Attitudes and Opinions

By Stuart Oskamp; P. Wesley Schultz | Go to book overview

3
Explicit Measures of
Attitudes

That guy Arnold sure is hot!

Auto dealers are just out to make a quick buck, and they'll rip off their customers every time they get a chance.

School vouchers are a bad idea because they will take money away from public schools.

These are all expressions of attitudes. They describe a person's feelings toward another person, a group, a situation, or an idea. Attitudes can be expressed in many ways—with different words, different tonal inflections, and different degrees of intensity. Some of the color and richness of the ways in which attitudes and opinions are often expressed is captured in the quotations from actual public opinion interviews shown in Box 3–1.

How can statements like these be studied scientifically? To compare them in any systematic way, we have to classify them into two or more categories (e.g., pro or anti concerning some group or idea) or, preferably, measure them on a quantitative scale (e.g., indicating degree of favorability or unfavorability). Furthermore, the classification or measurement must be reliable, that is, consistent. Reliability means (a) that two different raters agree on their classification of the statements to a high degree, and also (b) that on two different occasions the respondents' statements are largely consistent. Reliability and validity of measurement are discussed later in this chapter.

In this chapter, we examine ways of measuring explicit attitudes—evaluations that a person is consciously aware of and can express. In the next chapter, we examine implicit attitudes—evaluations that are automatic and function without a person's awareness or ability to control them (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995; Dovidio, Kawakami, & Gaertner, 2002).


TYPES OF ATTITUDE QUESTIONS

All measures of explicit attitudes rely on self-report. There are two basic types of questions that are used to obtain statements of attitudes and opinions. Some of the interview questions quoted in Box 3–1 are open-ended questions—ones that give the respondent a free choice of how to answer and what to mention (e.g., “What do you think was the main cause of these disturbances?”). Other questions are closed-ended—that is, ones that present two or more alternative answers for the respondent to choose between (e.g., “Have the disturbances helped or hurt the cause of Negro rights?”). Often an interview will use both types of questions because they have complementary advantages and disadvantages.

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