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Dual process models of attitudes

Dr. Simon Moss


According to dual process models of attitudes, either explicit tests or implicit tests can be used to measure attitudes. Explicit tests assess attitudes-which are evaluations of individuals, objects, events, or issues-using direct, transparent questions. Participants might be asked "To what extent do you regard affirmative action as favorable" or "Do you perceive yourself as successful and worthy".

Two issues compromise the validity and utility of these explicit measures. First, individuals might sometimes predict they value or like some object or event in principle. However, in practice, they might not value or like this object or principle. In other words, their evaluations might be inaccurate (see Grum & von Collani, 2007). Second, participants often distort their responses, often to appear more desirable (Greenwald, McGhee & Schwartz, 1998).

Implicit tests are intended to circumvent these problems. These tests indirectly assess the attitudes of individuals. The participant is not usually aware their attitudes have been measured.

Both explicit and implicit attitudes can shape behavior. Implicit attitudes, however, are more likely to affect behavior when demands are steep and individuals feel stressed or distracted (DeDreu, 2003).

Examples of implicit tests

The implicit association test, for example, can assess attitudes implicitly (Greenwald, McGhee & Schwartz, 1998). For more information, see IAT To illustrate, suppose that participants are instructed to press one button, perhaps the letter Q on a keyboard, whenever a word that corresponds to themselves, such as their name, gender, zodiac sign, and month in which they were born, appear. They are instructed to press another button, such as the P on a keyboard, whenever a word that does not correspond to themselves, such as a different name, gender, and so forth, is presented.

In addition, participants might be asked to press the letter Q when a positive adjective appears, and to press the letter P when a negative adjective appears. In other words, in these trials, the same button represents both the self and positive traits. Individuals who perceive themselves favorably are assumed to complete this task effectively, committing few errors and responding rapidly.

On other trials, the buttons that correspond to these traits are reversed. The letter P might correspond to negative traits and the letter Q might correspond to positive traits. In these trials, the same button represents both the self and negative adjectives. Individuals who perceive themselves unfavorably are assumed to perform more effectively in this condition. The difference in performance across the two conditions is assumed to reflect the extent to which individuals have formed positive attitudes towards themselves (see also Steffens, 2004).

Another technique, designed to gauge implicit attitudes, is the affect misattribution procedure (e.g., Payne, Govorun, & Arbuckle, 2008). For more information, see Affect Misattribution Procedure To illustrate, participants are instructed to rate whether they perceive various abstract patterns, such as Chinese characters, as pleasant or unpleasant. Prior to the Chinese character, another object appears. Participants are instructed to disregard this object. Despite this instruction, participants are more inclined to perceive the Chinese character as pleasant if they have formed favorable, not unfavorable, attitudes towards this object.

Physiological methods have sometimes been applied to assess implicit attitudes. Indices such as facial electromyography (see Vanman, Paul, Ito & Miller, 1997) and cardiovascular reactivity (see Blascovich, Mendes, Hunter, Lickel & Kowai-Bell, 2001) can be used to gauge attitudes implicitly, for example.

Determinants of the correspondence between explicit and implicit attitudes

Many studies have examined the extent to which explicit attitudes and implicit attitudes tend to align with one another (see Greenwald & Nosek, 2008, for a review). Recent studies indicate that several factors determine the degree to which explicit attitudes and implicit attitudes correlate with one another (Hofmann, Gawronski, Gschwendner, Le, & Schmitt, 2005& Nosek, 2005).

The first set of factors revolves around the extent to which implicit attitudes, or automatic and intuitive evaluations, are regarded as a valid determinant of responses (e.g., Gawronski, B., & Bodenhausen, 2006). Jordan, Whitfield, and Zeigler-Hill (2007), for example, manipulated the extent to which intuition was regarded as valid, by presenting different perspectives from putative experts. When intuition was depicted as valid, explicit and implicit measures of self esteem, which represents attitudes towards the self, were positively correlated with each other. When intuition was depicted as biased and distorted, these explicit and implicit measures of self esteem were negatively related to one another.

The perceived validity of automatic or intuitive evaluations is the key feature of a recent theory, called the associative-propositional evaluation model (Gawronski & Bodenhausen, 2006, 2007). According to this model, individuals initially form automatic, rapid, and intuitive evaluations towards objects or events. Measures of implicit attitudes tend to reflect these automatic reactions. In addition, these reactions, if deemed to be a valid basis to judge objects or events, are the primarily determinant of explicit attitudes as well. However, if deemed to be an invalid basis to judge objects or events, these reactions are suppressed, and more deliberate, controlled processes inform explicit attitudes.

Grumm, Nestler, and von Collani (2009) showed that shifting attention towards feelings can also amplify the association between explicit and implicit attitudes. That is, these authors showed that evaluative conditioning, in which the word I is associated with positive adjectives, generally improves implicit, but not explicit, self esteem.

Nevertheless, in one study, some of the participants were also encouraged to reflect upon their feelings. In these individuals, the improvements in implicit self esteem also extended to improvements in explicit self esteem.

The second set of factors relates to the mood state of individuals. Positive mood states tend to increase the correspondence between explicit and implicit attitudes (Huntsinger & Smith, 2009). In the studies conducted by Huntsinger and Smith (2009), participants listened to music that was intended to foster a positive or negative mood state. The implicit associative test was utilized to gauge implicit attitudes towards either prejudice or mathematics versus arts. When participants experienced a positive mood, these implicit attitudes were highly correlated with explicit attitudes of the same issues. According to Huntsinger and Smith (2009), positive mood states increase the perceived validity of their intuitive or automatic evaluations. As a consequence, individuals are more inclined to perceive these automatic evaluations as accurate.

The third set of factors revolves around social norms. Explicit attitudes that depart from the prevailing social norms are less likely to be positively correlated with implicit attitudes (e.g., Fazio, 1995& Nosek, 2005). This finding implies that explicit, but not implicit, attitudes are more susceptible to the tendency of individuals to attempt to portray themselves positively.

The fourth set of factors relates to the conditions under which the attitudes are measured. Explicit attitudes, when measured under time pressure, often correspond to implicit attitudes (Ranganath, Smith, & Nosek, 2008). Likewise, when individuals are instructed to trust their gut reactions, explicit attitudes and implicit attitudes tend to coincide (Ranganath, Smith, & Nosek, 2008).


In some instances, policies that are intended to shift some attitude can amplify discrepancies between explicit and implicit attitudes. To illustrate, an organization might institute some program to redress an undesirable attitude, such as prejudice towards some minority. During this program, participants are exposed to a series of principles and insights they might not have appreciated before. These principles and insights can shape the explicit attitudes of individuals. Individuals become more inclined to favor this minority or collective.

Nevertheless, this program might amplify a specific domain or attribute--a domain or attribute in which the minority or collective is perceived unfavorably. As a consequence, the adverse characteristics of this minority or collective are magnified& implicit attitudes towards this entity deteriorate (Tinkley, Li, & Molborn, 2007).

Tinkley, Li, and Molborn (2007) uncovered some results that vindicate this set of arguments. In their study, some of the participants first read a policy on sexual harassment. The policy prohibits unwelcome sexual advances and other acts of a sexual nature that might represent harassment. Other participants did not receive this policy.

Next, the participants, all of whom were male, completed a computer task. They were, albeit misleadingly, told they were collaborating with a female. During this task, a series of black and white images were presented. The participants were instructed to decide whether the images contain more white or black. The participant and the female collaborator occasionally disagreed and were granted opportunities to shift their initial choice.

Finally, participants completed an implicit association task, which was undertaken to assess implicit attitudes towards females. In addition, participants completed a series of questions, assessing the extent to which they perceive women as powerful, competent, and likeable, to assess explicit attitudes. Interestingly, after participants read the policy on sexual harassment, their implicit attitudes towards females diminished.

According to Tinkley, Li, and Molborn (2007), these policies amplify the importance of status. Given that women are often perceived as lower in status, many of the negative characteristics associated with females are magnified. In contrast, the positive characteristics associated with females were inhibited. Hence, implicit attitudes towards females decline--attitudes that often shape behavior, especially when individuals feel stress, overload, or distracted (cf DeDreu, 2003).

Modification of implicit attitudes

Most of the factors that influence this correspondence affect the explicit, rather than implicit, attitudes. However, several sets of factors also impinge on implicit attitudes, although most of these studies have examined implicit stereotypes (for reviews, see Blair, 2002& Dasgupta & Greenwald, 2001& Kawakami, Dovidio, Moll, Hermsen, & Russin, 2000& Stewart & Payne, 2008& Wittenbrink, Judd, & Park, 2001).

First, the social context or setting can affect implicit attitudes or stereotypes. In a study conducted by Lowery, Hardin, and Sinclair (2001), for example, the experimenter was either an African or a European American. Implicit attitudes towards African Americans were more positive when the experimenter was also an African American-as gauged by techniques such as the Implicit Association Test. Furthermore, explicit instructions to curb prejudice also improved attitudes towards African Americans.

These findings indicate that both tacit and explicit social cues can impinge upon implicit attitudes. That is, implicit attitudes are regulated by the need to cultivate a shared reality among individuals-a pattern of observations that Lowery, Hardin, and Sinclair (2001) refer to as social tuning. Specifically, to improve interpersonal relationships, individuals prefer to adopt the same attitudes as does anyone with whom they might interact.

Similarly, Wittenbrink, Judd, and Park (2001) also showed how the context can affect implicit attitudes towards African Americans. In particular, these implicit attitudes were more positive after the European American participants were exposed to the background of a church instead of the background of a ghetto. That is, the context can purportedly shift the meaning of race to impinge on implicit attitudes.

Second, and related to the effects of context, the social roles that individuals adopt can affect their implicit attitudes, as shown by Barden, Maddux, Petty, and Brewer (2004). That is, individuals adopt different roles in distinct contexts, such as student, manager, participant, attendant of church, factor worker, authority, and so forth. These roles influence the meaning of some social category and object, which thus impinges on implicit attitudes.

To illustrate, when participants assumed the role of an athlete, by presenting a basketball court, attitudes towards African Americans improved relative to Asian Americans. That is, positive words more readily be categorized as positive rather than negative after a photograph of an African American appeared. The opposite pattern of findings was observed when participants assumed the role of a student.

Third, and perhaps related to the adoption of roles, motives to enhance or protect self esteem can also impinge upon implicit attitudes. To illustrate, in a study conducted by Sinclair and Kunda (1999), participants received praise or criticism from an African Americans doctor. If praised by this person, the stereotypes associated with doctors but not African Americans was activated-as gauged by a word completion task. In contrast, if criticized by this person, the stereotypes associated with African Americans but not doctors were activated.

Spencer, Fein, Wolfe, Fong, and Dunn (1998) also showed that stereotypes against minorities were more likely to be activated after individuals received negative feedback, even if they were distracted by other activities. Presumably, exposure to many instances in which the motivation to restore self esteem coincides with the activation of negatives stereotypes underpins this implicit association (see also Blair, Ma, & Lenton, 2001).

Fourth, instances or exemplars that depart from prevailing attitudes can also affect measures of implicit attitudes. For example, implicit attitudes of European Americans towards African Americans were improved after they received positive Black exemplars, such as Tiger Woods, or negative White exemplars, such as Ted Bundy.

Fifth, effortful practice and training can also affect implicit attitudes (e.g., Kawakami, Dovidio, Moll, Hermsen, & Russin, 2000). For example, in one study conducted by Kawakami, Dovidio, Moll, Hermsen, and Russin (2000), respondents were instructed to express the word No whenever a picture of a person-such as a skinhead or elderly individual-coincided with the presentation of a trait that is consistent with the stereotypes of these collectives. In addition, respondents were instructed to express the word Yes whenever a picture of a skinhead or elderly individual coincided with the presentation of a trait that is inconsistent with their stereotypes. Implicit attitudes towards these collectives improved, as gauged by various techniques.

Sixth, and related to the benefits of practice, Stewart and Payne (2008) showed that planning to entertain thoughts that contradict stereotypes can affect implicit attitudes. In their study, European Americans formed implementation intentions. For example, some participants formed the intention to repeat the word safe to themselves whenever they were exposed to an African American.

As a consequence of forming this intention, they were less likely to demonstrate implicit attitudes against African Americans. In particular, usually, when African Americans appear on a screen, participants can subsequently recognize guns more rapidly than tools& that is, they associate African Americans with aggression. This association diminishes after individuals form the intention to repeat the word safe to themselves whenever they were exposed to an African American.

Nonverbal cues

Nonverbal cues can also shape implicit attitudes. For example, even observing someone exhibit unfriendly behaviors towards another ethnicity or race, such as avoid eye contact or sit far away, is sufficient to prime negative attitudes towards this ethnicity or race (Castelli, Carraro, Pavan, Murelli, & Carraro, 2012).

To illustrate, in one study, all the participants were white Americans. They watched an interaction between a white man and a black man. In one condition, the white person was friendly: He shook hands vigorously, sat close to the other man, leant towards him, and established eye contact frequently. In the other condition, the white person was unfriendly: He shook hands loosely and reluctantly, spoke hesitantly rather than animatedly, retained an empty between himself and the other man, leant backwards, and avoided eye contact. As shown by implicit association test, after watching the white man behave in a friendly manner, participants were more likely to show positive attitudes towards black individuals.

In the second study, participants listened to a journal article that depicted black immigrants in Italy unfavorably. While they listened to this article, another person, actually a confederate of the researcher, nodded or did not nod. If the confederate nodded, participants were more likely to demonstrate negative attitudes towards black individuals, as gauged by an implicit association test. The nodding seemed to reinforce the contents of this article. In both of these studies, these nonverbal behaviors did not appreciably affect explicit measures of attitudes.

Presumably, these nonverbal behaviors indicate to individuals which behaviors and norms are acceptable in their community. Nonverbal behaviors precede verbal behaviors from an evolutionary perspective. Therefore, the nonverbal behaviors of other people in their community may appreciably shape the implicit attitudes and tendencies of individuals.

Interventions to reduce implicit race biases

Devine, Forscher, Austin, and Cox (2012) developed an intervention that was designed to curb implicit racial biases. The intervention entailed three phases. The first phase revolved around awareness of biases. Specifically, individuals completed an implicit association task, designed to gauge racial bias. For example, in the study that was conducted by Devine, Forscher, Austin, and Cox (2012), European Americans completed an implicit association task to assess their attitudes towards African Americans. Next, they received feedback about their performance on this test, in which they were told that many people associate negative thoughts and feelings to other races.

The second phase revolved around knowledge about the consequences of implicit biases. Specifically, participants were informed that such implicit biases translate to discrimination. That is, even people who maintain they are not prejudiced, but demonstrate implicit biases, can reach decisions that disadvantage minorities. Members of minorities are rejected unfairly from roles and treated discourteously in daily life.

The third phase revolved around strategies that redress this bias. In this study, participants were informed that implicit biases are like habits that need to be overcome. Five strategies were imparted to participants:

Participants completed the implicit association task both before and six weeks after this intervention. A control group of participants also completed the implicit association tasks but were not exposed to the three phases of this intervention. The intervention did significantly curb biases, as measured by the implicit association test--especially if the participants claimed they utilized these strategies and expressed concern about discrimination.

Consequences of explicit and implicit attitudes

In general, research indicates that explicit attitudes influence behavior primarily when individuals apply deliberate, considered, and rational processes to select their course of action. In contrast, implicit attitudes influence behavior primarily when individuals select behaviors more intuitively, instinctively, effortlessly, and spontaneously.

To illustrate, several studies have shown that explicit attitudes affect behavior only when individuals can demonstrate self control. In contrast, implicit attitudes shape behavior regardless of whether or not individuals apply self control. In one study, conducted by Legault, Green-Demers and Eadie (2009), explicit and implicit prejudice was assessed. Furthermore, some participants engaged in a demanding task--a task that subsequently diminished the capacity of individuals to maintain self control and suppress their natural inclinations (see Ego depletion and self control). Interestingly, explicit prejudice was related to overt discrimination, but only if self control had not been diminished. In contrast, implicit prejudice was related to overt discrimination, regardless of whether self control had been diminished.

Similarly, in a study conducted by Friese, Hofmann, and Wanke (2008), the explicit and implicit attitudes towards the chips were assessed. In participants who had engaged in a task that depleted their capacity to maintain self control, implicit rather than explicit attitudes were related to the subsequent consumption of chips. In the remaining participants, explicit rather than implicit attitudes were related to the subsequent consumption of chips.

Arousal and wellbeing

When individuals experience a discrepancy between their implicit attitudes and explicit attitudes towards some person or object, the ensuing dissonance is experienced as a sense of uncertainty, discomfort, and unease. Often, people ascribe these feelings to their own problems, diminishing their perceptions of themselves and diminishing their self-esteem in particular and wellbeing in general (Rydell & Durso, 2012).

To illustrate, in one study, conducted by Rydell and Durso (2012), participants received either positive or negative explicit information about a person, called Bob. While reading this information, they were exposed to subliminal words that were either positive or negative, evoking either positive or negative implicit attitudes towards Bob. Participants were also asked to indicate the extent to which they feel negative arousal--uncomfortable, uneasy, or bothered in particular. In addition, they completed measures of wellbeing, such as scales that gauge self-esteem, perceived stress, depression, and physical symptoms. Discrepancies between explicit and implicit attitudes to Bob evoked negative arousal and compromised well-being.

The MODE model

The MODE model, as propounded by Fazio (1990& Fazio & Towles-Schwen,1999& Schuette & Fazio, 1995), offers an excellent account of this pattern of observations. According to this model, an attitude represents the extent to which individuals learn to associate some object or issue, such as an ethnicity, to positive or negative evaluations. These attitudes, then, bias the perceptions and appraisals of the objects or issues. If individuals form a positive attitude towards some person, for example, they will interpret the behaviors of this person favorably in the future. If they form a negative attitude towards some ethnicity, they will judge the actions of this community unfavorably. These judgments then affect the behavior of individuals.

Only strong attitudes--that is, attitudes that are salient in memory--however, will govern behavior (Fazio, 1990). That is, attitudes that can be accessed readily and rapidly are more likely to govern the behavior of individuals.

Fazio and Towles-Schwen (1999) argue that attitudes can be accessed spontaneously or deliberately. Spontaneous attitudes refer to the immediate evaluations of an object or issue. Deliberate attitudes, in contrast, are formed after individuals consider the benefits and drawbacks of some object or issue more systematically and consciously. Implicit measures are assumed primarily to gauge spontaneous attitudes, whereas explicit measures are assumed largely to gauge more deliberate attitudes (Fazio & Olson, 2003).

Accordingly, when individuals are not motivated to deliberate over a task extensively, spontaneous attitudes, and thus implicit measures, are likely to correlate with subsequent behavior. In contrast, when individuals are motivated to deliberate over a task, carefully and exhaustively, deliberate attitudes, and thus explicit measures, should be associated with behavior (Fazio & Towles-Schwen, 1999).


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