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Encyclopedia of Psychology Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, Editor-in-Chief

ATTITUDES : Attitude Measurement

A host of different variables are involved depending on whether a given piece of information is used in constructing a representation of the attitude object (resulting in assimilation effects), or of a standard of comparison (resulting in contrast effects). Chapter 5 of Sudman et al. (I996) reviews these variables and summarizes a theoretical model that predicts the direction, size, and generalization of context effects in attitude measurement .

Of interest is how fast they can recognize a given evaluatively laden word when it is, or is not, preceded by the attitude object. Using this procedure to assess racial attitudes in the United States, researchers observed. for example, that words describing positive personality traits were recognized faster than words describing negative personality traits when preceded by “Whites,” whereas the reverse held true when the same traits were preceded by “Blacks.” These findings indicate that positive traits are more closely associated with the attitude object “Whites” than negative traits, whereas the reverse holds for the attitude object “Blacks.”

Hence, one may detect if a target object is evaluated positively or negatively by embedding its presentation in a long series of other objects with a known evaluation. The brain activity evoked by the target object will then indicate if its evaluation is consistent or inconsistent with the evaluation of the context objects.


Although attempts to identify the laws governing interpersonal attraction have been evident at least since Aristotle, the first empirical investigations date from J. L. Moreno’s development of “sociometry.” In Who Shall Survive? (1934/1953). Moreno presented his method for assessing interpersonal “attractions and repulsions” as reflected in people’s preferences for interacting with, or avoiding, certain members of their group.

Attraction has been shown to be neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for affiliation: people often interact with those they do not like and attraction to another does not always lead to interaction.

Other determinants of affiliation now are described by large bodies of research addressed to such topics as people’s need for social comparison, and there is also now strong evidence that the company of others promotes the individual’s survival, reducing morbidity and premature mortality.

However, the effect of increasing familiarity may not be as beneficial in long-term relationships as it is between strangers. Familiar people gradually lose their ability to capture the individual’s attention and may become neglected, and there also is suggestive evidence that familiarity in romantic relationships may reduce the partners’ sexual desire for each other.

Tags: encyclopedia of psychology

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