Embodied Cognition and the Construction of Attitudes

Authored by: Norbert Schwarz , Spike W. S. Lee

The Handbook of Attitudes

Print publication date:  September  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138648258
eBook ISBN: 9781315178103
Adobe ISBN:


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The body figures prominently in common language definitions of the term attitude. The Oxford Dictionary (n.d.) refers to “a position of the body indicating a particular mental state (‘the boy was standing in an attitude of despair’)” and Merriam-Webster (n.d.) refers to “the arrangement of the parts of a body” or “a position assumed for a specific purpose (‘a threatening attitude’).” This understanding is consistent with the use of the term by early behavioral scientists, including Herbert Spencer (1864/1909) and Charles Darwin (1872/1965), who assumed a link between evaluation and action that is apparent in bodily expression. This assumption is still detectable in Gordon Allport’s (1935, p. 810) conceptualization of an attitude as “a mental and neural state of readiness, organized through experience, exerting a directive and dynamic influence upon the individual’s response to all objects and situations with which it is related.” Allport’s approach assumed that attitudes reflect “an enduring organization of motivational, emotional, perceptual, and cognitive processes with respect to some aspect of the individual’s world” as Krech and Crutchfield (1948, p. 152) put it in the leading textbook of the time. As empirical findings accumulated, it proved disappointingly difficult to find stable relationships between the assumed component processes. In response, the conceptualization of attitudes shifted to a focus on the evaluative component. The currently leading textbook defines attitude as “a psychological tendency that is expressed by evaluating a particular entity with some degree of favor or disfavor” (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993, p. 1). In the succinct words of Daryl Bem (1970, p. 14), “attitudes are likes and dislikes.”

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