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LOW EFFORT PROCESSES OF ATTITUDE CHANGE

 LOW EFFORT PROCESSES OF ATTITUDE CHANGE

INTRODUCTION

  • We have now seen that a multitude of variables can determine whether the attitude change context is likely to be one of relatively high or low cognitive effort.
  • First we focus on some of the specific low effort processes that can determine whether attitudes will change, and then we turn to high effort processes.
  • The low effort mechanisms of attitude change vary in the extent to which they require conscious processing, ranging from those relying on automatic associations to those positing simple inferences.
  • Thus, some peripheral processes require somewhat more cognitive effort than others.
  • Nevertheless these processes have in common the fact that none of them requires extensive and effortful scrutiny of the central merits of the attitudinal advocacy or position.

Associative Processes

  • Some low-effort attitude change processes are associative in nature. That is, attitudes are often impacted by associations that develop between attitude objects and positive or negative stimuli (i.e., objects and feelings), or even by observations of those associations. Examples of these processes include conditioning, affective priming, and mere exposure.
  • Classical and evaluative conditioning: 
  •  One way to produce attitude change in the absence of effortful scrutiny is to associate an attitude object that is initially neutral (e.g., a new product) with stimuli that already have positive or negative meaning.
  • Considerable research has demonstrated that when an initially neutral stimulus immediately precedes another stimulus that already has positive or negative associations, the neutral stimulus can come to be positively or negatively evaluated itself.
  • For example, attitudes toward words, people, and products had been influenced by their association with pleasant or unpleasant odors, temperatures, sounds, shock, photographs, and so on. Furthermore; attitudes have been shown to be influenced by the contraction of certain muscles associated with positive and negative experiences.
  • Consistent with the classification of conditioning as a low effort process, these effects have been found to be particularly likely when effortful processing is at a minimum.
  • Specifically, these effects are enhanced when the stimuli are presented subliminally and when the stimuli have no a priori meaning attached to them.
  • Some recent work has attempted to separate conditioning into two types —classical and evaluative. The former is based on the early work by Pavlov on teaching dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell by associating it with food.
  • This type of conditioning is based on individuals learning that good or bad things follow the stimulus to be conditioned.
  • When the good or bad things stop, the conditioning effects extinguishes over time. In evaluative conditioning, awareness of the paring of the CS and UCS is not necessary.
  • Perhaps because of this, the conditioned response in evaluative conditioning tends not to extinguish when the UCS is no longer presented.
  • Recent research suggests that evaluative conditioning might even be reliant on relatively simple misattribution inferences similar to the self-perception and heuristic processes that are described shortly.
  • Affective priming: 
  •  Another process that relies on associations between stimuli is affective priming. In this method, also known as “backward conditioning,” presentation of positively or negatively valenced stimuli immediately precedes rather than follows presentation of target stimuli.
  • These presentations have been found to influence evaluations of previously neutral target stimuli. For example, Krosnick, Betz, Jussim, and Lynn (1992) found that subliminal presentation of positive or negative pictures (e.g., smiling people versus snakes) made subsequent evaluations of unfamiliar target individuals more favourable or unfavourable, respectively.
  • Consistent with classification of this change mechanism as a low effort processes, these effects have been found to be unaffected by cognitive load, and more likely to occur when the initial affective stimuli is processed only minimally or not at all.
  • Interestingly, one method (i.e., the Affect Misattribution Procedure) relies on this mechanism to assess individuals’ attitudes indirectly. For example, if people are presented with a stimulus about which their attitudes are unknown (e.g., a picture of the President of the United States), followed by an unfamiliar target (e.g., an unfamiliar symbol), ratings of the target can be used to infer attitudes toward the preceding stimulus.
  • Mere exposure:
  •  Research has also shown that the mere repeated exposure of an object can make one’s attitude toward that object more favourable, even if one does not recognize the object as having been encountered previously.
  • Kunst-Wilson and Zajonc (1980), for instance, repeatedly presented participants with a series of polygon images, and found that even though participants could not recognize which images they had seen before, and which they had not, they expressed significantly greater preferences for those they had seen.
  • Additionally, mere exposure effects also occur in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Some researchers have argued that even when a stimulus cannot be consciously identified as having been encountered, its previous exposure might make it easier to process.
  • Prior exposures could create a perceptual fluency that becomes attached to the stimulus or confused with a positive evaluation of the stimulus.
  • This process only occurs, however, to the extent that feelings of fluency or familiarity are not directly attributed to the repeated exposure.
  • If people attribute those feelings to the repeated exposure, the mere exposure effect is attenuated. Moreover, as with other low effort processes, the influence of mere exposure on attitudes appears to be increased when the repeated object is low in meaning or presented subliminally, thus reducing or eliminating conscious processing.
  • Similarly, the effect appears to be decreased as conscious processing increases, such as when evaluation apprehension is induced.
  • When meaningful stimuli are presented (e.g., familiar words or persuasive messages), repeated exposure has been found to accentuate the dominant reaction, whether this is positive or negative.
  • With meaningful stimuli, deliberative analyses can enhance the dominant response, at least until tedium sets in.
  • Interestingly,  feelings of fluency and familiarity—the mechanisms thought to be responsible for mere exposure effects—have been shown to influence attitudes and persuasion even when they do not stem from mere prior exposure.
  • For instance, messages written in easy-to-read fonts or more clear color combinations are sometimes evaluated more favorably than those written in difficult-to­-read or unclear fonts.

Inference-Based Processes

  • Low-effort attitude change processes can also be more inferential in nature rather than as a result of the operation of some affective or association process.
  • In other words, people sometimes base attitudes on simple inferences that do not require considerable cognitive processing. For example, people might infer that they should agree with people they like.
  • They can also draw inferences about what their attitudes should be from observing their own behaviour and relying on simple heuristics, or decision rules, that circumvent effortful scrutiny of information. We discuss these inferences next.

Balance : 

  • According to balance theory, certain cognitive states are associated with pleasantness whereas other states are associated with unpleasantness. More specifically, balance (harmony) within the elements of an attitudinal system exits when people agree with others they like (or with whom they are closely associated) and disagree with others they dislike (or with whom they are dissociated).
  • Because imbalance is an uncomfortable state, people should seek to eliminate it as quickly and easily as possible. In many cases, the easiest way to restore balance is to alter one’s evaluation of one of the elements in the attitude system. Unlike the effortful restoration of cognitive consistency associated with dissonance reduction, the alteration of evaluations need not be effortful according to balance theory.
  • Aside from the general preference for balanced relationships among people, objects, and attitudes, research has also shown that people prefer positivity in these relationships (Miller & Norman, 1976).
  • Importantly, the changes people make to ensure balance and positivity do not require thoughtful consideration of the central merits of the attitude objects in the system. LOW EFFORT PROCESSES OF ATTITUDE CHANGE
  • At a general level, attribution theory addresses the inferences people make about themselves and others after witnessing behaviours and the situational constraints surrounding those behaviours.
  • In some cases, these inferences involve attitudes, such as when individuals infer their own or someone else’s attitudes on the basis of their behaviour with respect 1998, for a review), others result in relatively quick and simple inferences (e.g., inferring that you like a certain TV program because you smile when you watch it).

Attribution : 

  • According to Bem’s (1965, 1972) self-perception theory, when people are not attuned to their internal states, they can infer their own attitudes from their behaviours just as they might do when inferring the attitudes of others. Self-perception is more likely to operate under relatively low-effort conditions.
  • For example, Taylor (1975) conducted a study in which women evaluated the photographs of men under high or low personal relevance conditions.
  • Participants also received false physiological feedback about their responses toward some of the men. Taylor found that the women inferred attitudes from their ostensible physiological reactions to a greater extent when personal relevance was low than when it was high.
  • This implies that self-perception processes are more likely to operate when the likelihood of thinking about the attitude object is relatively low rather than high.
  • Attribution theory has also contributed to attitude change research in other ways. In one application called the over justification effect, people come to devalue previously enjoyed activities (e.g., running) when they are given overly sufficient rewards for engaging
  • If someone is given an extrinsic reward for promoting a pro-attitudinal advocacy, for instance, their attitude may become less favourable to the extent that they view their behaviour as stemming from the reward rather than the merits of the position they are endorsing.
  • Furthermore, attribution theory has shed light on the processes by which inferences about a message source impact attitudes.
  • For example, Eagly, Chaiken, and Wood (1981) argued that when people are exposed to a persuasive communication, their expectancies regarding the source of the communication have an important impact on their acceptance of that source’s position.
  • If the communicator advocates a position that violates his or her own self-interest, he or she is perceived as more trustworthy and the position as more valid.
  • If the communicator takes a position consistent with self-interest, however, he or she is perceived as less trustworthy and the position as less valid. When the position is viewed as valid, it can be accepted with relatively little scrutiny. However, when the position is seen as possibly invalid, effortful scrutiny of the information is increased. LOW EFFORT PROCESSES OF ATTITUDE CHANGE

The heuristic : 

  • The heuristic/systematic model of persuasion suggests that when people are engaged in relatively little information processing activity, they typically evaluate persuasive information in terms of stored heuristics, or simple decision rules, based on prior experiences or observations. One such heuristic is that “experts are correct.”
  • ‘In several studies it has been found that people rely on simple heuristics more when they are relatively unmotivated or unable to engage in extensive thought. Chaiken et al. (1989) proposed that the use of heuristics depends on their availability (i.e., the heuristic must be stored in memory), accessibility (i.e., it must be activated from memory), and applicability to the judgment at hand.
  • Although this is an intriguing proposition, little research has been conducted examining these aspects of heuristics.
  • Heuristics can stem from many places such as the communicator or the message itself. One message-based heuristic is that “length implies strength.”
  • Thus, when thinking is low, people tend to be more persuaded the more information that is presented regardless of whether that information is strong or weak.
  • When thinking is high, however the merits of information is examined so that more good arguments lead to more persuasion but more weak arguments lead to less persuasion.
  • In addition to presenting large versus small numbers of arguments to invoke a numerosity heuristic, an intriguing set of studies by Schwarz and colleagues (1991) has suggested that people infer different numbers of arguments are available depending on how easy or difficult it is to generate them.
  • In one study, for instance, Schwarz and his colleagues (1991) asked participants to rate their own assertiveness after recalling either 6 or 12 examples of their own assertive behaviour. They found that people viewed themselves as more assertive after retrieving 6 rather than 12 examples.
  • This result was initially surprising because a straightforward application of the availability heuristic would have suggested that people generating 12 instances of assertiveness would have judged themselves to be more assertive than those generating only 6 instances.
  • Schwarz and colleagues reasoned that people also considered the ease with which the thoughts could be retrieved from memory.
  • The easier it was to generate information in favor of something, the more supportive information people were assumed to infer there must be.
  • Conversely, having difficulty generating thoughts would be associated with perceptions that there is little support available.
  • These inferences about the amount of information available rather than the actual amount of information generated would then drive judgments.
  • Furthermore, because a heuristic was involved, this mechanism was proposed to be most salient when people were relatively unmotivated or unable to think.
  • A variety of additional variables have been shown to operate as cues when the elaboration likelihood is low such as source attractiveness speed of speech and information about the effort associated with an object or message.
  • For example, when people think a particular poem or painting took more time and effort to create, they tend to provide higher ratings of quality, value, and liking.
  • Although many heuristics have been suggested to operate under low thinking conditions some of these might instead impact attitudes through some other peripheral process (e.g., classical conditioning) rather than as a heuristic. LOW EFFORT PROCESSES OF ATTITUDE CHANGE
  • Nevertheless, the heuristic concept has been very useful and has sparked a great deal of persuasion research.

Priming : 

  • Another low effort means by which attitudes can be shifted is through priming. This method does not create or modify associations between attitude objects and valenced stimuli, nor does it necessarily rely on inferences.
  • Rather, priming procedures can shift attitudes by activating constructs related to attitudes, which then alter the attitude itself.
  • For example, exposure to situations can affect the private expression of attitudes. In one experiment, people who were assigned to vote in schools (vs. other locations, like churches) were more likely to support raising the state sales tax to fund education. Social construct primes, such as stereotypes, can also shift attitudes.
  • For example, those primed with the “skinhead” stereotype subsequently report more racist attitudes.
  • These effects are especially pronounced among those who have inconsistent or uncertain self-views. For instance, participants primed with the African American stereotype report more stereotype-consistent attitudes (e.g., liking rap music), especially if they are ambivalent regarding relevant stereotype traits (e.g., believe they are both lazy and industrious; DeMarree, Morrison, Wheeler, & Petty, in press).
  • Similarly, participants primed with the elderly stereotype express more conservative attitudes (consistent with the stereotype of the elderly as conservative), especially if they are uncertain regarding an important aspect of the self-concept.
  • Similarly, participants primed with goal-relevant words (e.g, regarding thirst) are subsequently more persuaded by advertisements targeting that goal, but only when they already motivated to pursue that goal.
  • Hence, primes, whether situations, social constructs, or goals, can lead people to hold more prime-consistent attitudes.  LOW EFFORT PROCESSES OF ATTITUDE CHANGE
  • One mechanism by which this can occur is by people incorporating the primed material into their active self concept. Once people view themselves as like the primed concept, relevant attitudes and behaviours will follow.

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