This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 15 table of contents.

Persuasion and Attitude Change

Now we move to a different research tradition: one that—like the study of obedience—involves people's attempts to influence and control each other. It begins with the study of attitudes, which are inclinations to favor or disfavor particular beliefs, people, products, or messages.

What is an attitude?

What attitude toward attitudes remained consistent for over 60 years?

Gordon Allport wrote in 1935 "The concept of attitude is probably the most distinctive and indispensable concept in contemporary American social psychology." This view was reaffirmed by Kelman (1974) who wrote, "In the years since publication of Allport's paper, attitudes have, if anything, become even more central in social psychology" and by Petty, Wegener, and Fabrigar (1997) who were impressed by the "sheer amount" of research on attitudes during the three-year time period they were asked to review (1992-1995).

What is this all-important concept in social psychology? Here are some definitions proposed by various social psychologists:

An attitude is a positive or negative orientation toward a target.

An attitude is a disposition to respond in a favorable or unfavorable manner to given objects.

Attitudes are likes and dislikes.

What do all the definitions of attitude have in common?

What all the definitions of attitude have in common is evaluation. An attitude is not just a neutral stance; it is a value judgment, favorable or unfavorable, for or against.

The words attitude and persuasion are often found together, as in the phrase persuasion and attitude change. Persuasion is an attempt to change people's attitudes. For example, advertisers try to persuade potential customers to buy a product. To do this, they try to create a positive attitude toward the product.

This example also illustrates something important about attitudes. They are presumed to affect behavior. Social psychologists have emphasized that an attitude is preparation for behavior. Otherwise, nobody would care about attitudes. An advertiser would not try to make you feel more "positive" or "liking" toward a product unless this was assumed to affect your likelihood of buying the product.

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