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More seriously, some argue that through the process of “agenda-building,” various
interest groups, policymakers, TV, and other media personalities and outlets, includ-
ing newspaper and magazines, determine which issues receive the most attention
(Scheufele, 2005). What is important about setting the agenda is that it may work just
like priming does in a social psychological experiment”when a stimulus is primed,
it becomes more salient and everything about it is more easily retrieved by the indi-
vidual. People who attend to the most salient topics in the media have strong opinions
about those topics and are more likely to identify with others who believe the way
they believe. Issues such as abortion, immigration, and others are good examples of
this (Kiousis, 2005). Indeed, these issues tend to fracture the public into several, often
antagonistic, opinion groups.

The Heritability Factor
Most theories about the formation of attitudes are based on the idea that attitudes are
formed primarily through experience. However, some research suggests that attitudes as
well as other complex social behaviors may have a genetic component (Plomin, 1989).
When studying the origins of a trait or behavior, geneticists try to calculate what
proportion of it may be determined by heredity, rather than by learning or other
environmental in¬‚uences involved. Heritability refers to the extent to which genet- heritability An indicator of
the degree to which genetics
ics accounts for differences among people in a given characteristic or behavior. For
accounts for differences
example, eye color is entirely determined by genetics; there are no environmental or
among people for any given
learning in¬‚uences. If the heritability of a characteristic is less than 100%, then other
behavior or characteristic.
in¬‚uences are involved. Height, for example, is about 90% heritable; nutrition also
plays a determining role.
Social Psychology
170

Eye color and height are clearly based in oneʼs heredity. But how can complex social
structures such as attitudes have a genetic basis? The answer is that genetics may have
an indirect effect on our attitudes. That is, characteristics that are biologically based
might predispose us to certain behaviors and attitudes. For example, genetic differences
in sensory structures, such as hearing and taste, could affect our preferences for certain
kinds of music and foods (Tesser, 1993). As another example, consider aggressiveness,
which, as research has shown, has a genetic component. Level of aggressiveness can
affect a whole range of attitudes and behaviors, from watching violent TV shows and
movies, to hostility toward women or members of other groups, to attitudes toward
capital punishment (Oskamp, 1991). In this case, a biologically based characteristic
affects how one thinks, feels, and acts.
Plomin, Corley, Defries, and Fulker (1990) were interested in childrenʼs attitudes
and behaviors related to television viewing. Learning”particularly the in¬‚uence of
parents and friends”certainly plays a role in the formation of TV-viewing attitudes and
behaviors. Is it possible that genetics could also play a role? If so, how could we know
this? To answer these questions, Plomin studied the TV viewing of adopted children,
comparing it to the TV-viewing habits of the childrenʼs biological parents and adoptive
parents. The question he asked was, Would the childʼs behavior more closely resemble
that of the biological parents or that of the adoptive parents? A close resemblance to
the habits of the biological parents would argue for a biological interpretation, because
the biological parents did not share the childʼs environment. A close resemblance to
the habits of the adoptive parents, on the other hand, would argue for an environmen-
tal interpretation. Thus, the study of adoptive children made it possible to calculate the
extent to which TV viewing is determined, indirectly, by genetics.
Plominʼs ¬ndings were surprising. There was a very high resemblance between the
TV viewing of the children and that of the biological parents. Although shared environ-
ment in¬‚uenced the amount of viewing, the genetic component was much higher. This
doesnʼt mean that children whose biological parents watch a lot of TV are doomed to
be glued to the TV for the rest of their days. It simply suggests that there is something
in our genetic makeup that may incline us to certain behaviors and attitudes.
Attitudes that have a high heritability factor might be expected to differ in certain
ways from those that are primarily learned. Speci¬cally, they might be expected to be
more strongly held. Is this, in fact, the case? There are at least two indicators of attitude
strength: A person responds quickly on encountering the object of that attitude, and the
person is unlikely to give in to pressure to change the attitude. Evidence suggests that
both these indicators are indeed present with attitudes that have a high heritability factor
(Tesser, 1993). However, genes will be expressed differently in different environments,
so speed and yielding to pressure are not perfect measures of heritability.
Bourgeois (2002) found that members of groups also show greater variability the
higher the heritability of the attitude. Thus, if you are against “permissiveness” in every-
day life, an attitude with a fairly high heritability factor, the less likely your neighbors
will in¬‚uence you to change your opinion. This explains greater variability in attitudes
with high heritability components (Bourgeois, 2002). Usually, groups tend to produce
pressures that make people conform, especially on important issues. But those attitudes
that have a high heritability loading appear to be much more dif¬cult to change.

The Importance of Groups and Networks
While we have so far emphasized the individual in the learning and expression of atti-
tudes, many of our attitudes are learned and reinforced in group settings. Indeed, recent
Chapter 5 Attitudes 171

social psychological research has shown that group in¬‚uence is the most in¬‚uential
factor in which opinions we express.
It should not be surprising that group membership is a powerful in¬‚uence on our
attitudes and their expression. We know by that, as early as 12 months of age,we are
in¬‚uenced by the emotional expressions of those around us (Moses, Baldwin, Rosicky,
& Tidball, 2001).
Geoffrey Cohen (2003), in a series of four clever and interrelated studies, demon-
strated that a personʼs stated attitude toward a public issue was dependent solely on the
stated position of the political party with which the person was aligned. This was true
no matter what the objective of the policy or the personʼs own position on that policy.
Furthermore, the individuals did not seem to be aware that the groupʼs position was
counter to what they personally believed. For example, in one study Cohen presented
two versions of a welfare policy to liberal and conservative college students. One version
of the plan had generous bene¬ts, while the other version had very limited bene¬ts.
Some students read the generous plan, others the stringent plan. In addition, they were
given information that the Republicans or the Democrats had taken a stand either in
favor of or against the plan. Therefore, some conservative students may have read the
generous plan and been told that the Republicans had endorsed that plan. Similarly
some liberals students read the stringent plan and were told that the Democratic Party
had endorsed that plan.
The results were striking. Both conservatives and liberal participants in this study
simply followed the party line. If their party endorsed a policy, so did the liberal and
conservative students, no matter their originally expressed beliefs on that issue. So, lib-
erals supported a harsh welfare policy if their party did, and conservatives supported a
generous welfare policy if their party did as well. In follow-up studies, it became clear
that in the absence of any information about how their party stood on the issues, con-
servatives preferred the less generous plan while liberals the more generous one. Cohen
also found that the effect of group information in¬‚uenced both attitudes and behavior.
As we will see in the later chapter on persuasion, people may undertake “biased pro-
cessing” of information in order to evaluate that information in a manner that favors
their group.
In another twist on the effect of group membership on our attitudes, Norton, Monin,
Cooper, and Hogg (2003) found that individuals will change their attitudes when they
observe other members of a group with which they identify agreeing with a point of
view that the group had originally disagreed with. In this study, college students who dis-
agreed strongly with the tuition increase overheard a supposedly spontaneous interaction
between another student and the experimenter. In actuality, it was a prescripted interac-
tion. This other student, who was actually part of the experiment, was given the choice
of either expressing an opinion on the tuition increase or leaving the experiment.
If the “overheard” student was given a choice and she strongly advocated a posi-
tion counter to the other students (that is, in favor of an increase in tuition), some stu-
dents actually changed their opinion and favored the tuition increase. Which students?
It is precisely those students who strongly identi¬ed with the student group. Why was
choice important? As we will see in a later chapter, when we observe someone take
an unusual position and do so by his or her own volition, we are much more likely to
believe that the individual has a strong belief in that opinion. It appears that people
may change their attitudes to adjust to the fact that someone they identify with (a
member of their group) has changed his or her attitude on an important issue and has
apparently done so freely (recall that the student had a choice of whether to express
her attitude or leave).
Social Psychology
172


Social Networks
We have seen the importance of groups on our evaluation of public issues. What we
know, obviously, is that we do not form nor do we keep attitudes in isolation from
important groups.
Visser and Mirabile (2004) showed that when you are part of congruent social
networks (people with similar views), your attitude becomes more resistant to change
because you have strong social support for that attitude. However, if you are embedded
in a heterogeneous social network with lots of people who have different views, you are
less resistant to change. It appears that when you are with people who think as you do,
not surprisingly, you become more certain of your attitudes, and any doubts you may
have had are removed (Visser & Mirabile, 2004).
Crandall (1988) studied the patterns of behavior of friendship groups in college
sororities. Residents of two sorority houses completed questionnaires that dealt with
binge eating and their social behavior. Crandall found that binge eating was caused
by “social contagion.” If a student was in a sorority where there was binge eating,
that behavior increased from the fall through the spring terms. That is, the longer
someone was in the group, the more the individualsʼ behaviors converged. Crandall
further argued that reduced social in¬‚uence over the summer would cause dissimilar-
ity of binge eating in the fall, but he did not directly test this hypothesis. Of course, it
is possible that students with tendencies toward binge eating may have pledged those
groups that may have been known for such behavior (Crandall, 1988). Social psycholo-
gists have observed that individuals will adjust, or “tune,” their beliefs to the appar-
ent beliefs of other people when they desire to get along with this person. This type
of behavior is referred to as the af¬liative social tuning hypothesis (Sinclair, Lowery,
Hardin, & Colangelo, 2005). Often, we will modify our expressed attitudes so that
social interaction in groups is smooth. Therefore, people will modify their expressed,
often automatic (recall the IAT described earlier), racial attitudes within groups that
contain people of different racial or ethnic groups. Sinclair et al. (2005) have shown
that automatic attitudes serve a social regulatory function, That is, they regulate social
interactions so as to make them less confrontational and more congenial. Thus, these
automatic racial or ethnic attitudes are sensitive to the social demands of interpersonal
interactions. Therefore, automatic attitudes are in¬‚uenced by the desire to get along
with others.


Attitudes and Behavior
Intuitively, it makes sense that if we know something about a personʼs attitudes, we
should be able to predict his or her behavior. In Allportʼs de¬nition of attitude given at
the beginning of this chapter, attitudes exert a directive in¬‚uence on the individualʼs
behavior. There is a rationality bias in all of this”a belief that people will act in a manner
consistent with their innermost feelings and ideas. Do we, in fact, behave in accordance
with our attitudes? Early researchers assumed that a close link did exist between atti-
tudes and behavior. However, a review of attitude-behavior research revealed a quite
different picture: Attitudes appeared to be, at best, only weak predictors of behavior
(Wicker, 1969).
We begin this section by looking at one early study that appeared to show little cor-
relation between attitudes and behavior. Social psychologists eventually concluded that
a relationship exists but is more complex than they suspected. We look at their attempts
Chapter 5 Attitudes 173

to unravel the complexities and to thereby show that attitudes can predict behavior. More
recently, other social psychologists have argued that our behavior often is nonrational
and has nothing to do with our attitudes. We conclude the section by seeing how the
rational and nonrational approaches can be reconciled.

An Early Study of Attitudes and Behavior
In one well-known study from the 1930s, a young sociologist traveled around the United
States with a young Chinese couple (LaPiere, 1934). They traveled 10,000 miles and
visited over 200 places (Oskamp, 1991). The 1930s were a time of relatively overt
expression of prejudice against many groups, including Asians. What did LaPiere and
the Chinese couple encounter? Interestingly, during their entire trip, they were refused
service by only one business. Several months after the trip, LaPiere wrote to every
establishment he and his friends had visited and asked the owners if they would object
to serving a Chinese couple. About half the establishments answered; of these, only
nine said they would offer service, and only under certain conditions.
The visits measured the behavior of the business owners. The follow-up question
about offering service was a measure of attitudes. Clearly, the expressed attitudes
(primarily negative) and the behavior (primarily positive) were not consistent. This kind
of ¬nding led to a great deal of pessimism among attitude researchers concerning the
link between attitudes and behavior. But letʼs consider the inconsistency more closely.
Our behavior is determined by many attitudes, not just one. LaPiere measured the
ownersʼ attitudes about Asians. He did not measure their attitudes about losing money
or creating dif¬culties for themselves by turning away customers. Furthermore, it is
easier to express a negative attitude when you are not face-to-face with the object of that
attitude. Think how easy it is to tell the aluminum-siding salesperson over the phone
that you never want to hear about aluminum siding again as long as you live. Yet when
the person shows up at your door, you are probably less blunt and might even listen to
the sales pitch. In the case of LaPiereʼs study, being prejudiced is easy by letter, harder
in person.
To summarize, LaPiereʼs ¬ndings did not mean there is little relationship between
attitudes and behavior. They just indicated that the presence of the attitude object (in this
case, the Chinese couple) is not always enough to trigger the expression of the attitude.
Other factors can come into play.
There are several reasons why attitudes arenʼt good predictors of behavior. First,
research showed that it was when investigators tried to link general attitudes and speci¬c
behaviors that the link appeared weak. When researchers looked at a speci¬c attitude,
they often were able to ¬nd a good relationship between that attitude and behavior.
However, when researchers asked people about a general attitude, such as their reli-
gious beliefs, and assessed a speci¬c behavior related to that attitude, such as praying
before meals, they found only a weak correlation (Eagly, 1992).
Another reason why attitudes and behaviors may not relate strongly is the fact that
a behavior may relate to more than one attitude. For example, whether you vote for a
particular candidate may depend on how she stands on a range of issues (e.g., abortion,
health care, defense spending, civil rights). Measuring any single attitude may not
predict very well how you vote. However, if the entire range of attitudes is measured,
the relationship between attitudes and behavior improves. Similarly, if only one behavior
is measured, your attitude may not relate to that behavior very well. It is much better if
a behavioral trend (several behaviors measured over time) is measured. Attitudes tend
to relate better to behavioral trends than a single behavior.
Social Psychology
174


Theory of Planned Behavior
theory of planned Ajzen and Fishbein (1980) proposed the theory of planned behavior. This theory
behavior A theory that sensibly assumes that the best predictor of how we will behave is the strength of our
explains attitude-behavior intentions (Ajzen, 1987). The theory is essentially a three-step process to the prediction
relationships, focusing on
of behavior. The likelihood that individuals will carry out a behavior consistent with an
the relationship between the
attitude they hold depends on the strength of their intention, which is in turn in¬‚uenced
strength of our behavioral
by three factors. By measuring these factors, we can determine the strength of intention,
intentions and our
performance of them. which enables us to predict the likelihood of the behavior.
The ¬rst factor that in¬‚uences behavioral intention is attitude toward the behavior.
Be careful here: We are talking about the attitude toward the behavior, not toward the
object. For example, you might have a positive attitude about exercise, because you
believe that it reduces tension. Exercise is the object of the attitude. But you might not
like to sweat. In fact, you hate to sweat. Will you exercise? The theory says that the atti-
tude toward the behavior, which includes sweating, is a better predictor of your actions
than your attitude about exercise, because it affects your intentions.
The second factor, subjective norms, refers to how you think your friends and family
will evaluate your behavior. For example, you might think, “All my friends exercise, and
they will think that it is appropriate that I do the same.” In this case, you may exercise
despite your distaste for it. Your friendsʼ behavior de¬nes exercise as normative, the
standard. Wellness programs that attempt to change dietary and exercise habits rely
heavily on normative forces. By getting people into groups, they encourage them to
perceive healthy lifestyles as normative (everyone else is involved).
Perceived behavioral control, the third factor, refers to a personʼs belief that the
behavior he or she is considering is easy or hard to accomplish. For example, a person
will be more likely to engage in health-related preventive behaviors such as dental
hygiene or breast self-examination if he or she believes that they can be easily done
(Ronis & Kaiser, 1989).

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