Chester A. Insko University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
Balance theory takes as its explicit task the description of a person's phenomenology. That is, it analyzes the way in which people personally experience their world. Although embedded in the philosophical orientation of phenomenology ( MacLeod, 1964), it owes its original formulation to Heider ( 1946, 1958). Balance theory has, from its very beginning, addressed the problem of understanding "cognitive responses."
This chapter is devoted to showing how balance theory provides a basis for understanding cognitive responses in persuasion and attitude change. The first half attempts to integrate the suggestions of Heider and others into a coherent statement of balance theory. The second half applies these concepts to selected topics in attitude change.
As Heider develops balance theory, the main concern is with three types of elements: the person in whose experience or phenomenology balance processes are operating, some other perceived person, and a perceived event, idea, or thing. Heider symbolizes the three elements with lowercase letters: p for the person, o for the other person, and x for the perceived event, idea, or thing.
Between any pair of the elements, one or both of two types of relations may exist. Heider refers to these as sentiment relations and unit relations. A sentiment is an affective or feeling relation that implies "liking" or "disliking,"