Lecture 02 - Social Psych



(Adapted from Liska; Handbook of Social Psychology [The cognitive perspective]; Michener et al; Myers; Social Psychology, edited by Arnold Kahn; "A new look at dissonance theory"; Ajzen and Fishbein piece in Contemporary Issues in Social Psychology; Rich Williams's dissertation)

I. Overview.

1. Definition. Attitude = a favorable or unfavorable evaluative reaction toward something or someone, exhibited in ones beliefs, feelings, or intended behavior (Myers, p. 36). It is a social orientation - an underlying inclination to respond to something either favorably or unfavorably.

2. Components of attitudes.

a. Cognitive - our thoughts, beliefs, and ideas about something. When a human being is the object of an attitude, the cognitive component is frequently a stereotype, e.g. "welfare recipients are lazy"

b. Affective - feelings or emotions that something evokes. e.g. fear, sympathy, hate. May dislike welfare recipients.

c. Conative, or behavioral - tendency or disposition to act in certain ways toward something. Might want to keep welfare recipients out of our neighborhood. Emphasis is on the tendency to act, not the actual acting; what we intend and what we do may be quite different.

II. Theories of attitude formation and change.

1. Functionalist theory. Daniel Katz proposed a functionalist theory of attitudes. He takes the view that attitudes are determined by the functions they serve for us. People hold given attitudes because these attitudes help them achieve their basic goals. Katz distinguishes four types of psychological functions that attitudes meet.

A. Instrumental - we develop favorable attitudes towards things that aid or reward us. We want to maximize rewards and minimize penalties. Katz says we develop attitudes that help us meet this goal. We favor political parties that will advance our economic lot - if we are in business, we favor the party that will keep our taxes low, if unemployed we favor one that will increase social welfare benefits. We are more likely to change our attitudes if doing so allows us to fulfill our goals or avoid undesirable consequences.

B. Knowledge - attitudes provide meaningful, structured environment. In life we seek some degree of order, clarity, and stability in our personal frame of reference. Attitudes help supply us with standards of evaluation. Via such attitudes as stereotypes, we can bring order and clarity to the complexities of human life.

C. Value-expressive - Express basic values, reinforce self-image. EX: if you view yourself as a Catholic, you can reinforce that image by adopting Catholic beliefs and values. EX: We may have a self-image of ourselves as an enlightened conservative or a militant radical, and we therefore cultivate attitudes that we believe indicate such a core value.

D. Ego-defensive - Some attitudes serve to protect us from acknowledging basic truths about ourselves or the harsh realities of life. They serve as defense mechanisms. EX: Those with feelings of inferiority may develop attitude of superiority.

Katz's functionalist theory also offers an explanation as to why attitudes change. According to Katz, an attitude changes when it no longer serves its function and the individual feels blocked or frustrated. That is, according to Katz, attitude change is achieved not so much by changing a person's information or perception about an object, but rather by changing the person's underlying motivational and personality needs.

EX: As your social status increases, your attitudes toward your old car may change - you need something that better reflects your new status. (For that matter, your attitudes toward your old friends may change as well).

2. Learning theory (which stresses attitude formation). There are several means by which we learn attitudes.

a. Classical conditioning. EX: A father angrily denounces the latest increase in income taxes. A mother happily announces the election of a candidate she worked for. These parents are expressing opinions, but they are also displaying nonverbal behavior that expresses their emotions. For a child watching the parents, the association between the topic and the nonverbal behavior will become obvious if repeated often enough. And the nonverbal behavior will trigger emotional responses in the child: the child feels upset and disturbed when listening to the father and happy when listening to the mother.

This is an example of classical conditioning: when two stimuli are repeatedly associated, the child learns to respond to them with a similar emotional reaction. In this case, the stimuli are the attitude topic and the parental emotion. Through repeated association, a formerly neutral stimulus (the attitude topic - taxes or politicians) begins to elicit an emotional reaction (the response) that was previously solicited only by another stimulus (the parental emotion). Whenever tax increases are mentioned, the child feels an unpleasant emotion; when the elected official is mentioned, the child feels a pleasant emotion.

EX: Pavlov's dogs. Bell was rung when dogs received food. Food made dogs salivate. Then whenever a bell was rung, dogs salivated even when food was not present.

EX: When you were a child, parents may have cheered for N.D. football. You may not have even known what N.D. football was, but you liked your parents happy attitude. Now N.D. football evokes that same response in you.

EX: Men with bow ties. Meet a bad man who wears bow ties, and you may come to hate all bow ties.

COMMENT: This explains why behaviors can persist even after reinforcement is withdrawn. Also helps explain self-reinforcement.

b. Instrumental, or operant, conditioning. Behaviors or attitudes that are followed by positive consequences are reinforced and are more likely to be repeated than are behaviors and attitudes that are followed by negative consequences.

EX: People agree with your opinion.

c. Observational learning. Children watch the behavior of people around them and imitate what they see. EX: If a young girl hears her mother denounce all elected officials as crooks, she may repeat that opinion in class the next day. Whether she continues to repeat that opinion depends on the responses of her classmates, teacher, and parents. That is, observations determine the responses we learn, but reinforcement determines the responses we express.

3. Cognitive dissonance theory - stresses attitude change - and that behaviors can determine attitudes.

A. Defn: Cognition = individuals perception of own attitudes, beliefs, behaviors. Cognitive dissonance = feelings of tension that arise when one is simultaneously aware of two inconsistent cognitions. For example, when we act contrary to our attitudes; or, when we make a decision favoring one alternative despite reasons favoring another.

B. Consistency theories hypothesize that, should inconsistencies develop among cognitions, people are motivated to restore harmony.

C. Key propositions of dissonance theory

1. Dissonance theory says relationships among two cognitions can be either consonant, dissonant, irrelevant

2. Cognitive dissonance is a noxious state. It produces unpleasant physical arousal.

3. Individual will attempt to reduce or eliminate dissonance - and will try to avoid things that increase dissonance.

EX: Selective observation.

4. Cognitive dissonance can be reduced or eliminated only by (a) adding new cognitions, or (b) changing existing ones.

EX: Can change our minds. Decide we were wrong.

EX: Can "make up" information, as in the "When prophesy fails" example.

EX: We may seek new information that can restore consonance.

EX: Try to discredit source of dissonance in some way - either by making up info or seeking counter-evidence.

D. Sources of dissonance

1. Informational inconsistency. Receive information that contradicts what they already know or believe.

EX: Suppose you believe George Bush did not know about Iran-Contra - and then suppose Oliver North testified that he was the mastermind behind it. (Real life example: some Iranians are said to believe George Bush did head up Iran-Contra, since he used to be head of the CIA and they think the CIA runs the country.)

2. Disconfirmed expectations. People prepare themselves for an event that never occurs - or even worse, an event whose opposite occurs. EX: You expect to do well on an exam, and you don't.

EX: When prophesy fails. In 1955, Marian Keech predicted that a great flood was going to destroy the Western Hemisphere on Dec. 21. She said she got her information from the planet Clarion. She attracted a band of followers, and received further messages about how the faithful could save themselves. Midnight of the big day came and passed, and nothing happened. At 4:45 a.m., they received a Christmas message informing them that because of their commitment and faithfulness, the earth had been spared.

Q: How did the followers behave, both before and after the event?

Prior to the big day, they were very secretive, and shunned publicity. After the big day, they called the media, sent out press releases, and recruited new followers. Why?

Many of these people had quit their jobs, and broken up with their spouses and friends, based on a belief that had been disconfirmed. This produced dissonance. They couldn't deny their past beliefs - they couldn't say the flood had occurred - they couldn't deny they had quit their jobs. They could have decided they were mistaken, but that would create dissonance with other cognitions, such as their being intelligent people. hence, they convinced themselves they were right all along, and their faithfulness had saved the world. Further, if they could convince others to adopt their views, this would affirm their sense that their views were correct.

3. Insufficient justification for behavior. People do things which they lack justification for.

EX: In a classic Festinger experiment, subjects were given a peg board and told to carefully turn each peg 1/4 turn. Then, after doing all the pegs, they were told to turn them another 1/4 turn. Later they had to carefully remove each peg, and then put them all back. After an hour, they were told they were done. The experimenter then said "We are comparing the performance of subjects who are briefed in advance with those who are not briefed in advance. You did not receive a briefing. The next subject is supposed to be briefed, but my assistance who usually does this couldn't come to work today." Subjects were then asked to tell the next student the task was fun and exciting, and were offered either $1 or $20 for doing so. Those who only got paid a $1 were more likely to report they thought the task was interesting, because they lacked a strong justification for their actions.

4. Postdecision dissonance - after every decision, you feel dissonance because you have rejected some good things and accepted some bad. We tend to become more certain of decisions afterwards.

EX: Bettors approached after they had placed bets at the racetrack were more sure of their choices than those approached before placing bets.

NOTE: This does not mean we never regret a decision. Disconfirmed expectations, new information, or whatever may cause us feel we made a mistake. However, until these new events/information or whatever comes along, we will tend to feel more confident about our decision. Obviously, in the case of the racetrack example, people may have felt more confident after they placed their bets, but after the race was run a lot of them probably didn't feel so confident anymore!

E. Not all inconsistencies result in cognitive dissonance. How is inconsistency possible?

1. Cognitions may not be important to the individual - hence inconsistency does not produce discomfort.

2. Cognitions may not come in contact with each other - contradictions can go unnoticed. Behavior may be mindless. EX: We might enjoy a national park - without realizing we are overtaxing it.

NOTE: The following relate primarily to counterattitudinal behavior.

3. Aversive consequences are not perceived. In order for cognitive dissonance to occur, a product must result from the counterattitudinal behavior. That product is the bringing about, or possible occurrence, of an aversive event. Aversive event = something that goes against your self interest, or that you would rather not have occur.

EX: In a variation of the boring tasks experiment, some subjects were led to believe they had actually deceived their fellow student, while others thought they had not deceived them. Only those who thought they had succeeded experienced dissonance.

EX: In another variation, subjects were led to like or dislike the other student. The only subjects who changed their attitude about the task were those who successfully convinced a student they liked.

Note that the consequences need not actually occur; it is the subjects perceptions that the consequences will result from their actions that is important.

4. Person must feel personally responsible. If the person feels that environmental forces caused the action, or that the unwanted events were unforeseeable, they won't feel dissonance. How voluntary is the behavior? Were the consequences foreseeable. Note that foreseeable is not the same as foreseen - if you could have foreseen it but didn't, you can feel dissonance.

We close with a commonly proposed alternative to dissonance theory.

4. Bem's Self-perception theory. Says we infer our attitudes from our behavior. There is no tension, rather, behavior just serves an informative purpose. We calmly observe our behavior, and draw reasonable inferences from it, just as we do when observing other people.

EX: In the Festinger experiment, those who got $20 would assume their behavior was forced by the environment. Those who only got $1 would assume they did what they did because what they said was true.

EX: Bem showed that the results of cognitive dissonance experiments could be replicated quite well by observers. People read descriptions of the procedures, and predicted people's attitudes correctly.

EX: "I must have really been tired, I slept a long time."

"I must not like him, I was really rude to him."

"I must really like this course, I studied really hard for the exam."

It is hard to choose between self-perception and cognitive dissonance theory since both usually make the same predictions. However, there is evidence that, as c. d. theory predicts, physiological arousal (that is, tension) accompanies dissonance conditions. Further, when arousal is eliminated (through the use of drugs or alcohol), attitude change does not occur.

On the other hand, self-perception can explain some things dissonance can't. For example, when people are suddenly rewarded for doing something they did before just because they liked it, they can come to like it less.

EX: (From Myers): Child was reading 6-8 books a week. Library then started a reading club which promised a party to those who read 10 books in three months. Child started checking out only 1 or 2 books a week. Why? "Because you only need to read 10 books."

Myers suggests dissonance theory successfully explains what happens when we act contrary to our clearly defined attitudes. We feel tension, so we adjust our attitudes to reduce it. Dissonance explains attitude change. When attitudes aren't well-formed, self-perception theory explains attitude formation that occurs as we act and reflect. (I think he may be right about the latter point, but I'm not so sure about the first.) Key thing, then, is how discrepant is the behavior with the attitude.

III. Real world applications

a. Racism. It has often been said you can't legislate morality. Yet, changes in civil rights laws and policies have been accompanied by changes in attitudes. Since Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, the percentage of white Americans favoring integrated schools has more than doubled. Since Civil rights act of 1964, the percentage of white Americans who described their neighborhoods, friends, co-workers, or fellow students as all white declined by 20 percent for each of these measures. Possible explanations:

1. Disconfirmed expectations. Predicted calamities did not occur.

2. Information inconsistent with previous beliefs led to attitude change.

3. People were forced to behave in a counter-attitudinal manner. People who said they would not comply with laws did. Ergo, they reasoned blacks must not be so bad.

4. Racist attitudes became non-instrumental, because of the high costs of violating laws. You had to interact with blacks, so you might as well like them.

5. Value-expressive - racism became inconsistent with the images most people like to hold, so they adopted anti-racist attitudes.

b. Suppose you wanted a friend to support a political candidate. What might you do?

1. Get them to do some small task as a favor to you. Counter-attitudinal actions might influence attitudes; exposure to dissonant info might change their minds; classical or instrumental condition could take place - they receive praise for working for the candidate, which leads to positive attitudes.

2. If friend is for another candidate - provide them with dissonant info. Point out candidate is weak in areas friend likes him.

3. What if friend doesn't change his mind? This could occur because (a) friend discredits the source of the info - you (b) instead of liking the candidate, friend could decide he doesn't like you.

IV. Attitudes and Behaviors

1. Is there an attitude-behavior relationship?

A. LaPiere's work apparently said no.

B. Subsequent work over next 35 years did little better. As Abelson (quoted in Myers) said, "we are, apparently, very well trained and very good at finding reasons for what we do, but not very good at doing what we find reasons for."

2. Later work found a relationship

A. Expressed attitudes are not always the same as true attitudes, especially when dealing with sensitive topics. Methods such as the "bogus pipeline" and other methods for dealing with sensitive questions are helpful here.

B. Specificity of measures was found to be important - items used were not specific enough. Should determine attitudes toward the specific behavior, rather than some more general topic. Fishbein and Aizen note that, ideally, measures should correspond in Target, Action, Context, and Time.

1. Target. Suppose I say I think drugs are bad - yet I smoke marihuana, or drink alcohol. There are different targets here. When you say drugs, I may think more of thinks like cocaine and heroin than I do marihuana or alcohol. I might have favorable attitudes toward the environment, but have negative attitudes toward recycling because I find it inconvenient.

In LaPiere's case, subjects may have viewed the target as a devious oriental, rathern than a nicely dressed oriental couple traveling with a white man.

2. Action. I can be against selling cocaine, but still willing to use it personally. I might support somebody's right to have an abortion, while being opposed to having an abortion myself. (We see this in public opinion polls today - a lot of people oppose abortion, while still supporting the right of others to have abortions, at least under certain circumstances.)

3. Context. I might support the right to have an abortion under certain circumstances (save the life of the mother, rape, incest) while being opposed to it in others. Indeed, depending on the question asked, you get widely varying levels of support for abortion. I might think it is ok to drink when I am going to stay at home, but not when I am going to drive.

4. Time. It is ok to drink at night or on the weekends, but not in the morning.

C. Type of attitude measured is important - cognitive, affective, conative. These are not identical or totally consistent - our minds are not efficient enough to process all information immediately and consistently. The behavioral component of attitudes best determines what we do.

3. Fishbein/Ajzen Model of reasoned action.

Fishbein-Ajzen Model of Reasoned Action:

Beliefs about * Evaluation of > Attitude

consequences consequences toward the

of behavior behavior

> BI > B

Beliefs about * Motivation to > Subjective

what others comply norms

think I

should do

A. Fishbein refers to beliefs, attitudes, and intentions. We have referred to these as the cognitive, affective, and conative (behavioral) components of attitudes.

B. Assumptions of model:

1. Behavioral intentions are the only direct determinant of behavior.

2. Behavioral intentions are determined by affective attitudes and subjective norms.

3. Affective attitudes are a function of beliefs about consequences * subjective evaluation of those consequences.

EX: I believe that smoking causes cancer. I believe that cancer is very bad. Ergo, I have negative feelings about smoking.

EX: I believe that studying leads to higher grades. I do not care what my grades are. Ergo, I do not have favorable attitudes toward studying.

4. Subjective norms are a function of beliefs about the expectations of others times my motivation to comply with them.

EX: My friends expect me to smoke. I want to please my friends. Ergo, I feel I should smoke.

EX: My parents expect me to study. I want to please my parents. Ergo, I feel I should study.

C. Implications of the model.

1. Only behavioral intentions directly affect behavior. Effects of any other kind of attitude will only be indirect, and relationship with behavior could be weak.

2. Sometimes affective attitudes will determine our intentions, other times subjective norms will. Even if we dislike something, we may do it anyway, because of subjective norms. Further, the relative importance of affective attitudes and subjective norms may differ across people. EX: You might think that somebody who doesn't like to study would not study. But, s/he may do so because of subjective norms.

3. Model shows the importance of considering how valued the consequences are. For example, two people might agree that smoking leads to cancer. But if one person doesn't care that much about cancer ("we're all going to die sometime") their belief about cancer may not keep them from smoking. You shouldn't assume that your evaluation of the consequences is the same as theirs.

4. Shouldn't just measure attitudes toward the object - should measure attitudes toward the behavior.

EX: You might think that somebody who doesn't like blacks may discriminate against them. But maybe not. Non-discriminatory behavior may be favorably viewed because of its positive consequences (More customers and more money for my business - a bigger pool of laborers I can call upon). Or, subjective norms may force non-discrimination. MORAL: Don't just ask people how they feel about blacks - ask them how they feel about specific behaviors. (At least if you are interested in prediction).

5. Several beliefs may determine your affective attitudes or subjective norms. Affective attitudes are based on the total set of salient beliefs about performing a behavior. Changing one or more beliefs may not be enough to bring about a change in the overall attitude or intention.

EX: I may believe that studying leads to high grades and that high grades are desirable. I may also believe that studying cuts down on party time, and I love to party. Hence, overall I may have a negative feeling towards studying.

EX: I believe smoking causes cancer and that cancer is bad. I also believe that quitting smoking will cause me to gain weight. If I fear gaining weight more than I fear cancer, my overall evaluation of smoking may be positive. REMEMBER: Several beliefs can be involved in the determination of your final evaluation and your intention.

EX: I might change affective attitudes toward smoking - but if normative pressures are the primary determinant of behavior, behavior won't change.

EX: I might convince you that your friends expect you to study - but if you don't care what your friends think, your behavior won't change.

MORAL: If you want to change behavior, you have to figure out what beliefs are having the strongest impact on behavior.

4. Criticisms and proposed modifications of Fishbein - when, and how strongly, do attitudes affect behavior? When do attitudes not affect behavior? Fishbein said intentions were the only direct influence on Behavior - but many question this.

A. Many have found that feelings (the affective component of attitudes) may be a better predictor of what you will do than your intentions. Often, we don't bother to figure out what we want to do until it is time to do it. When intentions are weak or ill-formed and other beliefs are strong, affective attitudes may be the best predictor of behavior.

EX: 1980 elections. Liberal Democrat incumbents showed big leads in the polls, yet one after one they fell. People had not finalized their intention to vote, but they had strong feelings against liberal policies (or at least against the current state of the country.)

Why is this? The model views attitude formation and change as a product of information processing. Yet, as information processing takes time, changes in attitudes may lag behind changes in beliefs, perhaps by months or even years. Intentions are often not even formed until immediately before behaving. This helps explain why variables besides intentions can be better predictors of behavior.

B. Resources, degree of volitional control may affect A/B consistency. More difficult it is to follow through on intentions, less likely it is you will. Also sometimes need cooperation from others.

EX: Suppose a prejudiced person does not intend to hire Hispanics. Suppose it turns out to be extremely difficult to staff his business otherwise. He may give up on his intention, whereas he would not do so under more favorable conditions.

EX: N.D. intends to hire minority scholars. Hopefully, it will do so, but it would be easier to follow through on its intentions if it intended to hire a bunch of white males.

C. Psychological traits - willingness to take responsibility - Locus of control.

EX: Locus of control. How much control do you feel you have over what happens in your life. If you don't feel you have control, why bother acting consistently?

D. Experience affects how consistent you are. Affects attitude intensity. Also may affect your knowledge of how to achieve your goals.

E. Some would say he has it backwards - behavior influences attitudes, rather than the other way.

6. Application. Few unwed teenagers want to get pregnant - yet many do. How can A/B theory explain this inconsistency?

A. Not wanting to get pregnant is an attitude toward an object; pregnancy is not a behavior in and of itself, it is a result of other behaviors. Attitudes toward premarital sex and use of contraceptive might not show such discrepancies.

B. Attitudes may not be firmly held, because of lack of prior experience. Those who have been pregnant before may act more consistently.

C. Lack of resources. People may not know about, or have access to, effective means of contraception.

D. Subjective norms may be determining behavior, rather than affective attitudes.

E. Beliefs about consequences - may not believe their behavior is likely to produce a pregnancy. There is some rational basis for this - some teenagers have sex at very young ages, when they are subfecund; their failure to get pregnant leads them to think they can't.

F. Other beliefs enter into their evaluation of the behavior. It is very costly to use contraceptives - have to admit that you are "that kind of girl." Those who think of themselves as "good girls" are often the ones who get pregnant, because the so-called "bad girls" don't have the same inhibitions about contraceptives. Also, sacrifice spontaneity, run the risk of behavior.

G. Personality traits might offer some insights.