Attitude Strength and Resistance to Persuasion

Joan Scattone Spira, Morgan State University
[ to cite ]:
Joan Scattone Spira (2002) ,"Attitude Strength and Resistance to Persuasion", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, eds. Susan M. Broniarczyk and Kent Nakamoto, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 180-181.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, 2002     Pages 180-181


Joan Scattone Spira, Morgan State University

Consumers are exposed to countless product appeals everyday. Their responses to such persuasive efforts may be influenced by their existing attitudes, yet much consumer research has focused on message and individual characteristics that affect persuasion while giving relatively little attention to consumers’ own attitudes. Studies incorporating attitudes typically employ them as control variables. This approach assumes that attitudes’ effects are largely dependent on their scalar value and ignores research indicating that attitudinal influence on cognition and behavior depends on the attitude’s strength (e.g., Haugtvedt, Schumann, Schneier and Warren 1994; Pomerantz, Chaiken and Tordesillas 1995; Raden 1985). This research examines how attitude strength influences consumers’ responses to persuasive product information.

Attitude strength is associated with attitudinal persistence over time, resistance to attack, prediction of behavior, and influence on information processing (e.g., Chaiken, Pomerantz and Giner-Sorolla 1995; Eagly and Chaiken 1993; Krosnick, Boninger, Chuang, Berent and Carnot 1993; Krosnick and Petty 1995; Pomerantz et al., 1995). Several attitudinal characteristics have been identified as indicators of strength, including the importance of the attitude object, the certainty or confidence with which the attitude is held, the intensity of related affect, the amount of knowledge regarding the attitude object, links between the attitude or attitude object and one’s self-concept or values, direct experience with the attitude object, interest in attitudinally relevant information, attitudinal accessibility, attitudinal extremity, and consistency between the attitude and beliefs about the attitude object.

Researchers agree that attitude strength is a multidimensional construct and that its dimensions may not relate similarly to its consequences (Krosnick et al. 1993; Pomerantz et al. 1995, Raden, 1985). Pomerantz et al. (1995) found that high levels of certainty and extremity fostered resistance to persuasion, but heightened levels of importance, knowledge, and centrality did not. Haugtvedt et al. (1994) found that knowledge fostered resistance, but attitudinal extremity and confidence did not. We examine how these and other dimensions of attitude strength influence resistance to persuasion in a marketing context.

Measures of attitude strength were assessed in Study 1. Participants were undergraduate students at a northeastern university. We assessed their attitudes toward private brands in one of four randomly assigned product categories (spirin, breakfast cereal, pretzels, shampoo). Measures of attitude strength were adapted from Chaiken et al. (1995), Krosnick et al. (1993) and Pomerantz et al. (1995). These included accessibility, affective-cognitive consistency, centrality, certainty, direct experience, evaluative-affective consistency, evaluative-cognitive consistency, extremity, importance, intensity, interest, and knowledge. Affective-cognitive consistency represents the congruence between feelings and beliefs about an attitude object. Evaluative-affective consistency represents the congruence between feelings about an attitude object and one’s overall attitude toward it. Evaluative-cognitive consistency represents the congruence between beliefs about an attitude object and one’s overall attitude toward it.

Data from subjects with positively or negatively valenced attitudes (n=118) were factor analyzed. A seven-factor solution, accounting for 71% of the variance in attitude strength, was identified based on examination of the scree plot, eigenvalues and item loadings. The attitudinal characteristics loaded as follows, with factor names in parentheses: 1) interest and importance ("Engagement"), 2) certainty and extremity ("Commitment"), 3) centrality ("Centrality"), 4) intensity ("Intensity"), 5) knowledge ("Knowledge"), 6) evaluative-cognitive consistency and evaluative-affective consistency ("Evaluative Structural Consistency"), and 7) affective-cognitive consistency and direct experience ("Personal Approbation").

The influence of these strength dimensions on persuasion was examined in Study 2. Subjects were undergraduates at a northeastern university (n=204). We measured their initial attitudes toward private brands of shampoo and the strength of these attitudes. Approximately 2-3 weeks later they were exposed to a persuasive message and their post-message attitudes were assessed. Subjects randomly received a favorable or unfavorable message regarding the brand’s quality. Attitude-message congruence was manipulated by crossing the valence of pre-message attitudes with the message’s valence. Subjects were randomly assigned to high or low motivation conditions.

We assessed persuasion using two measures. A polarization measure was created by subtracting pre-message attitudes from post-message attitudes; for subjects with negative pre-message attitudes, this difference was multiplied by -1. A positive polarization score indicated movement in the direction of the pre-message attitude (i.e., pre=-2, post=-3, polarization=1); a negative score indicated movement away from the pre-message attitude while maintaining (i.e., pre=3, post=1, polarization=-2) or changing (i.e., pre=2, post=-1, polarization=-3) attitudinal valence. We also created a dichotomous valence change index by comparing the pre- and post-message attitude valences.

We regressed motivation, attitude strength, congruence and their interactions on our polarization score, with a separate model for each strength dimension. Interactions between congruence and attitude strength were found when strength was indicated by Knowledge, Intensity, Engagement, or Centrality. Heightened levels of attitude strength were associated with higher polarization scores (i.e., smaller shifts away from attitudes) in the incongruent condition, indicating that strength had fostered resistance to counterattitudinal influence. Interestingly, heightened levels of strength were associated with lower polarization scores (i.e., larger shifts away from attitudes) in the congruent condition. This is also consistent with resistance to persuasion.

A logistic regression of motivation, attitude strength, congruence and their interactions on the valence change index was run for each dimension of attitude strength. Heightened levels of Knowledge, Intensity, Engagement, Centrality and Personal Approbation were associated with lesser tendencies toward valence change in the incongruent condition and greater tendencies toward valence change in the congruent condition, indicating that strength fostered resistance to persuasion.

Additional analyses comparing subjects who resited persuasion when faced with incongruent information to those who were persuaded revealed that the strength of their attitudes differed on measures of Centrality, Commitment, Evaluative Structural Consistency, Intensity and Personal Approbation. Further, resisters produced fewer message-related cognitions, generated more attitude-related thoughts, displayed lower levels of message recall, and perceived the message’s quality and persuasiveness less favorably. Thus, resistance to persuasion may have been fostered by selectivity or bias in judgment, processing and/or recall of the message. Importantly, these effects occurred only at heightened levels of attitude strength.


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