Sex, Drugs, and Attitudinal Ambivalence:
How Feelings of Evaluative Tension Influence
Alcohol Use and Safe Sex Behaviors
Joseph R. Priester
University of Michigan
Attitudes generally are defined as people's global evaluative responses to other people, places, activities, products, and ideas (Eagly & Chaiken, 1995; Petty, Priester, & Wegener, 1994; Petty & Wegener, 1998). The importance of attitudes lies in their ability to shape and guide behavior (Allport, 1935). Attitudes can be powerful predictors of behavior (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1977, 1980; Fazio, 1995; Fazio, Powell, & Herr, 1983; Fazio, Powell, & Williams, 1989; Fazio & Williams, 1986; Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975; Petty & Cacioppo, 1986; Petty, Haugtvedt, & Smith, 1995). As such, an effective strategy for changing the behavior of an individual is to change that person's attitude. Thus, the goal of many antidrug campaigns is to change young people's attitudes toward drugs, such that drugs are seen as bad rather than good. It is hoped that, as a consequence, those young people will be less likely to use drugs as a function of their changed attitude.
Attitudes typically have been conceptualized (as well as measured) as lying along a bipolar continuum, from negative reactions at one end of the continuum to positive reactions at the other. Thus, within this perspective, an adolescent's attitude toward marijuana could range from extreme dislike (resulting in avoidance and withdrawal) to extreme liking (resulting in attraction and consumption). But are attitudes, especially those attitudes toward such complex social issues as drug use and sexual behavior, so unambiguous? Are attitudes always simply positive or simply negative reactions? Is it that young people feel either favorably or unfavorably toward drugs? Or is it possible that young people sometimes feel both positively and negatively toward drugs? In fact, recent research