of Cognitive Structure
and Attitude Change
William J. McGuire Yale University
The use of attitude change to study cognitive structure was suggested to me during my first year in graduate school. An interest in understanding the structure of thought -- how our ideas are organized and what determines how one idea follows from another -- had drawn me into graduate study in psychology. A course in physiological psychology dealt with the technique of teasing out the histological structure of the nervous system by putting in lesions or electrical impulses at various places in the spinal cord or brain and tracing the ramifications through the central nervous system. The analogy occurred to me that perhaps I could put in changes at focused points in the belief system and get to understand the organization of mind by tracing the ideological and behavioral ramifications of these experimentally induced, focused alterations.
Encouraged by the availability of this methodological strategy for testing our notions, we developed a theory of thought processes ( McGuire, 1960a, 1960b, 1960c) that postulated probabilistic logical thinking and wishful thinking along with other mental processes described in the next section of this chapter. Derivations from the theory were tested by inducing a change on a specified belief by means of a focused persuasive communication, and then assessing the extent to which the immediate and delayed changes on related beliefs (not mentioned in the communication) showed the kinds of change predicted by our postulates of cognitive structure and functioning. The first section of this chapter describes the theory itself and the second, the empirical work designed to test and develop it.
Our theory of mental processes contains postulates regarding the cognitive system's components, structure, and functioning, as discussed successively in the three subsections that follow.