Functions of Attitudes
- Attitudes serve several functions. They serve a utilitarian function, signaling rewards and punishments. They serve an ego-defensive function, protecting people from undesirable beliefs and emotions. They serve a value-expressive function, reflecting values that people want others, especially their reference groups, to acknowledge. And attitudes serve a knowledge function, organizing how people construe the social world and guiding how people attend to, store, and retrieve information.
Persuasion and Attitude Change
- Both the heuristic-systematic model of persuasion and the elaboration likelihood model of persuasion hypothesize that there are two routes to persuasion. Factors determining which route is used include motivation, or how important the message is to the person, and ability to process the message.
- When using the central (systematic) route to persuasion, people attend carefully to the message, and they consider relevant evidence and underlying logic in detail. People are especially likely to go through this route when the message is relevant to them, when they have knowledge in the domain, and when the message evokes a sense of personal responsibility. When going through the central route, people are more persuaded by high-quality messages.
- In the peripheral (heuristic) route to persuasion, people attend to superficial aspects of the message. They use this route when they have little motivation or time or ability to attend to its deeper meaning. In this route, people are persuaded by source characteristics, such as attractiveness and credibility of the communicator, and message characteristics, such as how many arguments there are and whether the conclusions are explicit.
- The elements of the persuasive process can be broken into three components: the source of the message, the content of the message, and the target of the message.
- A noncredible source is unlikely to induce immediate attitude change, but with time, a sleeper effect may occur, in which attitude change occurs after time has passed and the message has become dissociated from its source.
- Vivid communications, including images of identifiable victims, are usually more effective than matter-of-fact ones, and fear-evoking communications that provide fear-reducing courses of action produce more attitude change than either non-fear-evoking communications or fear-evoking communications that do not provide fear- reducing courses of action.
- Message content often varies in independent and interdependent societies. Ads in independent cultures emphasize the individual, and ads in interdependent societies emphasize the collective.
- The target, or audience, of a message also affects whether a particular message is effective and whether attitude change occurs. Audience, or receiver, characteristics include the need for cognition (that is, how deeply people like to think about issues), mood, and age.
The Media and Persuasion
- According to the third-person effect, most people believe that other people are more likely to be influenced by the media than they are. But in fact, the media have surprisingly weak effects on most people. This is true in the case of consumer advertising (which rarely leads to long-lived effects), political advertising (which has small effects on most voters and mainly affects late-deciding voters), and public service announcements (which are unlikely to have a lasting impact on behavior unless they are also accompanied by specific suggestions and practice in avoiding negative behaviors).
- The media are most effective in agenda control—that is, in shaping what people think about. They do so through the number of stories and discussions they present on various issues—such as terrorism, moral values, war, the environment, or the economy—that therefore are likely to be present in people’s minds.
Resistance to Persuasion
- People can be resistant to persuasion because of preexisting biases, commitments, and knowledge. People selectively attend to and evaluate information in accordance with their original attitudes, tuning in information that supports their preexisting attitudes and beliefs and tuning out information that contradicts them.
- Public commitment to a position helps people resist persuasion. Just thinking about an attitude object can produce thought polarization, or movement toward extreme views that can be hard for a communicator to alter.
- People with more knowledge are more resistant to persuasion because they are able to counterargue against messages that take an opposite position to what they know and believe.
- Resistance to persuasion can be encouraged through attitude inoculation, exposing a person to weak arguments against his or her position and allowing the person to generate arguments against it.
- Even if the direction and extremity of a person’s attitude remain intact, resistance to persuasion may change the certainty with which the person holds the attitude.