The Influence of Attitudes on Beliefs: Formation and Change

Authored by: Kerry L. Marsh , Harry M. Wallace

The Handbook of Attitudes

Print publication date:  April  2005
Online publication date:  April  2014

Print ISBN: 9780805844924
eBook ISBN: 9781410612823
Adobe ISBN: 9781135626174


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Through direct or indirect contact with an object or event, we experience what attributes that object may have, what feelings it evokes in us, and what actions we can take with regard to it. Our response to those experiences generally does not stop with a cataloguing of these believed features, affective reactions, and perceived action-possibilities, however. Often, the resulting beliefs people form regarding whether the object has desirable or undesirable attributes leads individuals to form a general evaluative tendency, that is, an attitude toward that object. In this chapter we review research on one way in which forming such attitudes is useful: in aiding the subsequent retrieval, formation, or change in beliefs about the object. Because of the nature of conceptual structures such as attitudes, and because of the motivation to resist information that contradicts our current preferences, attitudes often have attitude-congruent effects on beliefs. Attitude-belief congruence means that individuals accept or revise their beliefs about attributes of the object in a way that makes these beliefs congenial with their attitudes. Although the more traditional way of conceptualizing the link between beliefs and attitudes is to view beliefs as causally prior to attitudes (see Kruglanski & Stroebe, this volume, for a review of these perspectives), there is evidence that attitudes also distort our beliefs, through information processing that is biased for motivational or cognitive reasons. Attitudes can influence beliefs by influencing the perception of an attitude object, by affecting the mere retrieval of beliefs on which the attitude was originally formed, or by constructing new beliefs on-the-fly. Moreover, circumstances that lead one to reflect on or change an attitude can strengthen attitude-belief associations and yet, paradoxically, cause distorted beliefs about the beliefs that formed those attitudes (an attitude-belief disconnect). This chapter reviews theoretical perspectives on attitude-belief effects and reviews the evidence for a causal impact of attitudes on beliefs, discussing the conditions under which attitude belief congruence effects are strengthened or eliminated.

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