Propositional Processes of Attribution (Sometimes) Influence Implicit Attitudes

Schmidt, Kathleen, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Nosek, Brian A., Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

Mainstream theoretical perspectives disagree on whether propositional processes influence implicit attitude formation and change. This dissertation addresses these opposing views by testing whether propositional knowledge in the form of attributions about the cause of negative or positive events impacts implicit attitudes. Overall, evidence supported the perspective that attributional processes influence implicit attitude formation. In Studies 1 through 4, participants were given the same information with different causal relationships to suggest either internal or external attributions of positive or negative events. In Studies 1, 2a, and 4, suggesting external attributions led to weaker explicit and implicit attitudes than suggesting internal attributions. In some studies, preconditions for testing the effect of attributions were not met: explicit attitudes were not influenced by the attribution manipulation (3 of 4 conditions in Study 4), or the implicit measure was insensitive to the manipulation (Study 3). I also observed mixed evidence regarding the impact of attributional processes on implicit attitude change. Studies 2a, 2b, and 5 measured attitudes before and after attribution manipulations for positive and negative events. Implicit attitudes varied by attribution condition after the manipulation in Study 2a and changed for negative events in Study 5 such that external attributions of negative events decreased implicit negativity. When no implicit preference was created initially (positive scenario conditions in Study 5) or initial preferences were not in the expected direction (Study 2b), external attributions did not change implicit attitudes. Across studies, the manipulations that impacted implicit attitude formation and change were emotionally evocative and conspicuous. Placed in a larger context of implicit attitude theory, this dissertation suggests that propositional processes do influence implicit attitudes under conditions where propositional knowledge drastically changes the meaning of the corresponding associations.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
psychology, social cognition, attitudes
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