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usually positive, toward that
(Bronstein, 1989).
object; repeated exposure can
In one early study, researchers placed ads containing nonsense words such as
lead to positive attitudes.
NANSOMA in college newspapers (Zajonc & Rajecki, 1969). Later, they gave students
lists of words that included NANSOMA to rate. Mere exposure to a nonsense word,
such as NONSOMA, was enough to give it a positive rating. In another study, partici-
pants were exposed to nonsense syllables and to Chinese characters (Zajonc, 1968).
Repeated exposure increased the positive evaluations of both the nonsense syllables
and the Chinese characters.
Generally, this means that familiarity, in fact, may not breed contempt. Familiar
faces, ideas, and slogans become comfortable old friends. Think of the silly commercial
jingle you sometimes ¬nd yourself humming almost against your will.
In fact, repeated exposures often work very well in advertising. The Marlboro
man, invented to convince male smokers that taking a drag on a ¬ltered cigarette would
enhance their manhood, lasted through a generation of smokers. (The ad lasted, the
original model didnʼt”he died of lung cancer.) When we walk down the aisle to buy
a product, be it cigarettes or soap suds, the familiar name brand stands out and says,
“Buy me.” And we do.
Now, there are limits to the effect, at least in the experimental studies. A review of
the mere-exposure research concluded that the effect is most powerful when it occurs
randomly over time, and that too many exposures actually will decrease the effect
(Bornstein, 1989). A constant bombardment does not work very well.
Repeated exposures increase liking when the stimuli are neutral or positive to begin
with. What happens when the stimuli are negative? It seems that continual exposure to
some object that was disliked initially increases that negative emotion (Bornstein, 1989;
Chapter 5 Attitudes 165

Perlman & Oskamp, 1971). Say, for example, a person grew up disliking a different
ethnic group because of comments she heard her parents make. Then, on repeated
encounters with members of that group, she might react with distaste and increasing
negativity. Over time, these negative emotions are likely to produce hostile beliefs
about the group (Drosnick, Betz, Jussim, & Lynn, 1992). Thus, negative feelings of
which a person might hardly be aware can lead, with repeated exposure, to the object
of those feelings, to increased negative emotions and, ultimately, to a system of beliefs
that support those emotions. Stimuli, ideas, and values to which we are exposed shape
us in ways that are not always obvious to us.

Direct Personal Experience
A second way we form attitudes is through direct personal experience. If we get mugged
one Saturday night coming home from a movie, for example, we may change our atti-
tudes toward criminals, the police, personal safety, and a range of other concerns. Or
if we have a ¬‚at tire and someone stops to help, we may change our attitude about the
value of going out of our way to assist others. If our fatherʼs business is put in peril
because of the dirty tactics of a large corporation, like that of Ida Tarbellʼs, we would
resent such organizations for the rest of our lives. Direct personal experience has the
power to create and change attitudes.
Attitudes acquired through direct experience are likely to be strongly held and to
affect behavior. People are also more likely to search for information to support such
attitudes. For example, people who had experience with ¬‚u shots gathered further infor-
mation about the shots and were more likely to get vaccinated each ¬‚u season (Davison,
Yantis, Norwood, & Montano, 1985). People are also less likely to be vulnerable to
someone trying to persuade them to abandon the attitude. If, for example, your attitude
that the environment needs preserving was formed because you lived near a river and
observed directly the impact of pollution, you will be less likely to be persuaded even
by powerful counterarguments (Wood, 1982).
Direct experience continues to form and shape our attitudes throughout life. One
study examined the effects of direct experience with government agencies on younger
and older individualsʼ attitudes toward government (Tyler & Schuller, 1991). The expe-
riences involved, for example, getting a job, job training, unemployment compensation,
and medical and hospital care. The older people changed their attitudes following a
positive or negative experience as much as, if not more than, the younger people. This
¬nding argues against the impressionable-years model, which assumes that young people
are more open to forming new attitudes, and supports the lifelong-openness model,
which emphasizes that people can form new attitudes throughout their life. We should
note here that in later years, Ida Tarbell came to know John D. Rockefellerʼs successor,
Judge Gary, who caused her to write a more favorable second edition to The History of
the Standard Oil Company.

Operant and Classical Conditioning
Most social psychologists would agree that the bulk of our attitudes are learned. That
is, attitudes result from our experiences, not our genetic inheritance. Through social-
ization, individuals learn the attitudes, values, and behaviors of their culture. Important
in¬‚uences in the process include parents, peers, schools, and the mass media.
As an example, letʼs look at the formation of attitudes about politics. The formation
of some of these attitudes begins early, perhaps at age 6 or 7. In one early study, grade-
school students thought that the American system was the best and that “America is the
Social Psychology
166

best country in the world” (Hess & Torney, 1967). When children are young, parents
exert a major in¬‚uence on their political attitudes, but later, peers and the mass media
have a greater impact. In fact, by the time young adults are seniors in high school, there
is a fairly low correlation between the political attitudes of children and those of their
parents (Oskamp, 1991). Parents and children may identify with the same political party,
but their attitudes about politics are likely to differ.
During the course of socialization, a personʼs attitudes may be formed through operant
classical conditioning and classical conditioning, two well-known learning processes. In operant conditioning,
A form of learning that occurs the individualʼs behavior is strengthened or weakened by means of reward or punishment.
when a stimulus comes to Parents may, for example, reward their daughter with praise when she expresses the
summon a response that it
attitude that doing math is fun. Each time the child is rewarded, the attitude becomes
previously did not evoke to
stronger. Or, parents may punish their son with a verbal rebuke when he expresses that
form an attitude.
same attitude. In these examples, operant conditioning serves to impart attitudes.
Simply rewarding people for expressing an attitude can affect what they believe.
In one study, participants took part in a debate and were randomly assigned to one or
the other side of an issue (Scott, 1957). Those debaters who were told, again randomly,
that they won were more likely to change their attitudes in the direction of their side of
the topic than those who were told that they lost.
operant conditioning In classical conditioning, a stimulus comes to evoke a response it previously
A method by which attitudes did not call up. Classical conditioning occurs by repeatedly pairing this stimulus
are acquired by rewarding a (the conditioned stimulus) with a stimulus that does have the power to evoke the response
person for a given attitude in
(the unconditioned stimulus).
the hopes it will be maintained
How might attitudes be learned through classical conditioning? In one experiment,
or strengthened.
when an attitude object (a person) was paired with positive or negative stimuli, partici-
pants came to associate the person with the positive or negative emotions (Krosnick et
al., 1992). Participants were shown nine different slides in which a target person was
engaged in various activities, such as walking on a street or getting into a car. Immediately
before each slide there were very short exposures (13 milliseconds) of positive slides
(e.g., newlyweds, a pair of kittens) or negative slides (e.g., a face on ¬re, a bloody shark).
The participants then reported their impressions of the person. Generally, participants
who had seen the person paired with warm, positive stimuli rated the person as having
a better personality and as more physically attractive than did those who had seen the
person paired with violent, negative stimuli.

Observational Learning
Although we often learn attitudes by getting rewarded, we can also learn simply by
observing. One often hears parents, shocked by the aggressive attitudes and behavior
of their child, ask, “Now, where could she have gotten that from?” Research shows that
children may learn to act aggressively by watching violent movies or by seeing their
observational learning friends ¬ght (Bandura, 1977). Observational learning occurs when we watch what
Attitude formation learned people do and then model, or imitate, that behavior. For example, a child who hears her
through watching what people mother say, “We should keep that kind of people out of our schools,” will very likely
do and whether they are
express a version of that attitude.
rewarded or punished and
Observational learning does not depend on rewards, but rewards can strengthen the
then imitating that behavior.
learning. In the preceding example when the child expresses the attitude she has imi-
tated, the mother might reward her with an approving smile. Furthermore, people are
more likely to imitate behavior that is rewarded. Thus, if aggressive behavior seems to
be rewarded”if children observe that those who use violence seem to get what they
want”it is more likely to be imitated.
Chapter 5 Attitudes 167

When there are discrepancies between what people say and what they do, children
tend to imitate the behavior. A parent may verbally instruct a child that violence is a bad
way of solving con¬‚icts with other children. However, if the child observes the parent
intimidate the newspaper carrier into bringing the paper to the front door rather than
dropping it on the driveway, the child has noticed the truth of the matter. The parent
thinks she is imparting one attitude toward violence but in fact is conveying another.

The Effect of the Mass Media
Mass media play an important role in our society. For example, media heroes tend to be a
very important in¬‚uence in the development of our attitudes toward all manner of things:
race, gender, violence, crime, love, and sex. Issues given extensive coverage in the media
become foremost in the publicʼs consciousness. For example, the saturation coverage of the
2004 presidential election elevated politics to a level not often considered by the average
person. Television is a particularly pervasive medium, with 99% of children between the
ages of 2 and 10 living in homes with a television, and 89% living in homes with more
than one television (Kaiser Family Foundation, 1999). Research shows that children 8 to
18 years of age watch nearly 7 hours per day (Kaiser Family Foundation, 1999).
What do they see during those hours? Most get a constant fare of violence. This
violence affects the attitudes of at least some children in their interactions with peers,
and the more violence they see, the more aggressive their interaction style. This effect
is strongest in children in neighborhoods where violence is commonplace; the TV vio-
lence evidently serves as reinforcement.
In addition to providing aggressive models, many TV programs emphasize situa-
tions that are linked to violence. People who watch a lot of TV are likely to overestimate
by far the amount of violence and crime that occurs in the world (Jowett & OʼDonnell,
1992). As a result, they are more likely to anticipate violence in their own lives. Anderson,
Carnagey, and Eubanks (2003) studied the effects of songs with violent lyrics on both
the listenersʼ attitudes and their feelings. In a series of ¬ve studies, Anderson and his
colleagues reported that college students who listened to a violent song felt more hostile
and reported an increase in aggressive thoughts compared to another group that heard a
similar but nonviolent song (Anderson et al., 2003, p. 960). Of course, it may not always
be the lyrics themselves that cause these changes in attitudes and feelings. Research sug-
gests that tense, pounding musical scores provoke aggressive feelings also (Rubin, West,
& Mitchell, 2001). In fact, Rubin et al. (2001) reported that college students who pre-
ferred heavy metal and rap music expressed more hostile attitudes. Itʼs not clear what the
line of causality is in this case. It is reasonable to suggest that people prefer rap because
they feel hostile in the ¬rst place, and thus it is not necessarily the lyrics that cause the
attitudes. However, as Anderson et al. (2003) observe, every exposure to a violent media
event (TV, music, violent video games, violent movies) is a “learning trial in which one
rehearses aggressive thoughts and feelings,” and these repetitive events make hostile
attitudes quite prominent and easy to recall and access (Anderson et al., 2003, p. 964).
By emphasizing some events and ignoring others, television, movies, and music,
along with other mass media, de¬ne reality for us. They directly affect how many of us
think and feel about the world. In one study, Chinese and Canadian children were asked
to imagine that they were an animal and then write a story including themselves as that
animal. The results showed that male children selected animals that were dangerous,
strong, and wild. On the other hand, female children selected animals that were safe,
weak, and tame (Harvey, Ollila, Baxter, & Guo, 1997). In another study, Trepainer and
Romatowski (1985) analyzed stories written by male and female children for a “young
Social Psychology
168

authorʼs” competition. Speci¬cally, they analyzed the stories for portrayals of male
and female characters. As one might expect, male authors included more male char-
acters in their stories, and female authors included more female characters. However,
overall, male characters outnumbered female characters. Positive attributes were more
likely to be attributed to male characters (74%) than to female characters (26%). Both
male and female authors assigned fewer occupational roles to female characters than
male characters. Additionally, males tended to have a wider variety of interesting roles
assigned to them than females. Thus, the themes in childrenʼs stories re¬‚ect the content
of books to which they are exposed. The media have a de¬nite role in shaping a childʼs
worldview of appropriate gender-based roles.
Wells and Twenge (2005) combined 530 studies that studied over a quarter of a million
subjects in a “meta-analysis” and discovered not unexpectedly that sexual attitudes and
behavior have undergone enormous changes from 1943 to 1999. This analysis showed
that the largest changes occurred among girls and young women. Both young men and
women became more sexually active over time, as indicated by a younger age of ¬rst
intercourse, which was lowered from 19 to 15 years among young women, and percent-
age of sexually active young women, from 13% to 47% in 1999 (Wells & Twenge, 2005).
Feelings of sexual guilt decreased for both men and women. Wells and Twenge observe
that their data support the idea that culture has a large effect on womenʼs sexuality.
Why the change? Wells and Twenge (2005) note the enormous cultural changes that
occurred in the past 50 years. Changes in sexual attitudes and behaviors are among the
most noticeable and striking of these shifts. The authors believe that the mass media
had an enormous impact on sexual attitudes and behavior. They note that “television
programs and movies regularly mention topics such as teenage pregnancy, abortion,
sexually transmitted diseases, and rape, whereas 30 years ago these topics were taboo.
This sexual revolution has dramatically altered American culture, especially for women”
(Wells & Twenge, 2005).

How Video Games and Other Violent Media Affect Attitudes
about Aggression and Violence
Exposure to violent video games has been shown to both affect attitudes about violence
as well as increase aggressive behavior (Anderson, 2006; Barthelow, Sestir, & Davis,
2005). Media consumption is perhaps the favorite activity of most Americans. At least,
it occupies a large chunk of time. Barthelow et al. report that the average 17-year-old
spends the equivalent of two full working days a week playing video games.
The concern is not so much the time spent playing these games but rather the
nature of the games themselves. The content tends to realistically, graphically violent
(Barthelow, Dill, Anderson, & Lindsay, 2003). For example, Barthelow et al. (2005)
had college students play violent video games and compared them to other students
who played nonviolent videogames. These researches then took short- and modestly
long-term measures of the effect of playing these games. The results show that those
who play violent video games become less empathetic and more hostile concerning
other people and are more likely to feel and act aggressively. It appears that playing
these games affects the playersʼ attitudes about violence. They become less upset by
violence; it becomes more acceptable to them. This is known as desensitization. Being
desensitized to acts of violence lowers the threshold for the commission of aggressive
acts (Anderson & Carnagey, in press)
One explanation for the heightened aggressive attitudes of video game players is that
the violent games bring forth a “hostile expectation bias” (Bushman & Anderson, 2002).
This bias suggests that violent game players come to expect that other people will respond
Chapter 5 Attitudes 169

to potential con¬‚icts by responding violently. In other words, the games condition them
to expect that others will also act violently. Bushman and Anderson use the General
Aggression Model (GAM) to explain these ¬ndings. The GAM model suggests that
playing a violent videogame promotes thinking about violence, increases the playersʼ level
of arousal, and creates angry feelings (Anderson, 2006; Bushman & Anderson, 2002).
What we do not know about the effect of violent video games is the long-term
impact on the players. Experimenters have de¬ned “long term” by hours or days, not
years. Obviously, it is rather dif¬cult to study participants over a long term of months
and years. It is necessary to be able to control for the participantsʼ earlier levels of vio-
lence to obtain a pure reading of the effects of video games. While studies have been
done showing the long-term effects of violent TV shows, similar research on video
games has yet to be done (Anderson, 2006).

The Role of the Media in Setting the Agenda
How is it that Michael Jackson gets more play in the media than, say, nominees to the
federal courts? Does it matter? So what if those “desperate housewives” get more space
in the media than a discussion of potential changes in the immigration laws? Again,
does it matter?
Communication researchers have long argued that the topics most salient in the mass
media tend to set the public agenda. This agenda setting occurs because the topics most
prominent in the news shape the publicʼs cognitions, increasing the focus on certain
issues as opposed to others (Kiousis, McDevitt, & Wu, 2005). And how do these issues
get into the media? Sometimes the issues get “hot” just because they sell newspapers or
magazines. Did the actor Robert Blake hire someone to kill his wife or not? Who cares?
Well, it appears lots of people do, so Blake had his moments of fame.

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