Social Psychology

Student Learning Program

Chapter 7: Attitudes and attitude change (pp. 229267)

What's it about?

An attitude is a reaction to an attitude object that can range from a subtle (unconscious) evaluative reaction, to a more direct expression in words or deeds. Implicit attitudes can differ from explicit attitudes. Attitudes are useful because they help people to master their social environment and to express important connections with others. Attitudes are assembled from beliefs, feelings, and information about actions toward the object. Negative information and accessible information are weighted more heavily. Once an attitude forms, it becomes (closely) linked to the representation of the object.

When people are targets of persuasion, they often do not give persuasive communications much thought. In this case various superficial aspects of the persuasive appeal, like persuasion heuristics, can lead to attitude change.

The mere exposure effect can make people feel more positively about objects they have frequently encountered. When people do pay attention to a message, understand its content, and react to it (a process called elaboration), systematic processing can change attitudes. Attitudes resulting from such careful consideration are more persistent. People process messages systematically only when they have both the motivation and the cognitive capacity to do so. Messages that match people's motivational goals and their capacity states are most persuasive. Positive and negative emotional states influence persuasion because they have motivational and capacity consequences.

People often seek to resist persuasion, and one of their best weapons is awareness. People protect established attitudes by ignoring or resisting information that threatens them. However many people overestimate their ability to resist persuasive appeals. Subliminal persuasion gains some of its power because people do not realize they are the target of a persuasive attempt. Information presented outside of conscious awareness can influence attitudes and persuasion, but careful consideration of attitude objects can weaken the influence of subliminal information.

In this chapter

  1. Chapter 7 introduction
  2. Attitudes and their origins
  3. Superficial and systematic routes to persuasion: From snap judgments to considered opinions
  4. Defending attitudes: Resisting persuasion
  5. Chapter overview (PDF)
  6. Fill-in-the-blanks
  7. Multiple-choice questions