we have now seen, our relations with the people who surround us depend to a
large extent on our beliefs. These
beliefs include our assumptions about how others’ behavior should be
interpreted, and our beliefs about how the various attributes in someone’s
personality fit together, and also our beliefs about Jews, or African
Americans, or the Irish. Moreover, these beliefs are not just “cold”
cognitions—dispassionate assertions about the world. Instead, they are often
“hot,” in the sense that they have motivational components and can trigger (and
be triggered by) various emotions. Psychologists refer to these beliefs as attitudes.
have attitudes about topics as diverse as the death penalty, abortion,
bilingual education, the importance of environmental pro-tection, and need for
civility in everyday social interaction (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993). The belief
that defines each attitude is almost inevitably associated with emotional
feelings and a predisposition to act in accordance with the belief and
feelings. Thus, people who dif-fer in their attitudes on abortion are certain
to have different beliefs about the moral status of this procedure, but also
will have different feelings about the family planning clinic they pass every
day, and dif-ferent levels of commitment to showing up at a rally protesting
their state’s abortion laws (Figure 13.6).
do attitudes arise? Some of our attitudes are based on our consideration of the
facts. We carefully weigh the pros and cons of an argument and make up our
minds about whether we should endorse the argument’s conclusion or not. In many
other cases, however, the sources of our attitudes are not quite so rational.
we acquire our attitudes through one of the forms of learning. In some cases,
the learning is akin to classical
conditioning. For exam-ple, we might repeatedly see a brand of cigarettes
paired with an appealing person or a cool cartoon character and wind up
associating the two, leaving us with a positive atti-tude toward that brand of
cigarettes (Figure 13.7; Cacioppo, Marshall-Goodell, Tassinary, & Petty,
1992). In other cases, attitudes can be formed via a process akin to operant conditioning, when, for example,
parents reward behavior they would like toencourage, such as hard work at
school and good table manners. The end result of this
in many cases, is a favorable attitude toward certain work habits and certain
forms of etiquette. In still other cases, attitudes emerge from a sort of observationallearning. We see a
respected peer endorse a particular attitude, or we observe someonebenefit from
an attitude. In either case, we may then to endorse the attitude ourselves.
happens once we form an attitude? In many cases, we are bombarded by messages
exhorting us to change the attitude; sometimes these messages are effective and
some-times not. Sometimes a TV commercial persuades us to switch our brand of
toothpaste, but other times we remain loyal to our usual brand. Sometimes a
politician persuades us to change our vote, but other times we hold our ground.
Examples like these lead us to ask, When do attitudes change, and when do they
stay the same?
answer this question, we need to make a crucial distinction between two types
of persuasion, each based on a different mode of processing information (Petty
& Briñol, 2008). In the central
route to persuasion, we carefully track the information we receive and
elaborate its arguments with considerations of our own. We take this route if
the issue matters to us and if we are not diverted by other concerns. In this
case, we are keenly sensitive to the credibility and trustworthiness of the
message’s source (Aronson, Turner, & Carlsmith, 1963; Hovland and Weiss,
1952; Walster, Aronson, & Abrahams, 1966). We also pay close attention to
the content of the persuasive message, and so—sensibly—strong arguments will be
more effective in changing our mind than weak ones.
situation is different, though, if a message comes by way of the peripheral routeto persuasion. Here, we
devote far fewer cognitive resources to processing incominginformation. We use
this mode of information processing if we do not care much about an issue or if
we are distracted. In such circumstances, content and arguments matter little.
What counts instead is how and by whom the message is presented (Petty &
Briñol, 2008; Petty & Cacioppo, 1986; Petty, Wegener, & Fabrigar, 1997;
for a closely related view, see Chaiken, Liberman, & Eagly, 1989). Thus, we
are likely to be persuaded by an attractive and charismatic spokesperson
offering familiar catchphrases—even if she makes poor arguments (Figure 13.8).
path to attitude change is direct experience with the target of one’s attitude.
This path has been particularly relevant in attempts to change prejudice toward
the members of a particular group. In one early study of this issue, twenty-two
11- and 12-year-old boys took part in an outdoor program at Robbers Cave State
Park in Oklahoma (so named because Jesse James was said to have hidden out
there). The boys were divided into two groups, each of which had its own
activities, such as baseball and swimming. Within a few days the two groups—the
Eagles and the Rattlers—had their own identities, norms, and leaders. The
researchers then began to encourage intergroup rivalry through a competitive
tournament in which valuable prizes were promised to the winning side.
Relations between the two groups became increasingly hostile and even violent,
with food fights, taunts, and fist fights (Sherif, 1966; Sherif, Harvey, White,
Hood, & Sherif, 1961).
At this point, the researchers intervened and established goals for the boys that could be achieved only through cooperation between the two groups. In one instance, the researchers disrupted the camp’s water supply, and the boys had to pool their resources in order to fix it. In another instance, the camp truck stalled, and the boys had to team up to get it moving. By working together on goals they all cared about—but could achieve only through collective effort—the boys broke down the divisions that had previously dominated camp life and ended their stay on good terms.
recent studies have confirmed the implication of this study—namely, that
intergroup contact can have a powerful effect on attitudes about the other
group, espe-cially if the contact is sustained over a period of time, involves
active cooperation in pursuit of a shared goal, and provides equal status for
all participants (see, for example, Aronson & Patnoe, 1997; Henry & Hardin,
2006; Pettigrew, 1998; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006; Tropp & Pettigrew,
2005). We can also take steps to increase outgroup empathy (T. A. Cohen &
Insko, 2008) and to encourage the prejudiced person to develop an
individualized perception of the other group and so lose the “they’re all
alike” attitude (Dovidio & Gaertner, 1999).
another route to attitude change is through our own behavior. At first, this
may seem odd, because common sense argues that attitudes cause behavior, and
not the other way around. But sometimes our own behaviors can cause us to
change our views of the world.
his classic work on this problem, Leon Festinger argued that people put a high
value on being consistent, so that any perceived inconsistency among their
beliefs, feelings, and behavior creates a very uncomfortable state of cognitive dissonance (Figure 13.9; J.
Cooper, 2007; Festinger, 1957, 1962; Harmon-Jones & Mills, 1999). How do
people escape this aversive state? In one study, Festinger and Carlsmith (1959)
asked participants to perform several extremely boring tasks, such as packing
spools into a tray and then unpacking them, or turning one knob after another
for a quarter turn. When they were finished, the participants were induced to
tell the next partici-pant that the tasks were very interesting. Half the
participants were paid reasonably well for this lie (they were given $20); the
others were given just $1. Later, when asked
much they enjoyed the tasks, the well-paid participants said that the tasks
were boring and that they understood that they had lied to the other
participants. In con-trast, the poorly paid participants claimed that the
monotonous tasks were fairly inter-esting, and that what they told the other
participants was the truth.
produces this odd pattern? According to Festinger, the well-paid liars knew why
they had mouthed sentiments they did not endorse: $20 was reason enough. The
poorly paid liars, however, had experienced cognitive dissonance, thanks to the
fact that they had misled other people without good reason for doing so. They
had, in other words, received insufficient
justification for their action. Taken at face value, this made them look
like casual and unprincipled liars, a view that conflicted with how they wanted
to see themselves. How could they reconcile their behavior with their
self-concept? One solution was to reevaluate the boring tasks. If they could
change their mind about the tasks and decide they were not so awful, then there
was no lie and hence no dissonance. Judging from the data, this is apparently
the solution that the partici-pants selected—bringing their attitudes into line
with their behavior.
findings help make sense of why many organizations have difficult or aversive
entrance requirements (Figure 13.10). For example, many American college
fraternities have hazing rituals that are unpleasant and in some cases
humiliating or worse. Although these rituals may be objectionable, they do
serve a function. They lead new fraternity members to place a higher value on
their membership than they otherwise would. They know what they have suffered
to achieve membership, and it would create dissonance for them to believe that
they have suffered for no purpose. They can avoid this dissonance though, if
they are convinced that their membership is really valuable. In that case,
their suffering was “worth it.”
is no question about the data patterns associated with cognitive dissonance,
but many researchers have disagreed with Festinger over why the pattern
emerges. The most important challenge to Festinger’s account is Daryl Bem’s self-perception theory (1967, 1972).
According to this conception, there is no need to postulate the emotional
distress that allegedly accompanies cognitive dissonance and, according to
Festinger, propels atti-tude change. Instead, we can understand the data in
terms of the information available to the participants in these experiments.
Specifically, the research participants are simply try-ing to make sense of
their own behavior in much the same way that an outside observer might. Thus,
in the knob-turning study, self-perception theory would hold that a
partici-pant in the $1 condition would have known that $1 was insufficient
justification for lying and so would have concluded that he did not lie. On
this basis, if he said the task was fun and if he was not lying, then the task apparently
line of interpretation makes sense of many other results as well. Consider
stud-ies of the so-called foot-in-the-door technique originally devised by
door-to-door salesmen. In one study, an experimenter asked suburban homeowners
to comply with an innocuous request, to put a 3-inch-square sign advocating
auto safety in a window of their home. Two weeks later, a different
experimenter came to visit the same home-owners and asked them to grant a much
bigger request, to place on their front lawn an enormous billboard that
proclaimed “Drive Carefully” in huge letters. The results showed that whether
people granted the larger request was heavily influenced by whether they had
earlier agreed to the smaller request. The homeowners who had com-plied with
the small request were much more likely to give in to the greater one (Freedman
& Fraser, 1966; although, for limits on this technique, see Burger &
Guadagno, 2003; Chartrand, Pinckert, & Burger, 1999).
to self-perception theory, the homeowners, having agreed to put up the small
sign, now thought of themselves as active citizens involved in a public issue.
“Why did I put up the sign? No one forced me to do it. I guess, therefore, that
this is an issue that I care about.” Thus, they interpreted their actions as
revealing a convic-tion that previously they did not know they had, and given
that they now thought of themselves as active, convinced, and involved, they
were ready to play the part on a larger scale. Fortunately for the neighbors,
the billboards were never installed—after all, this was an experiment. But in
real life we may not be so easily let off the hook, and the foot-in-the-door
approach is a common device for persuading the initially uncommitted.
now seen that attitudes can be changed in many ways—by certain forms of
persuasion (if the source is credible and trustworthy and if the message is
appropri-ate), by intergroup contact (in the case of prejudice), and by
tendencies toward cog-nitive consistency (especially with regard to acts we
have already performed). Given these points, and given all the many powerful
forces aimed at changing our attitudes, it might seem that our attitudes would
be in continual flux, changing from moment to moment and day to day. But on
balance, the overall picture is one of attitude sta-bility rather than attitude
change. Attitudes can be altered, but it takes some doing. By and large, we
seem to have a tendency to hold on to the attitudes we already have (Figure
should this be so? One reason for attitude stability is that people rarely make
changes in their social or economic environments. Their families, their friends
and fellow workers, their social and economic situations—all tend to remain
much the same over the years. All of this means that people will be exposed to
many of the same influences year in and year out, and this sameness will
obviously promote stability—in people’s beliefs, values, and inclinations.
Moreover, most of us tend to be surrounded by people with atti-tudes not so
different from our own. After all, top-level executives know other top
execu-tives, college students know other college students, and trade union
members know other union members. As a result, we are likely, day by day, to encounter
few challenges to our attitudes, few contrary opinions, and this, too, promotes
Of course, some events may transform attitudes completely—not just our own, but those of everyone around us. One example is the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Without a doubt, this led to an instant and radical change in Americans’ attitudes toward Japan. A more recent example is the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. These attacks dramatically increased Americans’ fear of terrorism and raised public support for a number of actions (including two wars that would never have unfolded if Americans had been less concerned about the country’s security). But by their very nature, such events—and the extreme changes in attitudes they produce—are rare.