Deconstructing Attitude Strength: Understanding the Cognitive Structures and Subjective Beliefs Related to Attitudes

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Wood, Jay
Attitudes , Attitude Strength
The effects of various antecedents to cognitive elaboration on the structural properties and subjective beliefs related to attitude strength were examined in 2 experiments. Participants read vaccine-related information and received arguments for and against the implementation of a vaccine program for a fictitious virus. Their ability and motivation to attend to the central merits of the arguments were manipulated using a 2 (high vs. low ability) x 2 (high vs. low motivation) between-participants design, and the effects on 21 attitude- and attitude-strength related outcome variables were observed. Ability was determined by time pressure (Study 1) and distraction (Study 2), and motivation was determined by personal responsibility (Study 1) and involvement (Study 2). A meta-analysis of the experiments revealed that whereas none of the structural properties related to attitude strength were affected, all of the subjective beliefs were affected, and ability and motivation had differential effects. Ability primarily affected beliefs that reflect the validity and consistency of the knowledge base as well as the intensity of the attitude; motivation affected beliefs that reflect the intensity of the attitude and the functional relevance of the attitude object. As well, ability and motivation interacted on a number of variables, with a consistent pattern emerging: High (vs. low) motivation was associated with increased perceived knowledge, clarity, and accessibility, and decreased ambivalence under low ability; the opposite pattern occurred under high ability. Overall, this research represents the first systematic and the most comprehensive attempt to determine which strength dimensions are affected by variations in elaboration. It also provides evidence that the subjective beliefs might operate independent of the structural properties, that various antecedents to elaboration might not be directly interchangeable, and that ability and motivation might have different strength-related outcomes. Finally, this research demonstrated that when used in tandem, the effects of ability and motivation do not necessarily operate in an additive fashion, but can interact in some previously unforeseen ways.
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