To introduce the main theoretical approaches to the study of attitudes

  • Evaluate the theories of attitude formation and function
  • To understand the concepts through applied social psychology lab.
social psychology  ATTITUDE FORMATION Aims:

Attitude formation:
In the following, different theories about how attitudes are formed have been explained.
1) Mere exposure (Robert Zajonc, 1968)

  • The tendency to develop more positive feelings toward objects and individuals the more we are exposed to them
  • No action or beliefs about the object required
  • Familiarity does not breed contempt!

Experiment by Zajonc (1968)

  • ‘Experiment to determine how people learn a foreign language’
  • 10 Chinese-like characters on computer screen, 2 seconds each
  • Characters varied in how many times presented
  • ‘These characters are adjectives – are they positive or negative?’

The results showed that the characters presented more often generated a more positive attitude in the participants.

Another experiment by Mita, Dermer, & Knight (1977)

  • Participants showed a photo of them and the mirror image
  • The prints were indistinguishable from each other
  • Asked to rate which of two prints they liked better
  • We prefer the mirror print because this is the view of ourselves we most often see
  • Our friends see the ‘actual’ view
  • This is the reason why we never like photos of ourselves?

2) Classical conditioning

  • Classical conditioning when a neutral stimulus is paired with a stimulus that naturally evokes an emotional response (Learning through association)
  • Aarther & Carolyn Staats (1962) fist time investigated classical conditioning in association with attitude.
  • But does this occur with social groups?
  • The magnitude of the effect was not great, suggesting classical conditioning may contribute to, but not fully explain, affective components of attitude formation
  • An even stronger effect when aversive stimuli paired with nonsense words (Cacioppo, Marshall- Goodell, Tassinary, & Petty, 1992)
  • This suggests that classical conditioning is a more powerful determinant of attitude formation when

Subliminal conditioning

  • Classical conditioning that occurs in the absence of conscious awareness of the stimuli
  • Krosnick et al. (1992) showed college students slide photos of a stranger going about her daily activities
  • Preceded by very brief (13/1000 of a second) subliminal presentations of photos inducing positive and negative emotions
  • Those exposed to the positive photos reported more positive attitude toward the stranger.

3) Operant conditioning

  • Operant conditioning occurs where behaviour is strengthened following rewards and weakened  following punishments. For example, s student may develop a positive attitude to maths if praised

for efforts, but his efforts remain unnoticed then may stop taking much interest in the subjects which may lead to deterioration in performance.

  • Classical conditioning —–> affective component
  • Operant conditioning —–> behavioural component
  • Can also develop through the indirect means of observational learning (Bandura, 1986). For example, if

your friend has a car accident, he will start avoid driving due to operant conditioning, but if you avoid or dislike driving, it will be the result of observational learning. This helps children learn many
activities and skills. Also they learn how to behave in their families and in their culture
4) Self-perception theory (Bem, 1965)

  • We infer our attitudes from observing our own behaviours (i.e., behaviours can cause attitudes)
  • Attributional processes – we attribute our own behaviour as being indicative of certain attitudes
  • Bem argued we are more likely to make attitude inferences when our behaviour is freely chosen

Chaiken & Baldwin’s Study (1981)
The researchers conducted an Interesting empirical demonstration of self-perception theory of attitude formation. They first separated participants into 2 groups: strong and weak proenvironment. Then they induced them to endorse either relatively pro or anti statements on a questionnaire. The results showed that the participants who were induced into reporting proenvironment behavior reported more positive attitude for environment. However, this only occurred if their initial proenvironment attitude was weak.
Facial feedback theory

  • Strack, Martin, & Stepper (1988) conducted a study to understand the impact of facial expression and movement on attitude. They showed cartoons to 3 types of participants; those who saw
  • cartoons with pen in teeth, pen in lips, and in their no dominant hand. Later their attitude toward cartoons was asked.
  • Pen in teeth (like smiling) vs. Pen in lips (prevents smiling)
  • Pen in teeth —–> greater liking of the attitude object (cartoon)
  • This indicates facial feedback hypothesis.

These results also support the vascular theory of emotions, as described below.
Vascular theory of emotion (Zajonc, 1993)

  • Smiling causes facial muscles to increase the flow of air-cooled blood to the brain producing pleasant mood. On the contrary, frowning decreases blood flow promoting negative mood. In 1989    the researchers showed that even pronouncing vowel sound than other mimicking frowning (u) characters can decrease blood flow.
  • Other body postures, sitting upright at a normal-height table or sitting slumped over at a shortlegged table determined levels of positive attitude (Sabine Stepper & Strack, 1993)

5. Functional

  • Attitudes formed (and change) based on the degree to which they satisfy different psychological needs
  • e.g., changing from liking to disliking a brand of coffee because of anti-environmental practices
  • Active vs. passive attitude theory

Applied Social Psychology Lab

  • Performing actions associated with happiness cause us not only to feel happier but also to perceive other objects in our environment favorably.
  • Is there any wisdom in parents admonishing their children to straighten their posture and to avoid  slouching?


  • Franzoi, S. (2003). Social Psychology. Boston: McGraw-Hill. Chapter 6
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