In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Attitudes

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Journals

Psychology Attitudes
Jay K. Wood, Leandre R. Fabrigar
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 November 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 November 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0074


The attitude construct is one of the oldest and most-studied constructs in social psychology, and as such, it has had a tremendous impact on the social sciences over the past century. This long history notwithstanding, a historical review of the attitudes literature reveals a construct whose popularity has waxed and waned over the decades and that has generated a number of passionate debates. One area of contention over the years is probably the most fundamental: what exactly are attitudes? Although the definition of the term attitude has gone through many incarnations since its early definition as a “mental and neural state of readiness” (Allport 1935, cited under General Overviews, p. 810; see also the special issue of the journal Social Cognition 25.5 for a variety of perspectives on the definition of attitudes), most current researchers use the term to refer to a valenced evaluation of something, be it a person, object, concept, event, action, etc. (i.e., the attitude object). Most theorists consider attitudes to be relatively enduring (i.e., they are typically not transitory like phenomena such as mood states); however, the extent to which they are stable and enduring would be expected to fall on a continuum, and is determined by factors such as variations in cognitive structure. Furthermore, many contemporary researchers suggest that a distinction can be made between attitudes that are deliberative and within an individual’s control, and those that are nondeliberative and automatic (i.e., explicit versus implicit attitudes). Much of the research on attitudes has focused on issues such as the structure and function of attitudes, how they influence behavior and judgment, how they can be changed, and even whether we need them and if they exist at all. The citations that were chosen for inclusion in this article were selected for a number of reasons: Some are particularly comprehensive or well-written overviews of a topic, others are seminal works or significantly advance our understanding of the construct, and still others shed light on a particular point of contention in the literature. The article begins with General Overviews, Textbooks, and selective Journals that publish high-quality attitudes research and review articles. Next, attention is turned to measurement issues in attitudes research. The largest section of the article is devoted to Attitude Formation and Change (i.e., persuasion), as this is the subtopic that has historically received the most attention from attitudes researchers, as is indicated by the corresponding volume of literature. The article then looks at attitude structure and function before concluding with coverage of the potential impact of attitudes on behavior.

General Overviews

With a topic as vast as attitudes, it is difficult to recommend a simple and concise overview of the literature and core issues. Visser 2010 provides a very brief introduction. From there the reader would be encouraged to delve more deeply into the topic via the Handbook of Social Psychology chapters cited in this section, including Albarricín and Vargas 2010, Banaji and Heiphetz 2010, Maio and Haddock 2007, and Petty and Wegener 1998. To follow the advances made in specific time periods, the reader could explore the articles published in the Annual Review of Psychology (such as Ajzen 2001, Bohner and Dickel 2011, and Crano and Prislin 2006), which typically cover periods of three to four years. Finally, for a consideration of the foundations and conceptual progression of the attitude concept, the reader might consult an early source such as Allport 1935.

  • Ajzen, I. 2001. Nature and operation of attitudes. Annual Review of Psychology 52.1: 27–58.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.27

    An overview of attitudes research published between 1996 and 1999. Topics include the formation and activation, strength, structure, and function of attitudes, as well as the relationship between attitudes and behavior. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Albarricín, D., and P. Vargas. 2010. Attitudes and persuasion: From biology to social responses to persuasive intent. In Handbook of social psychology. 5th ed. Vol. 1. Edited by S. T. Fiske, D. T. Gilbert, and G. Lindzey, 394–427. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470561119

    This chapter surveys the advances that have been made recently in examining the genetic and environmental influences on attitudes, highlighting the work that remains to be done.

  • Allport, G. W. 1935. Attitudes. In Handbook of social psychology. Edited by C. Murchison, 798–844. Worcester, MA: Clark Univ. Press.

    In this influential early treatise, Allport sheds light on what he considers “the most distinctive and indispensable concept in contemporary American social psychology” (p. 798). Allport’s view of attitudes differs somewhat from contemporary perspectives, with the central notion that an attitude is a state of readiness to respond to external stimuli that exerts a powerful and dynamic influence on cognition and behavior. Despite the differences, the attitude domain’s early foundations are apparent in this work.

  • Banaji, M. R., and L. Heiphetz. 2010. Attitudes. In Handbook of social psychology. 5th ed. Vol. 1. Edited by S. T. Fiske, D. T. Gilbert, and G. Lindzey, 353–393. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470561119

    This chapter from the Handbook of Social Psychology provides a comprehensive overview of the attitudes literature. The authors focus on progress made between 1995 and 2010, paying particular attention to insights gained from implicit and explicit measures of attitudes, and to the origins of attitudes.

  • Bohner, G., and N. Dickel. 2011. Attitudes and attitude change. Annual Review of Psychology 62:391–417.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.121208.131609

    An overview of attitudes research published between 2005 and 2009. Topics include constructionist versus stable-entity conceptualizations of attitudes; implicit and explicit measure distinctions; associative and propositional processes in attitude change; the role of bodily states, physical perceptions, and meta-cognitions in persuasion; and attitudinal effects on information processing, social memory, and behavior.

  • Crano, W. D., and R. Prislin. 2006. Attitudes and persuasion. Annual Review of Psychology 57:345–374.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.57.102904.190034

    An overview of attitudes research published between 2000 and 2004. Topics include the distinction between attitude formation and change, single- and dual-process models, dissonance theory, majority and minority influence, attitude strength, emotional influences, and attitude-behavior consistency.

  • Maio, G. R., and G. Haddock. 2007. Attitude change. In Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles. 2d ed. Edited by A. W. Kruglanski and E. T. Higgins, 565–586. New York: Guilford.

    After a general introduction to the attitude construct, including structure and function, this review focuses on the influence of topic-irrelevant message and context features on persuasion, the role of attitude correctness, message-goal congruence, and persuasion outside of awareness.

  • Petty, R. E., and D. T. Wegener. 1998. Attitude change: Multiple roles for persuasion variables. In Handbook of social psychology. 4th ed. Vol. 1. Edited by D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, and G. Lindzey, 269–322. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Using the framework of the elaboration likelihood model of attitude change, the authors of this chapter provide an exhaustive review of the many variables thought to influence the persuasion process. This chapter also includes a discussion of the historical foundations of modern persuasion research.

  • Visser, P. S. 2010. Attitudes. In The Corsini encyclopedia of psychology. Vol. 1. 4th ed. Edited by I. B. Weiner and W. E. Craighead, 182–184. New York: Wiley.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470479216

    This encyclopedia entry provides a quick and concise glance at the topic. After a brief overview, the entry covers the various themes in attitudes research, attitude formation, the impact of attitudes on behavior and cognition, and attitude strength.

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