Humans are naturally opinionated. We form likes and dislikes almost from the moment we first gain consciousness. Our stances on issues and our attitudes about things are directly linked to our innermost thoughts and feelings. In modern society we are constantly bombarded by advertisements and entertainment which works hard to influence or change these thoughts and feelings. This is the art of attitude change, and it is important to understand what attitudes are and how they can be affected.
Our teachers, friends, families, etc. convey their beliefs to us on a daily basis. On television, magazines, billboards, and even people’s cars and bodies– advertisements are everywhere. But to what degree do these things change the attitudes and behavior of people? To answer these questions it is important to understand what an attitude is.
Attitude – An evaluation of a person, object, or idea.  The focus of one’s attitude, or what they are evaluating, is called the attitude object.  Attitudes can be broken down into three different parts which together create an evaluation of the attitude object. 
- Affective Component - This consists of the emotional reactions people have to attitude objects. For instance, if you have a favorite singer and you hear their voice come on the radio you might have feelings of happiness or excitement. If there is a car you think is ugly looking you might feel annoyed when you spot one on the road.
- Behavioral Component - This consists of actions or observable behavior that is the result of an attitude object. If you hear a song you like on the radio then you might go home and research the singer so you can buy their album. You might then spend all your free time listening to this album. The attitude object has changed your behavior and actions.
- Cognitive Component – These are the thoughts and beliefs people have about an attitude object. For instance, you might like a singer because he or she has a melodic voice and catchy lyrics. You might also believe that the singer is a lot like you are which makes the music easier to relate to.
When these three components are combined they work to create an overall attitude about an attitude object.
Attitudes might be linked to one’s genetic makeup. Studies have shown that identical twins share many of the same attitudes, while fraternal twins differ in opinion.  Temperament and personality are formed in part by our genetics, and these factors can influence the attitudes we form. For instance, someone who is born with a mellow, easy-going personality might prefer listening to soft rock rather than heavy metal.
Of course, attitudes are not only the result of genetics, but are also formed because of social experiences that involve the affective, behavioral, and cognitive components.
When a person’s opinion about something is based primarily on the beliefs or facts they have, then it is called a cognitively based attitude.  These kinds of attitudes allow people to classify an attitudinal object by its pluses and minuses. By doing this, it is easier to decide whether or not a person likes and wants to have anything to do with an object, idea, or person. Such attitudes rely on logic since a person effectively weighs the good and bad before drawing conclusions. An example of a cognitively based attitude might be thinking that the house you just bought is great because it is moderately sized and located near some good schools.
Affectively Based Attitudes
When a person forms an opinion of something based on emotions and values, rather than objective beliefs, they have created an affectively based attitude.  A boy might like a girl just because of the way she makes him feel. A girl might love her car because it runs smoothly, doesn’t eat up a lot of gas, and has given her many good memories. People might form an affectively based attitude about Snickers candy bars because the taste brings them pleasure. Attitudes about sex, politics, and religion are likely to be affectively based since these topics often tug at a person’s heart strings rather than stimulate the logical mind. Affectively based attitudes can come from religious and moral beliefs, such as whether or not women should have the right to an abortion.  Such attitudes are formed not through logic so much as on inner feelings and values. Affectively based attitudes can also result from conditioning.
- Classical Conditioning – Sometimes smells, colors and other sensory information can elicit strong emotional response. Such emotional responses are probably created through classical conditioning.  When a stimulus elicits an emotional response it is accompanied by a neutral stimulus which does not cause an emotional response. If the stimuli continue then eventually the neutral stimulus will be able to cause the emotional response without the need of the original, actual stimulus. For instance, if when you were young you often went to a field that smelled strongly of roses, then chances are the smell of roses will make you recall memories of your time in that field. This is the process of classical conditioning, and it can create attitudes about things that our based on stimuli.
- Operant Conditioning – When people choose to engage in behaviors, those behaviors will be reinforced when followed by a reward. If punishment follows an action then it is being negatively reinforced and the person will perform that action less often.  If a young girl were to try and play with a boy she met at school, but her parents frequently punished her for it, telling her that “boys are bad”, then she will most likely develop the same negative attitude toward boys as her parents have. If her actions were reinforced positively by her parents, then she might not develop a negative attitude about boys.
All affectively based attitudes have three key things in common. They don’t result from rational evaluations, they are not governed by logic, and they are often linked to peoples values.
Bahaviorially Based Attitudes
These attitudes come from observations of behavior toward something.  Sometimes people don’t know how to feel until they see how they behave. This is one of the arguments in Daryl Bem’s self-perception theory. An example of this would be if someone were to not realize that the reason they walk through the park every morning on their way to school is because the trees and grass make them happy or peaceful. This attitude was formed after they had developed a routine that they hadn’t been consciously considering or wondering about. Such attitudes are based on observation of behavior and not on cognitions or affect.
Behaviorially based attitudes only form when a person’s initial attitude toward something was weak or ambiguous. If someone already knew that they liked walking through nature then he or she wouldn’t need to observe their behavior to realize their attitude about nature. People also infer their attitudes from the behavior only if there aren’t any other explanations for their behavior. For instance, a girl who is always trying to spend time with a boy might infer later on that she actually has a romantic crush on the boy as a way to explain her behavior. If she had to spend time with this boy as part of a school activity then she would need to have no further explanation for her action.
Explicit and Implicit Attitudes
When a person consciously endorses and easily reports an attitude, then that attitude is explicit.  These are the opinions that are most accessible, or at the top of people’s heads. For instance, if one person asked another what their favorite kind of restaurants are like then the person answering should be able to access their explicit attitudes on the subject by thinking about their favorite restaurants. On the other hand there are implicit attitudes, which are involuntary, uncontrollable, and sometimes unconscious evaluations people make. Many implicit attitudes are based on values that are deeply ingrained into our psyche. For instance, someone who was raised to respect women and wait until marriage to have sex might automatically dislike a movie he watches where all of the main characters are misogynistic and having promiscuous sex. This attitude comes involuntarily and there is nothing the person can do about it since it is coming from an unconscious part of the mind.
Attitudes can change for a number of reasons. It is a key interest of psychologists, advertisers, and more to understand what makes people change their beliefs or opinions. Attitudes most commonly change in response to social influence. What other people do or say can have a huge effect on our own cognitions. The whole advertising industry functions on the knowledge that people’s attitudes toward products or services can be molded through the use of imagery and/or sound. There are certain conditions that must exist for a person’s attitude to change.
Cognitive Dissonance is a complex theory that explains the discomfort people feel when they hold two conflicting ideas in their head at the same time, and the subsequent cognitions and resolutions that can occur from such discomfort. Attitudes can sometimes change when people behave inconsistently or out of line with the way they normally would behave and they are unable to find external justification for such behavior. Cognitive dissonance usually occurs when a person does something that goes against the image they have of themselves and they are unable to blame their behavior on external circumstances, so it is essentially dissonance that can cause attitude changes.  For example, imagine you are in a job interview for your dream job and your would-be boss makes a remark about how much she loves coffee. You have always hated coffee so you refuse to take a cup when she offers. The woman looks upset and says, “What, you don’t like coffee?”. You feel scared that maybe this coffee thing is more important than you thought it would be, and really want to get this job. You don’t want to be a liar but you also don’t want this woman to have a negative image of you, so you say, “Oh no… I love coffee; I’ve already had a lot today already. Thanks though!” In a moment of dissonance you chose to change your attitude about coffee to fit in and make a good impression. The fact that you lied to get along with your boss provides you enough external justification for your attitude change that you don’t worry too much about it.
The funny thing about the lie you told is that you might start to actually believe it, and like coffee, as a way to resolve feelings of post-decision dissonance. This is called internal justification, which usually occurs when a person is unable to find any external justification for the dissonance they experienced. For instance, if you knew that the woman could care less about whether or not you like coffee and you decided to lie anyway, then you won’t have any external justification for the lie. You therefore must work to bring the lie you told (behavior) in line with your attitude (whether or not you like coffee). To make them match, you would start to drink coffee. Soon you might like it so much that you wonder why you’d ever hated coffee. This kind of phenomenon is called counterattitudinal advocacy. 
Counterattitudinal advocacy is powerful in that it can effectively change a person’s attitude about anything from doing drugs to stealing, as long as they experience the phenomenon in conditions with low external justification. A famous baseball player who chews tobacco may be asked to give a speech at a school about how to stay drug free. The player might feel dissonance about using a dangerous drug himself and could change his behavior to bring it in line with the attitude he conveys to the school children.
To make wide scale changes and convince a lot of people to have a certain attitude about something is very difficult. This is the problem that doctors, politicians, lawyers, and other professionals have when trying to get others to share their view. One way that mass change can be orchestrated is through the use of persuasive communication. Persuasive communication is a speech, television ad, or some kind of communication that advocates a particular side of an issue.  Many persuasive communications fail to change attitudes while some are successful. There are an infinite number of tactics that can be used when making an argument. Psychological studies have been conducted to try and understand what makes a persuasive communication effective
Yale Attitude Change
Created by researchers at Yale University, this is a method of studying persuasive communications. It involves analyzing who is making the communication, the quality of the communication and what kind of people the communication is intended for.  This method of study has produced a lot of information about what makes people’s attitudes change, but it is not perfect. What the Yale Attitude Change approach fails to do is say which aspects of a persuasive communication are more important than other aspects. For instance, are the arguments made in the communication more important than the person who is making the arguments, or vice versa?
Elaboration Likelihood Model
The problems with the Yale Attitude Change approach have been addressed by various researchers. One approach is called the elaboration likelihood model , which explains two ways in which persuasive communication can cause attitudinal change.
- Centrally - When a person is motivated and pays attention to the persuasive communication, they are being centrally affected.
- Peripherally - When a person doesn’t pay attention to the arguments in the speech but is influenced by other aspects of the communication such as who is giving it, then they are being peripherally affected.
This theory says that people, who are compelled or motivated enough, will pay attention to the persuasive communication, analyzing its arguments in their heads long after they’ve heard the message. This is called the central route to persuasion.  People are likely to take this route when they have little distracting them and they are truly interested in what the persuasive communication has to say.
Those who aren’t motivated to pay attention to the arguments, but are interested in the surface characteristics of a message will not have an attitude change because of logic, but rather because of superficial aspects. This is called the peripheral route to persuasion. If people are not interested in the argument, they will take this shortcut and pay attention to things besides the argument, such as whether or not the person making the argument is prestigious.
Some people have a need for cognition, meaning they their personality is one that demands engaging and mind activating activities. Those with the need for cognition are much more likely to take the central route to persuasion since they like mulling over arguments and facts to reach their conclusions.
Long Lasting Attitude Change
Both the central and peripheral routes to persuasion would mean little if they didn’t leave some kind of lasting change on a person’s attitudes. Studies show that those who base their attitudes on the arguments are more likely to keep their attitudes for a long time, behave in accordance to those attitudes, and more resistant to counterpersuasion. Those who take the peripheral route to persuation will quickly lose their new found attitudes and hardly ever behave in accordance to them. This is because the attitudes formed through peripheral routes are often based on fluff that doesn’t mean much to the person, and therefore doesn’t leave a lasting impression.
Playing to Emotions
To make a persuasive argument, it is helpful to create a communication that plays to the emotions of others.
A common tactic used when attempting to influence opinion is to scare people with fear-arousing communications.  Examples of such communications are the advertisements made by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which often portray the horrific consequences drugs can have on people’s lives. By stirring up people’s fears, these communications hope to imprint imagery or ideas in the mind that will keep people away from drugs.
Fear-arousing communications work best when the speech or advertisement instills the fear but then explains how to avoid/reduce such fear. If the advertisement simply causes fear but doesn’t offer information on how to avoid it, then people will likely dismiss the purpose of the communication. It is also important that fear-arousing communications do not overwhelm people. If the message is too scary, people will become defensive and deny the importance of the threat. 
Heuristic-Systematic Model of Persuasion
Emotions can act as a signal for how we feel about something. The heuristic-systematic model of persuasion says that people will either use mental shortcuts or will systematically process the merits of something when they are forming an attitude.  Heuristics are mental shortcuts people use so they can make judgments with little time needed for analyzing. If someone sees an advertisement on TV telling them to drink alcohol responsibly then they might conjure up a heuristic, or a simple rule to decide what their attitude toward the message is. They might quickly think, “responsibility is overrated.” This allows them to disregard the advertisement with little thought. If they decided to process the argument in their head for awhile, weighing the good with the bad, then they might reach a different conclusion and think, “Yeah, responsibility is important. Maybe I should cut back on the amount of alcohol I drink during the weekends.”
One interesting aspect of attitude change is the “How do I feel about it?” heuristic. When we are first forming an opinion of something we might quickly scan our inner feelings to decide whether or not it makes us feel good or bad.  For instance, someone goes to the store to buy some cologne. They spray some in the air, sniff it, and decide it makes them feel wonderful. They purchase the cologne and later realize that they don’t even like the smell. Since they used the “How do I feel about it?” heuristic, their original feelings about the cologne could have come from something completely unrelated to its smell. Perhaps they were just in a good mood when they went to the store that day. Maybe something caught their attention or drifted into their mind while they were inside the store spraying cologne, leading to a feeling of happiness. The point is that it can be hard to know whether your immediate feelings toward something are legitimate or not. It can take time before a true attitude is developed.
Choosing a Base
Some advertisements might work better on certain people but fall flat on others. As mentioned earlier, there are three kinds of attitudes, behavioral, cognitive, and affective. Studies have shown that advertisements are most effective when they target a person’s attitude. If someone has an affectively based attitude, then the advertisement that will work best on that person will play to the emotions. If one had a cognitively based attitude then an advertisement that lists facts would be most persuasive. Advertisers must therefore design their ads so that it affects the most amount of people. To do this, the advertiser should decide if the product or service they are promoting has people with cognitively, behaviorally, or affectively based attitudes and go from there.
Resisting Persuasive Communications
Obviously people are able to resist advertisements, speeches, etc. since it would be impossible to accept everything and anything they ever hear and see. But exactly how do people manage to resist persuasive messages?
If people expose themselves to alternative viewpoints on a subject then it will be much easier for them to fend off persuasive communications. By reading up on or making sure they see other sides of an argument then they will be able to fight any attempts people make to change one’s attitude. This tactic is called attitude inoculation. 
Product Placement Awareness
Companies will pay to have television shows, movies, video games, etc. somehow incorporate their product into the script or scenery. This is called product placement.  As long as people keep in mind the fact that their entertainment may incorporate things to try and manipulate their behaviors and attitudes, the easier they will find it to notice such product placements for what they really are — advertisements. Staying aware is key.
Peer Pressure Resistance
Peer pressure is an age old problem in which people, especially when they are young, are susceptible to trying new and potentially dangerous things because their friends or peers urge them to. People will sometimes do things they normally wouldn’t so they can appear ‘cool’ in front of others and be socially accepted.  Adolescents can find themselves smoking, drinking, doing drugs, or having unprotected sex because the people they hang out with believe such behavior is fun, cool, or mature.
It seems that the most effective way to resist peer pressure is to give people practice at turning down negative influences.  Once they have experienced a mock incident and successfully rejected peers, then the more likely they will be able to use such a response should a real peer pressure incident occur.
Sometimes prohibiting something can backfire and cause a person to purposefully seek out and do that which is prohibited. The stronger the prohibitions and punishments for doing something, the more likely people will want to do it because they feel their freedom is being threatened. To get rid of any unpleasant feelings of being stifled or restricted, a person will lash out against authority and do what they are told they shouldn’t. This is called reactance theory. 
Attitude Influencing Behavior
Sometimes we act spontaneously with little thought when it comes time to act on or express an attitude. Attitude accessibility is the strength of the association between an attitude object and a person’s evaluation of that object, measured by the speed with which people can report how they feel about that object.  If accessibility is high, then a person will automatically have their attitude come to mind whenever something causes one to think about it. If the accessibility is low, the attitude might come to the mind much more slowly or sometimes not at all. Spontaneaty often comes from highly accessible attitudes since these are easier for a person to immediately act on.
Theory of Planned Behavior
Behavior is many times based on deliberations and planning. Most people don’t spontaneously decide what college they want to go to, or who they want to marry. Time, research, and serious thinking is required for many of life’s decisions. The theory of planned behavior says that when people have time to think about how they are going to behave, the best predictor of their behavior will be the intention, and can be predicted by three different things :
- Their attitudes toward a specific behavior – only specific attitudes toward a behavior in question can be expected to predict that behavior.
- Their subjective norms – beliefs about how people they care about might view the behavior they are thinking about engaging in.
- Their perceived behavioral control- the ease with which a person believes they can perform a behavior.
Advertising works whether most of us know it or not. It is easy to think that you are not affected by advertisements, but with most everyone thinking that it is everyone but themselves being suckered into buying products– we see a magic dilemma. Who, if anyone, is really being effected by advertisements? Studies have shown that advertising does work, especially for products that are new to the marketplace. Split cable market tests are studies where researchers will work in hand with cable television companies and grocery stores.  These studies keep track of the items that customers buy through the use of special ID cards, which are given to a group of individuals who will go about their daily lives. Researchers know what commercials these individuals are watching as well, so they are easily able to see whether their product choices are influenced by commercials. Results from over 300 split cable market tests show that they are. 
A large number of the advertisements made every year are emotionally based. Since there can be many similar products on the market, it does not help a company to make a cognitively based advertisement because most people will not base their choices on minor factual differences between brand names. Take Coke vs. Pepsi as an example. Most won’t choose Pepsi over coke because of a slight ingredient difference, but rather because of the emotions the drink brings them. Sometimes companies find it helpful, though, to make commercials that are cognitively or behaviorally based. It all depends on the product being sold. The most successful commercials can blend facts with emotions to touch all kinds of shoppers.
Subliminal messages are words or pictures that are not consciously perceived but may still influence a person’s judgments, attitudes, and behavior. Commercials, print advertisements, and audio have all been blamed of using subliminal messages.  Such examples are hidden sexual visuals or noises that will worm into a person’s subconsciousness and entice people to buy a product. Other subliminal messages are supposedly capable of helping people to better themselves by raising self esteem or helping them to quit smoking. Do such things actually work?
Studies on subliminal messaging have provided little or no evidence which supports the idea that people can be influenced by hidden images or audio. Subliminal messages encountered in everyday life do not have any influence on people’s behavior. They can’t cause us to buy products, lose weight, or quit smoking.  What researchers have found, however, is that when people believe they are watching or listening to something that has subliminal messages with a specific goal, they will usually believe that the subliminal messages are helping even if they are not.
Subliminal messaging and advertising is still being researched. Though there have been some studies which seem to support the idea that such messages are effective , there will have to be many more before anything is proved conclusively.
Advertisements are powerful in that they can shape cultural values and norms. Stereotypes can often be found in advertisements. If one looks at American ads from the first half of the 20th century, they will be able to find blatantly sexist viewpoints. Even in modern times, advertisements will often show only the best looking men and women. This raises the question of whether or not what we think of as ‘good looks’ are orchestrated by the media. Many blame advertisements and the media for causing women to starve themselves to be ‘attractive’.  Up until recently, advertisements in America would not show anyone other than whites. Now that ads have branched out racially, they still neglect to show unattractive, obese, or disabled people. People are still fighting to make the media more diversified in its portrayal of the average American.
Furthermore, advertisements have the capability to form attitudes towards drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and having promiscuous sex. Constant bombardment of advertisements telling us that alcohol brings beautiful, scantily clad women to our doorsteps can be ultimately damaging. People might believe that the only reason they can get girls is because they are drunk. Also, cigarette ads show us that smoking can make men appear rugged or ‘cool’. There was such a huge backlash against cigarette smoking advertisements that they were banned from being shown on American television in 1967.  People still complain about print advertising in support of cigarettes.
Advertisements also carry with them the possibility of feeling a stereotype threat. Stereotype threat is defined as the apprehension experienced by members of a group because they worry that their behavior might confirm a cultural stereotype.  When people are thinking about the negative stereotypes surrounding whatever group they feel they belong to, it can hurt their ability to perform and do well. For instance, white people might believe that Asians are better at math. If a white person is reminded that many smart Asians will be taking the test with them then their test scores are more likely to go down then if they were not reminded. Similarly, women do worse on tests after they’ve seen a commercial that depicts women in a stereotypical way. In this way, advertising that conveys negative stereotypes can severely change the attitudes of the people who view them.
In summary, we have taken a brief look at what attitudes are and the ways they can be changed. The importance of attitudes on society cannot be overestimated. We are living in a very important time in human history, where people are witnessing more and more advertisements and persuasive communications then ever before. It will be very interesting to see how so many different viewpoints are able to successfully mingle and which values or norms win over the others.
- The Psychology of Attitude. Exforsys Inc.
- ATTITUDE. CIAdvertising. Kim, Kihan.
- Psychology of Communication: attitudes. CultSock.
- ATTITUDES and GENETICS. Selfhelp Magazine. Pioneer Development Resources, Inc.
- Cognitively based attitude. Psychology Lexicon.
- Chapter 7: Attitudes and Attitude Change. Prentice-Hall, Inc. A Pearson Company.
- Aronson, E., Wilson, T., & Akert, R. (2006). Social Psychology. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.
- CLASSICAL CONDITIONING. 1996. West Virginia University.
- Introduction to Operant Conditioning. About.com: Psychology.
- behaviorally based attitude. Psychology Lexicon. 2006.
- Understanding implicit and explicit attitude change : A systems of reasoning analysis. CatInist.
- Cognitive Dissonance. The Beyond Intractability Knowledge Base Project.
- Counter-Attitudinal Advocacy. ChangingMinds.org.
- Yale Attitude Change Approach. ChangingMinds.
- Elaboration Likelihood Model. ChangingMinds.
- What are the Central and Peripheral Routes to Persuasion?. CIAdvertising.
- Persuasion. San Francisco State University. Psych 200.
- Heuristic-Systematic Persuasion Model. ChangingMinds.
- Martin, L., & Clore, G. (2001). Theories of Mood and Cognition. Hillsdale: L. Erlbaum Associates.
- INOCULATION THEORY. West Virginia University.
- How Product Placement Works. Neer, Katherine. HowStuffWorks.
- Dealing With Peer Pressure. KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation.
- Preparing Youth for Peer Pressure. Samhsa's National Mental Health Information Center.
- REACTANCE. West Virginia University.
- attitude accessibility. Psychology Lexicon.
- Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB). Value Based Management.net.
- THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ADVERTISING. Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library.
- III. Claims about the power of subliminal advertising. ciadvertising.
- The Straight Dope: Does subliminal advertising work?. The Straight Dope.
- Williams, Leanne M.; Belinda J. Liddell, Andrew H. Kemp, Richard A. Bryant, Russell A. Meares, Anthony S. Peduto, Evian Gordon (2006). "Amygdala-prefrontal dissociation of subliminal and supraliminal fear". Human Brain Mapping.
- Eating Disorders: Body Image and Advertising. HealthyPlace.com Eating Disorders.
- Deconstructing Cigarette Ads in a Counter Advertising Workshop. frankwbaker.
- Stereotype Threat. Miami University.