Volume VI, 2007
Dr. Christopher Leone
Picture yourself giving a speech to an audience of one hundred people. While you speak, every person boos and makes hostile comments. You have no support. Would you have the strength to persevere against such adversity?
On January 16th, 2004, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf demonstrated such strength. For about forty minutes, he was booed and heckled while he tried to update the Parliament on the status of Pakistan’s antiterrorism movement. His critics primarily booed him for supporting the United States’ War on Terror. This incident demonstrates that people all over the world have either extremely negative views or extremely positive views of the United States (Bidwai, 2003; Rohde, 2002; Ross, 2003). Some people do not simply disagree with the United States rather they despise to an extreme level those people who agree with the United States (Linville & Edward, 1980; Meindl & Lerner, 1984). Two assassination attempts on President Musharraf presumably demonstrate that people despised him because of his positive feelings toward the United States.
Why and how do people become so extreme that they would kill a person who disagrees with them? One explanation for this extremism is the effect of thought on a person’s attitudes. If people believe Arabs have less right to the Holy Land than do Israelis, then these people might have a moderately negative view of Arabs. Examining the actions of others (e.g., Arabs) and thinking about a situation (e.g., suicide bombings) can cause people with initially moderate negative views to hold extreme negative views (i.e., polarize; Tesser, 1978). Merely by thinking, people’s views about Arab attacks on Jews may become more extreme because the attacks (i.e., negative behaviors) reinforce people’s initially negative views. The amount of negative examples people have to consider influences the justification these people have for their negative attitudes. Consequently, in many instances after thinking, extremists feel rightly justified in their attitudes and beliefs.
Psychologist Abraham Tesser (1978) termed the aforementioned phenomenon as self-generated attitude change. People’s attitudes polarize when given time to think (see Tesser, 1978, for a review). That is, if people’s original attitudes are positive, then after thinking about the object of their attitudes, people’s attitudes will become more positive. If people’s original attitudes are negative, then after thinking about the object of their attitudes, people’s attitudes will become more negative. The longer people think about an issue, the more extreme their attitudes may become (Tesser & Conlee, 1975).
Melnik, Tatiana, "Self-Generated Attitude Change and Need for Cognition: Does a Change in One Attitude Affect Other Attitudes?" (2007). All Volumes (2001-2008). Paper 33.