Attitudes and Attitude Change
13 Social Psychology
STEP 4 Review the Knowledge You Need to Score High
One of the more striking ways that groups can affect us is through the shaping of our attitudes—or learned predispositions to respond in a favorable or unfavorable way to a specific object, person, or event. Some of our attitudes are a product of belonging to a particular culture. Through the mere exposure effect, we unconsciously begin to adopt the beliefs of our parents, friends, and significant others. Attitudes are relatively stable, but they are not good predictors of our behavior. Many people claim to be honest citizens yet cheat on their income taxes or spouses.
Ways of Changing Attitudes
Corporations’ and other enterprises’ persuasive techniques attempt to exploit what is known about attitudes to convince people to alter their attitudes in a specific direction. The elaboration likelihood model looks at two ways attitudes can be changed. Using a central route of persuasion, the speaker uses facts, figures, and other information to enable listeners to carefully process the information and think about their opinions. Opinions changed using the central route of persuasion tend to be more stable than those formed through the peripheral route. Frequently used by advertisers, superficial information is used to distract the audience to win favorable approval of their product, and to increase sales. Supermodels or well-known popular athletes are paired with the product, and through classical conditioning, people transfer their liking of the popular figure to the product. Attitudes changed through the peripheral route are less stable.
Other important issues related to changing attitudes include the communicator and the message. Communicators who are perceived as experts in their fields are especially effective. Others who are deeply admired by the audience and those that are seen as fairly attractive will also have a favorable impact. The message must be geared to the specific audience. If the audience has the same opinion as the speaker, facts are chosen that reinforce that position. However, to gain credibility with audiences whose opinions are not the same, a good speaker will begin with sound arguments supporting the audience’s initial point of view but then conclude with even stronger evidence for the opposing side. Emotional appeals can be valuable as well in persuasion. A moderate level of fear and information about how to avoid the fearful situation seems to be the most effective combination. If appealing for sympathy and contributions to a charitable cause, moderation is also vitally important for success.
Cognitive dissonance is yet another factor that causes individuals to change their attitudes. Dissonance is the tension that results from holding conflicting beliefs, attitudes, opinions, or values or when our actions do not coincide with these cognitions. Leon Festinger thought that we are motivated to keep our cognitions consistent. He conducted an experiment in which students completed boring tasks and then were asked if they would lie and tell other students that the task was actually interesting. He paid some subjects $20 to lie and others only $1. When he asked these subjects 2 weeks later about the task, the subjects who were paid $20 still believed that the task was boring; however, those who were paid only $1 revised their opinion and believed the task to be more interesting than they had at first believed. A difference between their beliefs about themselves being honest and their agreement to lie to others caused them sufficient dissonance to change their opinion. Apparently $1 was not enough justification for having acted the way they had.