Attributions and Attitudes
An attitude is a stable way of thinking about a person, idea, or object that is based on personal evaluation and beliefs. People have attitudes about many things, including products, politics, and other people. Attitudes tend to be positive or negative and are often reflected in a person's behavior. Like behavior, attitudes can be changed by situational or external pressures and by internal influences. Attitudes have three major components:
- an affective component, which includes feelings about something
- a behavioral component, which is the effect of one's attitude on behavior
- a cognitive component, which includes beliefs and knowledge about something
Sometimes, people do not hold explicit attitudes about something due to lack of experience. Self-perception theory suggests that individuals form attitudes by evaluating their behavior and determining the attitudes behind it. Attitudes are not always consistent. In 1957 psychologist Leon Festinger defined cognitive dissonance as the psychological discomfort arising from having two or more differing attitudes, behaviors, or cognitions. Cognitions include thoughts, beliefs, and opinions. Attitudinal inconsistencies are uncomfortable because people feel as though they are not being true to themselves, which causes dissonance. For example, a person who is an animal rights activist but enjoys eating meat may feel guilty about their behavior.People experiencing cognitive dissonance are motivated to decrease their discomfort. In the case of the animal rights activist, the most logical way to eliminate dissonance would be to become a vegan. However, they may find the diet to be overly restrictive. The meat eater may instead choose to alter their attitudes by accepting their choice ("I enjoy eating meat, so I'm going to eat it"), rationalizing it ("I'm not hurting the animal myself"), or changing their prior beliefs ("I used to think eating meat was wrong, but now it doesn't bother me"). Related to cognitive dissonance is impression management theory, which argues that people will lie about their attitudes to appear as though their actions are consistent with their beliefs. The meat eater in the preceding example may claim to be a vegan or vegetarian to support their animal rights advocacy.
The central route to persuasion is a direct route to attitude or behavior change that uses logic, data, and facts to convince people to make a certain choice. The central route to persuasion works best when the target of persuasion is likely to focus on the information presented and evaluate it carefully. For example, an individual who has just learned that they have serious health problems might be persuaded to change their diet through detailed information about dietary choices linked to lower rates of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. The central route focuses on the quality of the information to persuade people to change their attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors. The argument presented must be strong and factual to result in a lasting change.
The peripheral route to persuasion is an indirect route to attitude or behavior change that uses a large number of superficial arguments. It is an effective approach when the target of persuasion is not likely to put deep thought into decision-making. Celebrity endorsements and infomercials listing a string of mostly meaningless aspects of a product are examples of the peripheral route to persuasion. A consumer may quickly form positive associations about a message or product when it is promoted by a famous person, regardless of the actual product quality. However, attitude and behavior changes tied to these persuasion tactics are rarely long-lasting.
Optimal Route to Persuasion
|Central Route||Peripheral Route|
|Approach||Provide detailed factual information, focus on key issues||Speak quickly, offer many superficial arguments, provide celebrity endorsements|
|Audience||Invested in outcome, highly motivated, analytical, paying attention||Making low-stakes decision, giving limited attention to decision, moved by emotions rather than logic|
|Processing||Deep, focused on quality of arguments||Limited, focused on appeal of presenter|
|Effect||Lasting influence, decision resistant to counterattacks||Temporary influence, decision open to future change|
The opposite strategy is the door-in-the-face technique, in which the persuader makes an excessive demand and then follows it up with a comparatively reasonable request. In 1975 marketing and psychology professor Robert Cialdini and colleagues tested this technique. Participants were initially asked to volunteer for two hours per week at a juvenile detention center for at least two years. When they refused, they were asked to volunteer to chaperone a two-hour field trip; 50% agreed to do so. Interestingly, only 17% of participants who were exclusively presented with the second scenario agreed to be chaperones. This technique works because people feel bad about denying requests. Agreeing to the second request feels like a reasonable compromise.
Another persuasion technique that is common in sales is the low-ball technique, in which a person is persuaded to agree to an attractive offer (e.g., a low price on a car lease) and then feels obligated to honor the agreement even when the terms change (e.g., additional lease expenses not mentioned initially). Although persuasive techniques can seem pervasive, it is possible to resist them. Being aware of persuasive tactics can reduce one's susceptibility to them. The inoculation effect occurs when people decrease their susceptibility to persuasion through exposure to positions that challenge their beliefs. By considering opposing stances, people strengthen their own through counterarguments.