The Beliefs That Move You
For almost everything in the world, you have an attitude toward it. That is, you are able to evaluate objects as things you like or things you dislike. For example, people typically have positive attitudes toward puppies, sunshine, and money, and negative attitudes toward body odor, traffic, and short battery life.
But even with things you’ve never experienced (like a new food), you can form attitudes. Thus, attitudes are what persuasive attempts try to change, because getting you to like something is the first step in getting you to support it (e.g., buying that new food).
However, just because a persuasive message can influence you to like or dislike something doesn’t mean you’ll actually behave in accordance with that attitude.
For example, two people may see an ad that increases their liking for Coca-Cola, but maybe only one will actually buy it. So what are some aspects of an attitude (beyond how much you like or dislike something) that influence whether you act on it?
One of these features is called attitude accessibility, or the quickness with which an attitude comes to mind. For example, if you were asked, “What’s your attitude toward abortion rights?” you could probably respond quickly with whether you support or oppose it.
Research shows that the faster an attitude comes to mind, the more accessible it is. The more accessible it is, the more likely you are to act on it (e.g., vote for a politician who shares your stance on abortion).
This is why marketers often put out lots and lots of ads for the same product. Research has shown that repeatedly seeing an attitude object like this makes it more accessible, meaning you’re more likely to buy it when you see it.
Another important behavior-predicting feature of attitudes is called attitude certainty. This aspect refers to the metacognitive confidence in which you hold an attitude. For example, imagine we ask two people, “Do you like coffee?” Although both may say they do, if you subsequently ask, “How certain are you that you like coffee?” you may get different answers.
Research finds that the more certain or confident we are of an attitude, the more likely we are to act on it. And one way to increase this confidence is to learn that a lot of other people also share our attitude on a topic. For example, if you support recycling and learn that a lot of others do too, you’ll be more confident of your attitude and thus more likely to recycle.
Beyond these two features, if a persuasive message can make you believe the topic is important or relevant to your own life, you’re more likely to act on the attitude, too. However, persuasive attempts rarely want you to enact the behavior only once. Thus, the real art of persuasion is getting you to enact that behavior for a very long time.
What’s one way to reduce the likelihood you’ll act on an attitude? Hint: it’s even powerful enough to dissolve love….
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