Changes in Identity Attitudes as Reflections of Social and Cultural Change *

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Abstract

An established tradition in sociological research, trend analysis is exemplified by studies relating change in social attitudes to change in the behaviour of collectivities or to the social structural location of respondents. Employing data from Canadian research in affect control theory (a mathematical formalization of classic identity theories in sociological social psychology), the study reported in this paper is the first to connect changes in attitudes for social identities to social and cultural change. The data on identity attitudes consist of mean EPA (evaluation, potency, and activity) semantic differential ratings of 102 social identities spanning a broad range of social institutions. The samples are derived from 1981 and 1995 cohorts of a medium size Ontario University. While the regression of 1995 on 1981 mean EPA values reveals that collective attitudes for social identities are quite stable over time, the residual variance is sufficiently large to suggest that important changes in identity attit udes have taken place. We identity these changes and interpret them in terms of social and cultural change in Canadian society between our two surveys. For example, we connect the loss of status and power of religious identities to the decline of organized religion in the lives of young Canadians, the decrease in the stigmatizing of homosexual identities to an increase in tolerance for alternative sexual orientations and lifestyles, and the general loss of status and agency of political identities to an increase in the disenchantment of Canadians with the integrity and effectiveness of the political system.

Resume: Une tradition etablie dans la recherche sociologique, l'analyse de tendances ("trend analysis"), est illustree par les recherches liant les changements d'attitudes sociales aux changements de comportement collectif ou a la position des repondants dans la structure sociale. Utilisant les donnees d'une recherche Canadienne portant sur la "affect control theory" (une formalisation mathematique des theories d'identites dans la psychologie sociale sociologique), l'etude presentee dans cet expose est le premier a lier les changements en attitude d'identites sociales aux changements sociaux et culturels. Les donnees sur les attitudes d'identites consistent en un indice differentiel semantique moyen deEPA ("Evaluation, Potency, and Activity") etabli sur 102 identites sociales couvrantun grand nombre d'institutions sociales. Les echantillons sont extraits de cohortes d'une universite Ontarienne de taille moyenne en l'annee 1981 et l'annee 1995. Bien que la regression des valeurs moyennes de EPA en 1995 compara tivement a 1981 nous revele que les attitudes collectives pour les identites sociales sont stables a long terme, la variance residuelle est suffisamment elevee pour nous indiquer que des changements importants en attitude d'identites ont eu lieu. Nous identifions et interpretons ces changements en terme de changements sociaux et culturels dans la societe canadienne entre nos deux sondages. Par exemple, nous lions la perte de statut et de pouvoir d'identites religieuses au declin de la religion dans la vie des jeunes gens Canadiens; le declin de la stigmatisation de l'identite homosexuelle a l'augmentation de la tolerance pour une orientation sexuelle alternative et aux modes de vie; et la perte generale de statut et de pouvoir des identites politiques a l'augmentation du desenchantement des Canadiens face a l'integrite et l'efficacite du systeme politique.

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Trend analysis--the monitoring and assessment of public attitudes and behaviour by repeated surveys of independent samples from the same general population--is an established tradition in sociological research. This tradition is exemplified by research relating collective attitudes to the behaviour of collectivities (Hill 1981)--e.g., change in sex-role attitudes to increased participation of women in higher education and the labour force, as well as by studies relating attitude change to social structure (Kiecolt 1988)--e. …