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Social Psychology
Instructor: Briana Harvey
Attitudes, Beliefs, and Consistency
• What Are Attitudes?
• Why Do People Have Them?
• How Attitudes Are Formed
What do you see?
Attitudes and Beliefs
• Beliefs
– Pieces of information about something; facts or opinions
– “It is cloudy outside”
– “Obama is US president”
• Attitudes
– Global evaluations toward some object or issue
– “I hate cloudy days”
– “I like Obama as a president”
"Every man has reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone
but only his friends. He has other matters in his mind which he
would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that
in secret. But there are other things which a man is afraid to tell
even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such
things stored away in his mind.“
-Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Dual Attitudes
• Dual Attitudes
– Different evaluations of the same object
– Implicit or Explicit
Dual Attitudes
• Explicit attitude
– Conscious evaluative response
– “Speak your mind”
• Implicit attitude
– Automatic evaluative response
– “Know your mind”
Implicit Association Test (IAT)
• Measures implicit attitudes
– Those we are unwilling or unable to report
– Attitudes about stereotyped or stigmatized groups
– e.g., The elderly, the obese, homosexuals, Muslims,
ethnic/racial minorities, poor people
– A stigma is an attribute that is perceived by
others as broadly negative
Why People Have Attitudes
• Attitudes help us deal with a complex world
• Attitudes are evaluations (like or dislike)
– Initial evaluations are immediate and unconscious
• Attitudes are helpful in making choices
How Attitudes Are Formed
• Mere-exposure effect:
– The tendency for people to come to like things
simply because they see or encounter them
– Exception - If you dislike something initially,
repeated exposure will not change that attitude
• Stimuli may be presented at subliminal level
Mere-Exposure Effect
• Zajonc (1968) tested mere exposure hypothesis
– Presented participants with Turkish words, Chinese
characters, and yearbook photos
– Varied how many times participants were exposed
– Asked ‘How much do you like this?’
How Attitudes Are Formed
• Can you recall the last time you were nauseous and/or
• What is your attitude now toward whatever you
drank/ate around that time?
• Classical Conditioning:
– Type of learning in which, through repeated
pairings, a neutral stimulus comes to evoke a
conditioned response.
How Attitudes Are Formed
• Classical Conditioning
– Can form both explicit and implicit attitudes
– Develop a positive attitude toward the conditioned
– Advertisers link celebrities and products
– Advertisers drop celebrities when negative
associations occur
How Attitudes Are Formed
• Operant Conditioning
– A type of learning in which people are more likely
to repeat behaviors that have been rewarded and
less likely to repeat behaviors that have been
– Develop a positive attitude toward something being
Operant Conditioning
How Attitudes Are Formed
• Social Learning:
– A type of learning in which people are more likely
to imitate behaviors if they have seen others
rewarded for performing them, and less likely to
imitate behaviors if they have seen others punished
for performing them.
– Learn attitudes acceptable through observation
– Vicarious learning
How Attitudes Are Formed
• Polarization - Attitudes become more
extreme as we think about them
– Especially true in strong initial attitude
– Evaluate evidence in a biased manner
– Accept evidence that confirms attitude
• For example: Dr. Kevorkian and assisted suicide
Attitudes, Beliefs, and Consistency
• Cognitive Dissonance Theory
• Do Attitudes Really Predict Behavior?
• Beliefs and Believing
Balance Theory
• P-O-X Theory (or Balance theory)
– Person – Other Person – Attitude Object (X)
• Relationships among P-O-X
– Can be balanced or unbalanced
– Individuals prefer balanced to unbalanced
– Unbalanced – motivated to change
– Balanced: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”
Multiply the signs (+ or -) and that tells you is if
the outcome is positive (balanced) or negative
• Unlike other animals, humans feel the need to be
– Inconsistency is unpleasant
– We specify conditions required to restore consistency
• Balance theory (P-O-X) explains that the relationships
between person, other person, and attitude object are
balanced or unbalanced
– Unbalanced relationships (inconsistent states) motivate
people to achieve balanced (consistent states) relationships
Cognitive Dissonance Theory
• Cognitive dissonance refers to unpleasant state when
attitude and behavior are inconsistent
– Causes people to rationalize their behavior and bring their
attitude into line with actions
Cognitive Dissonance Theory
If not paid enough to soothe their
dissonance, subjects lied to themselves.
Why does Cognitive Dissonance Theory
• Effort Justification:
– People seek to justify and rationalize any suffering
or effort they have made
– Stronger attachment once this justification is made
– For example: fraternity or sorority hazing
Cognitive Dissonance Example
• Consider someone who buys an expensive car but
discovers that it is not comfortable on long drives
– Dissonance exists between their beliefs that they have
bought a good car and that a good car should be comfortable
Cognitive Dissonance Example
• Dissonance could be eliminated by
– Deciding that it does not matter since the car is mainly used
for short trips (reducing the importance of the dissonant
– Focusing on the car’s strengths such as safety, appearance,
and handling (thereby adding more consonant beliefs).
– Getting rid of the car, but this behavior is a lot harder to
achieve than changing beliefs.
Food for Thought
Would You Eat a Bug or a Worm?
• Eat a worm? Change your attitude!
(Comer & Laird, 1975)
– Your task:
– A: Which weight is heavier?
– B: Eat this worm!
• No one had to eat worm
– But those told to actually reported “okay” feeling toward it
• Sometimes people will choose to suffer an expected
consequence, but only if they change their beliefs and
Justifying Choices
• If you perform an action but have no choice in
the matter, then there is no need to rationalize
Justifying Choices
Post-decision dissonance
– Difficult decisions involve tradeoffs
– Justify our choices to reduce cognitive dissonance
– By increasing the attractiveness of our choice
– Decreasing the attractiveness of the rejected
Justifying Choices
Tyranny of choice
– Some choice is better than none
– Too many choices are not always better than less
– Information overload
Justifying Choices
Justifying Choices-Two types of people
• Best possible choice
• Good enough choice
• Never stop looking
• Stop looking
• Never happy with
• Happier
• Less life satisfaction
• Less optimistic
• More life satisfaction
• More optimistic
Advances in Dissonance Theory
Is dissonance an arousal state?
•Studies indicate Yes!
•Feel uncomfortable
People have strong desire to be seen as consistent to others
•Don’t want to be labeled hypocrites
•Don’t want to be socially rejected
Attitude-Behavior Inconsistency
A-B Problem
• Problem of inconsistency between attitudes (A)
and behaviors (B)
The Social Side of Sex
• Gender gap in Attitude-Behavior consistency
– Men have little cognitive dissonance when it comes to sex!
• Men’s attitudes predict their sexual behavior much
better than women
– They are honest!
• Women’s sexual responses are specific to the person
and the situation so general attitudes are not as
– Double standard??
Defending Attitudes
• Predictions of behavior based on attitudes is best when
1. Measures of attitude are very specific
2. Behaviors are aggregated over time and situations
3. Attitudes come to mind easily
1. Specific Attitudes
• When attitudes specific to the behavior are examined,
we are better able to predict behavior
– General attitudes (“I like old people”) are poor
predictors of specific behaviors (“Will I help my
elderly neighbor carry his groceries today?”)
2. Aggregated (summed) Attitudes
• When we can view attitudes and subsequent behavior
over time, we can better predict future behavior
– Attitude toward religion is a poor predictor of whether
someone will go to church next weekend…
– But it is a good predictor of religious behaviors over time
(Fishbein & Ajzen, 1974; Kahle & Berman, 1979)
3. Attitudes comes easy to mind..
• When attitudes are strong and come easily to mind,
they are more likely to predict behavior
Behavior Does Influence Attitude!
Doing a favor for someone usually increases your liking for that
individual (Blanchard & Cook, 1976)
– “I must like him or I wouldn’t have done that favor for
Beliefs and Believing
• Consistency is important for beliefs also!!
• Believing is automatic
– Understanding requires controlled, conscious thought
• Duplex mind
– Automatic system
– Uncritical and accepting (facts, opinions)
– Conscious system
– Can override and change belief to disbelief
Fire Fighter Story
• Please complete
What SHOULD have happened
• Once beliefs form it is resist to change
– Despite bogus evidence, continue to believe
– Example: Two groups told:
1. Risky people make better firefighters
2. Cautious people make better firefighters
– Both groups told they were given bogus info
– But they kept their beliefs long
after the study
(Anderson, Leper & Ross, 1980)
Beliefs and Coping
• Coping
– How people attempt to deal with traumas and go
back to functioning effectively in life
• Assumptive Worlds-beliefs about reality
1. The world is benevolent
2. The world is fair and just
3. I am a good person
– Tend to make downward comparisons if these
assumptions are shattered- It could have been worse