking UV rays), whereas another person might wear that same brand because of the social prestige associated with the brand name. This research has been instrumental in linking theories of attitude function to consumer behaviour.
 Key points

·         Individuals hold attitudes for a variety of reasons.

·         Among the functions, the object-appraisal function is especially important as it suggests that attitudes serve as energy-saving devices that make judgments easier and faster to perform.

·         Research on attitude functions requires further improvement in the methods used to assess them.

  •    In recent years, research on attitude functions has focused on particular functions served by attitudes. For instance, there is evidence indicating that the object-appraisal function is highly important, because attitudes can simplify interaction with the environment. The importance of this function was highlighted by Russell Fazio and colleagues, who found that highly accessible attitudes (which people recall quickly) increase the ease with which people make attitude-relevant judgments and decrease physiological arousal during these judgments (see Fazio, 1995, 2000). These findings support the conclusion that the object-appraisal function is more strongly served by attitudes that are spontaneously activated from memory than by attitudes that are not spontaneously activated.
  • Despite the recent advances in research on attitude function, key problems still limit progress in understanding attitude functions. One problem is the limitations in the current approaches to measuring the attitude functions.
  • For instance, Herek’s AFI relies on people’s ability to know the functions of their own attitudes, but evidence indicates that people are sometimes poor at knowing the basis for their attitudes.
  • This problem is particularly evident for so-called ego-defensive attitudes, which help to defend the ego precisely because the person is unaware that the attitude is defending the self-concept. (As soon as you know that the attitude is merely helping you to feel better about yourself, it may no longer help to make you feel better about yourself.)
  • A second problem is ambiguity in the distinctions between different attitude functions.
  • For instance, a person’s attitude toward partying the night before an exam might reflect the extent to which he or she values “achievement” and, therefore, be value-expressive. At the same time, the person’s value of achievement itself reflects a utilitarian concern. So is the attitude value expressive or utilitarian? A different type of taxonomy may be needed to address such issues.


  • There are inexorable links among our witches of attitude content, attitude structure, and attitude function. For example, synergy among the CAB components should cause an individual to have a unidimensional rather than bidimensional attitude. If an individual has positive cognitions, affective responses, and past experiences with an attitude object, they should also have a unidimensional positive attitude about the object. In this case, synergistic content influences the structure of the attitude.
  • The link between attitude content and attitude function is also important. Consider attitudes toward a car that are based on a need to conserve fuel. These attitudes should be based on beliefs about the extent to which the car obtains good fuel economy.
  • Similarly, if attitudes toward a style of clothing fulfil a psychological need to enhance social relations, then these attitudes should be based on beliefs about the extent to which the style is preferred among one’s friends. In both cases, attitudes that serve different functions often differ in the content of the beliefs that support them.
  • Finally, there are strong links between the structure and function witches. For instance, Maio and colleagues have argued that the same attitude functions may operate at both the unidimensional and bidimensional structural levels, but to varying degrees.
  • For instance, the object appraisal function should be served more strongly by unidimensional attitudes than by bidimensional attitudes, because the bidimensional attitudes evoke more decision conflict. In addition, it is possible that social norms make it occasionally desirable to have high ambivalence in an attitude, such as when an issue is controversial. In this situation, people who appear ambivalent may give the impression of being fair and knowledgeable. These individuals may also be inoffensive to others because they “agree” with everyone to some extent.  ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function


  • An important question that is relevant to the content, structure, and function of attitudes is the extent to which attitudes are stable over time.
  • This question is relevant to efforts quantifying the strength of an attitude. As mentioned at the beginning, people feel more strongly about some topics than about others. For many years, the topic of attitude strength has interested attitude researchers.
  • During this time, the strength of an attitude has been conceptualized in many different ways. For example, individuals can be asked how certain they are of their attitude, as well as how important their attitude is to them personally. These types of ratings are related, but different.
  • This difference is relevant to our description of attitude content because certainty may draw on the amount of cognitive content supporting an attitude, while importance might draw on the amount of emotional content supporting an attitude.
  • Similarly, some attitudes can be retrieved from memory more quickly than others; such easily retrievable attitudes are referred to as being highly accessible.
  • Recall the evidence that accessible attitudes serve a stronger utilitarian/object-appraisal function. In addition, high accessibility may also reflect a unipolar attitude structure.ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function
  • Strong attitudes differ from weak attitudes in a number of ways. Jon Krosnick and Richard Petty (1995) argue that there are four key manifestations of strong attitudes.
  • First, strong attitudes are more persistent. That is, they are more temporally stable over the passage of time.
  • Second, strong attitudes are more resistant to change. When faced with a persuasive appeal, strong attitudes are less likely to change than weak attitudes.
  • Third, strong attitudes are more likely to influence information processing. Research has revealed That people devote greater attention to information that is relevant to strong versus weak attitudes. Finally, strong attitudes are more likely to guide behaviour. Put simply, we are more likely to act upon strong versus weak attitudes.
Key points

–       Attitude content, attitude structure, and attitude function are inexorably linked.

–       Attitudes vary in the degree to which they are persistent over time, resistant to change, influential in guiding information processing, and influential in predicting behavior.

  • This discussion of attitude strength is relevant for understanding a debate that has occurred among some attitude researchers. Through the years, a number of scholars have deliberated about the degree to which attitudes are best considered as evaluative representations of an attitude object that are stored in memory versus temporary evaluations.
  • In its strong form, the first position implies that attitudes are stable across time and context — a popular analogy being that we have a file drawer of attitudes in our brain. In contrast, the strong form of the latter position implies that attitudes are simply constructed on the spot.
  • Proponents of both perspectives can generate research supporting their position. Our own view on this debate is that the answer depends on attitude strength. Strong attitudes should be more stable and enduring, but weak attitudes should be more malleable and likely to be constructed on the spot. ATTITUDE: Content-Structure and Function




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