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Social Psychology 320
Lecture 1
Gabriela Ilie
Fall 2006
Department of Psychology
University of Toronto
Attitude change video clip
Outline of today’s lecture
• What is an attitude – definition
• Measurement of Attitudes
– Research methods and designs
– Implicit vs. explicit attitudes (a brief
What is an attitude?
• A mental disposition to favor (pleasurepain) or oppose (approach-avoidance)
certain objects, such as individuals,
groups of people or social policies.
• Thurstone (1931)
“Attitude is the affect for or against a
psychological object” (p.261)
Attitude Object
Anything we have an attitude about:
Individual objects (i.e., ice cream),
Categories (e.g., ice cream flavors),
Individuals (e.g., me),
Groups (e.g., students), or
Abstract ideas (e.g., psychology).
We build up models of how we
view the world, based upon our
experiences based upon what is
happening in the world.
Attitude Object
Attitude: “Gay marriages are good”
Response: “I like gay couples”
Video clip
Video clip 2
• Jones (one of your readings this week)
• Video clip
Both make clear the following point:
Values are never completely isolated from the
other values of the individual or from those
held by the prevalent society.
What is an attitude?
A hypothetical construct, an abstraction (Green, 1953).
Attitudes are not directly observable.
Attitudes are inferred from observable responses. The relevant
observations here are evaluative responses that are elicited by
certain perceived (real or imagined) stimuli, or occur in close
conjunction with the perceived (real or imagined) attitude
If there is an established tendency to respond in a certain way
toward an attitude object, the person has formed an attitude
toward this object.
“You are far too excited about this… what’s in it for you?”
“Look at your life: failure after failure. What do you think this says
about you?”
“I can’t stand that kind of thinking. Why don’t they go back to their
country! “
“You are ugly!”
“You have such a beautiful mind!”
“You are so happy all the time! How can you be so happy???”
How do we know that a person is outgoing or reclusive?
• We cannot observe traits and attitudes – they are
not a part of a person’s physical characteristics,
nor do we have direct access to a person’s
thoughts and feelings.
• Obvious ways in which values enter
• Not-so-obvious ways in which values enter
– The subjective aspects of science
– Psychological concepts contain hidden values
– There is no bridge from “is” to “ought” (the
naturalistic fallacy)
Evaluative Responding
• Attitudes develop on the basis of evaluative
• We cannot unequivocally conclude that an
individual holds an attitude until he/she
responds “evaluatively” to an AO (attitude
Evaluative Responding
1. How do we do define attitudes?
2. Once defined how do we measure
One difficulty always is our interpretation of the data – bias.
“A belief or assertion as to the causal
relationship between two or more variables”
What do Canadians think of gay marriages?
A fundamental assumption in our field: Social problems (such as
the one above) can be studied empirically.
“Let the data decide”
Where do hypotheses come from?
• Current debates in our culture
• Researcher’s own experiences
• Public, puzzling events
– E.g. The college shutting in Montréal
Methodological choices
• The identical social problem can be
studied in different ways
• Choices reflect fundamental values held
by scientist
Operational Definitions
• Examples
Abstract variable
operational definition
Self esteem
Facial muscles
Reaction time
Note: some operational definitions are better than
others—we shall return to this point.
Validity and the
experimental method
• On the “market value” of experiments
• Three types of validity:
– External
– Internal
– Construct
1. External
• Are the results generalizable across…
– Situations
– People (Sears, 1986)
– “One replication is worth a thousand t-tests”
2. Internal Validity
• Definition: Confidence in making a causal
link between your IV and the DV.
• Avoidance of confounds
• Random assignment
• Absence of demand effects
3. Construct Validity
• Two related parts:
– Are you measuring what you think you’re
– Are you manipulating what you think you’re
Construct validity for measurement of variables
Abstract variable
Concrete measure
Facial muscles
Self report; RTs
•In this context, CV is defined as the certainty with which
the abstract variable is being accurately measured by the
concrete variable.
•Higher certainty = higher construct validity
Construct validity for manipulation
of variables
Similar as before, but here concerned with link
between abstract variable and its manipulation.
Abstract variable
Concrete manipulation
“media violence”
Randomly assign participants
to watch 1 hour of either “Kill
Bill” or Mr. Rogers’
“Tricks” (tools of the trade) used by
experimental social psychologists
• Hard to be completely realistic, but they can try
to compensate by…
– Use of confederates, “staging”, sometimes deception
– Make psychological dynamics as real as possible
(even though the setting may be artificial)
• Best example: Milgram (1963) study!
If the experimental method is so great, why
doesn’t everyone use it all the time?
Other methodologies
• Observational and Archival
• Correlational
1. Observational methods
– “hidden camera” or “behind the bushes”
• Strengths vs. Weaknesses
• Often, through surveys
• advantages
• Main disadvantage: Correlation does not
equal causation
– Note: it is not the observation that is being
challenged, it is the interpretation
• Interpretation of correlational designs are
often made more difficult by “third
variable” problems
Some famous goofs in
• 1936 presidential race
– Franklin Delano Roosevelt vs. Alf Landon
- Poll by Literary Digest (based on telephone
surveys) predicts Landon will win
- Affluent voters tended to be conservative, and
affluent voters also more likely to have phones
- Non-representative sample
History repeats itself in 1948 presidential election
Same problem—telephone polling
Are social psychologists influenced by their own
Two “modes” of attitude elicitation
• Fast—rapid processing of
• Relatively effortless
• Unintentional
• Difficult to “stop”
• Slow to change
• Often reflects associative
• Doesn’t necessarily conform to
logical, rational thinking
• Relatively slow
• Often guided by logical,
propositional thought
• Effortful
• Reason-based
Why this distinction is important
• On a basic level—tells us something important about the
architecture of human processing and the brain
• Explains several interesting aspects of attitudes:
– 1. Human beings often think of themselves as rational beings
largely in control of their own actions, but this view is overly
– Automaticity “trumps” control more often than people think
– Sometimes our behavior reflects seemingly irrational processes
and/or impulses we’d rather avoid, if we could
• 2. Automaticity plays a large role when the available information
is scarce and/or ambiguous
– Role of schemas in information processing
Alan goes to a Christmas party
and, even though he has “sworn
off chocolate”, eats
approximately 1.5 pounds of M &
A baseball player hits three home
runs in July. Even though he
knows it’s foolish, he wears the
same pair of “lucky socks” he
wore that day through the end of
You’ve been sworn to secrecy not
to tell anyone about a really juicy
gossip about Mary. You see
Mary’s best friend at a party, and
the next thing you know, you’ve
blurted to the friend everything
you know about the “secret”.
Halfway through a professional
magician’s show, the magician
appears to show the ability to
read other people’s minds. You
know that ESP is completely
bogus—and still feel that way
after the show is over—but for a
few minutes you cannot shake the
feeling that you’ve just witnessed
an act of ESP.
Frank doesn’t consider himself to be
“biased” against racial minorities.
When he meets an African
American man on the street,
however, he finds himself reacting
with more anxiety and fear than he
would if the man were White.
The CN tower in Toronto has the
highest observation deck in the
world. One small part of the deck
floor is made out of glass. The
glass is several feet thick and poses
no more danger than any other part
of the floor. People readily know it
is perfectly safe, but will still walk
around it.
Jean loves chocolate (and is not on
a diet). In an experiment, she is
given a piece of chocolate which is
shaped to look exactly like dog
feces. Jean finds it nearly
impossible to eat the chocolate
without gagging.
Many of the preceding examples illustrate
“trumping” of automaticity over control
But this raises a larger (and more complex) question—how exactly do these
systems “talk” to one another? And, what are the conditions under which control
and automaticity work together, as opposed to in opposition with each other?
How do we know if someone has a positive
attitude towards gay marriages?
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
• 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
Behavioral Indicators
Eye Contact
• Affiliative Conflict Theory - people who like
each other are more intimate and engage in
more intimate behaviors like eye contact.
• 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
• Same responses with unpleasant words (e.g.,
• 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
• 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 women.
• 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 
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 &
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
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 attitude.
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
1. Do a sufficiently good job of measuring certain
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 intended.
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 Equal-Appearing
1.Panel of judges sort possible items into groups
(positive, negative, neutral) - theorized to be
2.Items used in the final scale are those with the
highest level of agreement among the judges.
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
Bogardus’s Social Distance Scale
• Attitudes towards members of social or ethnic
• 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 Attitude Object) 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 items-global
score correlations (not necessarily + correlations).
Osgood’s Semantic Differential
• Measures the connotative meaning of the attitude
• 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
Solution?? ….
An interview face to face?
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
See you next week!