Attitudes and Opinions

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

4
Implicit and Indirect
Measures of Attitudes

The human mind must think with the aid of categories—Once formed, categories are the basis for normal prejudgment. We cannot possibly avoid this process.—Gordon Allport, 1954.

There comes to mind the uncertainty of using an opinion [statement] as an index of attitude. The man may be a liar Neither his opinions nor his overt acts constitute in any sense an infallible guide to the subjective inclinations and preferences that constitute his attitude.—Louis Thurstone, 1928.

To what extent are we aware of our attitudes and opinions? Is it possible that some of our preferences exist outside of our conscious awareness? Can such unconscious attitudes be “activated” and influence us automatically, without thinking? Or can we control our attitudes so that they don't show? Suppose that you have a negative opinion of your friend's parents; can you control this opinion so that it isn't obvious when you are talking with them?

In the previous chapter, we examined the major approaches that utilize explicit measures of attitudes. These approaches, particularly the use of Likert scales, have dominated attitude measurement since it began around 1930. They have been used to measure attitudes about a multitude of social issues (abortion, school vouchers, gun control, welfare), people (George W. Bush, Bill Gates, Michael Jordan), groups (women, gay men, ethnic minorities), objects (Coke, spotted owls, mass transit), and activities (bungee jumping, surfing, recycling), to name only a few.

Explicit attitudes are deliberate evaluations that are open to introspection and are under conscious control (Ottaway, Hay den, & Oakes, 2001). The traditional model guiding the construction of explicit measures has been referred to as the file drawer model (Wilson & Hodges, 1992; Tourangeau, Rips, & Rasinski, 2000). According to this model:

When people are asked how they feel about something, such as legalized abortion, their Uncle Harry, or anchovies on a pizza, presumably they consult a mental file containing their evaluations. They look for the file marked abortion, Uncle Harry, or anchovies, and report the evaluation it contains. (Wilson & Hodges, 1992, p. 38)

This basic model characterizes much of the research utilizing explicit measures. It assumes that the attitude exists within the person, that the person can retrieve it accurately from memory, and that he or she is able and willing to express it truthfully in response to the question.

Since the early 1990s, a sizable amount of research has begun to examine implicit attitudes—automatic evaluations that occur without conscious reflection and are not necessarily available for introspection or control (Fazio, 1990; Banaji & Bhaskar, 2000;

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