Attitudes and Persuasion: Classic and Contemporary Approaches

By Richard E. Petty; John T. Cacioppo | Go to book overview
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Box 6.2 Inferences Regarding a Communicator's Attitude

Consider the following situation. Your teacher assigns a classmate of yours to argue as persuasively as possible that nuclear power plants be constructed and licensed as a means of dealing with the energy crisis. Although you have seen this student in your class, you haven't spoken with her and you don't know how she personally feels about nuclear energy. She argues for nuclear energy, as requested by your teacher. What do you think her true attitude is toward nuclear energy? This type of question has been addressed by social psychologists. They have found that even though people know that a communicator was arbitrarily assigned to present a particular stand on an issue, they nevertheless infer that the communicator personally agrees somewhat with this position ( Jones & Harris, 1976; Miller, 1976). This effect does not emerge until the communicator actually delivers the assigned presentation ( Jones, Worchel, Goethals, & Grumet, 1971), but then it appears whether or not observers are exposed to it ( Brockner & Nova, 1979), or whether or not the message is persuasive ( Snyder & Jones, 1974).

A study by Ajzen, Dalto, and Blyth ( 1979) indicates that the background information people have about the communicator also influences what inference is likely to be drawn. If the background information is ambiguous, people tend to assume that the communicator is espousing his or her true attitude; if the background information is unambiguous and inconsistent with the position espoused by the communicator, the tendency for people to draw this erroneous inference is attenuated or eliminated ( Zanna, Klosson, & Darley, 1976).

Finally, a study by Miller, Baier, and Schonberg ( 1979) indicates that communicators are aware that audiences tend to assume they support a position that they were forced to endorse.

haviors. However, there are many other sources of information that can be and are used. In the next chapter, we discuss how more complex reasoning processes covering information other than the cause of one's own or another's behavior might relate to attitude change.


Notes
1
We should note that research has also shown that changes in the body can have effects on attitudes, even though these changes are not salient to the person. For example, Rhodewalt and Comer ( 1979) found that, relative to people who wrote a counterattitudinal essay with their faces in a neutral position, subjects whose faces were subtly manipulated into a frown reported a more negative mood and changed their attitudes significantly more toward the position taken in their essays, whereas subjects whose faces were subtly manipulated into a smile reported a more positive mood and changed their attitudes significantly less (see also Comer & Rhodewalt, 1979; Laird, 1974). In chapter 8 we will see how changes in heart rate that are undetected by subjects can affect attitudes ( Cacioppo, 1979). These effects are reviewed further in Cacioppo and Petty (in press).

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