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The Measurement of
Psychology of Attitudes
• Historic
• Measurement Methods
– Behavioral Indicators
– Physiological Measures
– Indirect Measures
– Scales and Self-Reports
How do we know if someone has a
positive attitude towards ice cream?
Indicators of Attitudes
Behavior (She eats it)
Affective reaction (She likes eating it)
Self-Report (She tells us she likes it)
Peer-Report (Her mom tells us)
Physiological Measures (heart rate)
Birth of Attitude Measurement
“Attitudes can be
• Louis Thurstone (1928)
attitudes can be
measured scientifically
• Applied methods of
psychophysics to
Behavioral Indicators
Head movement
• When people listen to messages they
agree with, they tend to move their
heads vertically (nod) more than
horizontally (shake).
Behavioral Indicators
Eye Contact
• Affiliative Conflict Theory - people who like
each other are more intimate and engage
in more intimate behaviors like eye
• Therefore… If two people like each other,
(+ attitude) they will make more eye
contact than if they do not like each other
(- attitude).
Behavioral Indicators
Galvanic Skin Response (GSR)
Drop in the resistance of the skin to the
passage of a weak electric current
indicative of emotion or physiological
arousal (usually measured in the palm of
the hand).
Are emotional responses
related to attitudes?
Galvanic Skin Response (GSR)
• Presentation of pleasant words (e.g., love)
-> increase individuals’ GSRs (i.e., greater
than to neutral).
• Same responses with unpleasant words
(e.g., rape).
• But, not with neutral words (e.g., chair)
were presented to the participants, their
GSRs remained neutral.
What does it mean?
Wink Wink!
• Does the size of a person’s pupils reflect
an attitude?
• Study on the pupillary responses of
pedophiles to pictures of nude adult
women vs. girls.
• Their responses were compared to the
pupillary responses of regular criminals.
Wink Wink
• Pedophiles’ eyes dilated more when they viewed
the pictures of nude girls compared to nude
• The control group (other criminals) showed the
opposite reaction.
• Failure to replicate these results.
• Pupil responds to other features of stimuli other
than positive or negative attitudes (cognitive effort
 dilation).
Facial Electromyographic Recording
• Electrical recording of muscle activity in the
facial region obtained by placing electrodes
on the face.
• Measurement of the muscles needed to
smile (zygomatic) and frown (corrugator).
Indirect Methods
Indirect Methods
• Self-report measures of attitudes vs. other
paper-pencil evalutions.
• Self-report refers exclusively to direct tests
of attitudes when a respondent is aware
that his or her attitude is assessed.
Indirect Methods
• Error-choice method -> attitudes may
distort our cognitions (Hammond,1948).
• “False consensus effect” - tendency to
overestimate the number of people who
share your beliefs and attitudes (Fabrigar
& Krosnick,1995).
Indirect Methods
• Thistlewaite (1950) used content-driven
errors in syllogistic reasoning to study
attitudes (syllogism -> conclusion based on
2 premises).
– All white people are dumb.
– All dumb people should be sterilized.
– Therefore, all white people should be sterilized.
Indirect Methods
• People are less critical to accept conclusions
that are consistent with their attitudes - They
expect that the reasoning is correct (because
congruent with their position).
Indirect Methods
• If students are intrinsically motivated to learn,
then testing can be abandoned.
• If students are intrinsically motivated, then
learning will increase.
• Therefore, learning will increase when testing
is abandoned.
Indirect Methods
• People like others who share similar attitudes
(Hendrick and Seyfried,1974).
• Questionnaires allegedly completed by other
people, and asked respondents how much
they liked this individual.
The Lost Letter Technique
• Milgram dispersed stamped and addressed
envelopes in public places (i.e., appeared to
have been ‘lost’ by someone).
• The letters were addressed to different
organizations including UNICEF and Nazi
• Rationale: Mailing rates (how many letters
were mailed) is indicative of positive
Scales & Self-Reports
• Scales focus on a continuum from very
negative to very positive attitudes.
Determine where on the continuum the
attitudes of individuals fall.
• Core assumption – one can measure
phenomena by assigning numbers /value
on the basis of rules/guidelines.
• Measures can have up to 20-30 questions
on one attitude object.
One-Item Scale
• Question that asks how positively or
negatively one feels about the AO.
• Used in surveys and in experiments
because they:
1. Do a sufficiently good job of measuring
certain attitudes,
2. Avoid redundancy
3. Are extremely brief (cost-efficient)
One-Item Scale
Thermometer scale - how
“warmly” one feels towards
the attitude object.
Construction of an Attitude Scale
1. Creating a set of items (statements
about the attitude object).
2. Determine the location of the items on
an evaluative dimension.
3. Administer the scale to a sample of
respondents and verify that
respondents interpreted the items as
Creation of “good” items
1. Clarity of Attitude Object (i.e., ice cream
vs. eating ice cream).
2. Clarity about the Attitude Component
(e.g., evaluation, beliefs, affect).
3. Clarity of statement (e.g., avoid double
negatives, use simple language).
4. Check clarity using Belson’ (1968)
“rewriting method”.
Thurstone’s Method of EqualAppearing Intervals
1.Panel of judges sort possible items into
groups (positive, negative, neutral) theorized to be equidistant.
2.Items used in the final scale are those with
the highest level of agreement among the
3.Respondents are then asked to state if they
agree with each of the statements. Attitude
scores consist of the average value of the
items agreed with.
Bogardus’s Social Distance Scale
• Attitudes towards members of social or
ethnic groups.
• Rationale - one’s liking for a group is
reflected in the social distance deemed
acceptable (in relationship with members of
the group).
• Respondent’s score = closest distance at which
the relationship is seen as acceptable.
Continuum of Social Distance
Would exclude from my country.
Would accept as visitor only to my country.
Would accept to citizenship to my country.
Would accept for employment in my
occupation in my country.
5. Would accept to my street as neighbors.
6. Would accept to my club as personal chums.
7. Would accept close kinship by marriage.
Likert’s Method of Summated Ratings
• Items based on theoretical understanding of the
construct (attitude toward the AO) - Does not
require pre-sorting/evaluation by a panel of
• Respondents indicate the extent to which they
endorse the statements (e.g., agree / disagree).
• Each response option is assigned a value (e.g.,
-2 to +2; 1 to 7). Individuals score is the sum of
answers across all items.
• Scale homogeneity – items-items and itemsglobal score correlations (not necessarily +
Osgood’s Semantic Differential
• Measures the connotative meaning of the
attitude object.
• Bipolar scales –
good ________________________ bad
• Score - average of the ratings.
Osgood’s Semantic Differential
Three elements of meaning to all concepts:
1.Evaluation (good/bad)*,
2.Potency (strong/weak)
3.Activity (active/passive).
* most relevant to attitudes.
Osgood’s Semantic Differential
Advantage: ability to compare attitudes
towards different objects because it uses
identical items.
Disadvantage: Bipolar response format (all
or nothing).
Problems with verbal report
1. Participants may be unwilling to report their
“real” attitudes because they are socially
unacceptable (i.e., social desirability).
2. We may have some attitudes of which we are
unaware – and over focus on a single
3. Participants’ response styles can affect their
answers (acquiescence or polarization).
Problems of Self-Report Measures
How to control validity (response sets)?
• Social Desirability Scales
• Bogus Pipeline Paradigm
• Anonymous vs. non-anonymous reports.
• The bogus-pipeline procedure is effective in
obtaining more honest responses.
Number of Items
• Important to realize that the more items on a
scale, the more reliable (replicable) the
• Many items reduce the chances that the
attitude score is due to error or chance.
• On the other hand, multiple items can focus
on different aspects of the attitude (i.e., lack
of homogeneity - scale no longer measures
one concept, but two or more.
• Even when the scale is homogeneous, the
instrument can be fastidious, time
consuming and/or redundant.
• Researchers usually use multiple
indicators when inferring attitudes – i.e.,
Reduce measurement “error” and increase