Volume VII, 2008
Dr. Christopher Leone
People hold attitudes about a wide range of issues. People hold attitudes about issues ranging from toothpaste brands to foreign policies. One issue, for example, that has recently become salient in both the United States and Europe is illegal immigration. Consider two people sitting around discussing current affairs. One person mentions illegal immigration. The other person states that immigration is becoming a problem, but there are other things the government should worry about first. After a few minutes of thought, the gentleman that stated the government should worry about other things first blurts out that illegal immigration will be the downfall of this country! How could this person’s attitudes become so extreme in such a short period of time? When people are given an opportunity to think about an attitude object (e.g., persons, places, issues), their attitudes toward that attitude object tend to polarize (Tesser, 1978; Tesser, Martin & Mendolia, 1995). That is, attitudes that are initially favorable tend to become more favorable, whereas initially unfavorable attitudes tend to become more unfavorable. This phenomenon is referred to as self generated attitude change. Sadler and Tesser (1973) first researched this process of self generated attitude change by playing participants a recording of either a “likeable partner” that complimented these participants or a “dislikable partner” that criticized these participants. Participants were then asked to either think about their partner or were distracted from thinking about their partner. When given an opportunity to think about their partner, participants in a “likeable partner” condition held more favorable attitudes about their partner than did those participants in a distraction condition. Similarly, when given an opportunity to think about their partner, participants in a “dislikeable partner” condition held more unfavorable attitudes about their partner than did those participants in a distraction condition.
Gladding, Ryan, "Structure on Attitude Polarization" (2008). All Volumes (2001-2008). Paper 137.