Special Session Summary Predicting Consumer Behavior By Implicit Attitudes


Henning Plessner (2002) ,"Special Session Summary Predicting Consumer Behavior By Implicit Attitudes", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Ramizwick and Tu Ping, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 206-211.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2002      Pages 206-211



Henning Plessner, UniversitSt Heidelberg, Germany

It is a widely held assumption that attitudes towards products exert a strong influence on consumer behavior. When someone has a favorable attitude toward a particular product, he or she is assumed to be more likely to buy this product. Recent theoretical developments in social psychology make a distinction between automatic or implicit attitudes on the one hand and explicit attitudes on the other (Fazio, 1990; Wilson, Lindsey, & Schooler, 2000). While the study of explicit attitudes has a long tradition in social psychology, research on implicit attitudes is a rather novel issue that was triggered by cognitive psychologists’ recent debate about unconscious memories and developments in the measurement of automatic evaluations (Banaji, 2001). For example, three years ago Greenwald, McGhee, and Schwartz (1998) presented the Implicit Association Test (IAT), a new method to measure implicit attitudes of two target concepts by comparing response times in two combined discrimination tasks (for an overview see Plessner & Banse, 2001).

What are the conditions for implicit and explicit attitudes to guide behavior? In his MODE model, Fazio distinguishes two types of attitude-to-behavior processes: spontaneous processing and deliberative processing (Fazio & Towles-Schen, 1999). The former processing is automatic, fast, and does not require cognitive effort. Behavior is simply caused by accessible and thereby automatically activated attitudes relevant to the behavior. Deliberative processing is controlled, slow, and effortful. It involves consideration of the specific attributes of the attitude object and of the potential consequences of engaging in a particular behavior, which presumes motivation to engage in the deliberative processing. According to this view, implicit attitudes should guide spontaneous behavior, whereas explicit attitudes are the bases for intentional actions (similar assumptions are made by the dual attitude model by Wilson, Lindsey, & Schooler, 2000).

Given that most purchases of non-durable goods do not involve long effortful considerations which brand to chose, these purchase decisions should be predicted better by implicit attitudes than by the conventional explicitly measured attitudes. Of course, measuring and predicting behavior by implicit measurements is mainly interesting if explicit and implicit attitudes diverge (otherwise we could be happy with explicit measurements alone). However, there are good reasons to believe that explicit and implicit attitudes often do not match (cf. Wilson et al., 2000). For example, even if participants do not pay direct attention to advertisements, these non-attended advertisements have been proven as effective tools for explicit attitude formation without participants being aware of the effect (e.g., Janiszewski, 1988; Shapiro, 1999; Shapiro, MacInnis, & Heckler, 1997). However, in all of these studies this so-called preconscious attitude formation was measured by conventional explicit measurements. It is easily conceivable that this preconscious attitude effect will be stronger on implicit attitudes.

An important advantage of implicit measurements is that because participants cannot control their response latencies, implicit measurements are free from response biases like social desirability and the like. If people differ in their likelihood of exhibiting response biases, explicit measurements are distorted by these response biases. In contrast, implicit measurements would allow us to measure the true underlying attitudes responsible for spontaneous purchases.

This session aims to present research projects that investigate the usefulness of these recent methodical and theoretical advances in attitude research for the study of central consumer psychology topics like, for example, predicting consumer behavior and advertisement effectiveness. The first two papers present ample evidence that implicit attitudes as assessed with variants of the IAT have a strong relation with brand choice. While the first paper explores the general relationship between implicit attitudes and consumer behavior, the second paper investigates dissociations between implicit and explicit attitudes towards food products (e.g., resulting from non-attended advertisements as described above) and the specific circumstances under which implicit attitudes guide behavior. The third paper provides a methodological enrichment of the studies presented so far. It introduces a so called deliberative implicit attitude measure that has been developed from a theoretical analysis of implicit and explicit attitude measures. This measure has been found to predict spontaneous as well as deliberative behaviors and its usefulness for applications in the consumer context will be discussed. The fourth paper extends the distinction between implicit and explicit attitudes to classical research on persuasion outcomes, which shed a new light on the effects of advertisements.

Given the currently exploding interest in implicit attitudes and their measurement, it is essential that the pros and cons of the application of this concept to consumer research are discussed on the basis of sound empirical data. Together, the four papers provide significant new theoretical and practical insights about the contribution of the concept of implicit attitudes to the understanding of consumer behavior. This session should be of interest to a wide segment of conference participants, including researchers who are more generally interested in the prediction of consumer behavior, in addition to those interested in the attitude-behavior relationship and advertising effects.



Dominika Maison, University of Warsaw, Poland

In early concepts of attitudes (Allport, 1935), attitudes were perceived as the most powerful determinants of behavior; it was assumed that understanding/knowing people’s attitudes allows to predict their behavior. However, many examples from everyday life show a lack of consistency between attitude and behavior. In the 70s and 80s attitude-behavior consistency was one of the most important research topics in attitude research. Researchers were investigating the extent to which attitudes do predict behavior, and what causes the low predictability of behavior from attitudes (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975). It was found that the discrepancy between attitudes and behavior is a consequence of people not knowing themselves what they really like and what their attitudes are, or of a desire to hide their real attitudes.

Psychologists and consumer researchers have long searched for measures that can reveal people’s "real attitudes", and, as a consequence, would be more successful in predicting their behavior. One of the consequences of it was interest in psychological research in studying automatic processes (Devine, 1993; Fazio, Sanbonmatsu, Powell & Kardes, 1986) especially by using reaction time as an indicator of automatically activated attitudes. Recent development in this area is concerned on implicit attitudes. Implicit attitudes are defined as the traces of past experiences, which can influence actual attitudes and behavior, without persons being aware of their existence (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995). Implicit attitudes are therefore closely related to the issue of automatic processes. Implicit attitudes are automatically activated and they are therefore difficult to control: they are automatic processes which take place outside conscious awareness, they are fast, and effortless (Bargh, 1997).

The goal of this research project was to improve our understanding of the relation between consumer’s implicit attitudes toward brands, explicit attitudes, and behavior. In three studies, the Implicit Association Test was used as a measure of implicit attitudes, one of the most popular and often used method to study implicit attitudes (Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998; Swanson, Rudman, & Greenwald, 2001).

The studies are focused on two major issues: to investigate if the IAT measure can be used to measure implicit attitudes toward brands, and to establish the relations between implicit attitudes, explicit attitudes, and behavior. The goal of the first experiment was to observe the relation between explicit and implicit measures of attitudes and declared behavior. For the first experiment two leading (in Poland) brands of yogurts were chosen and the study was conducted among people who eat yogurts regularly (40 participants, students). The results showed a difference in implicit attitudes between users of two leading yogurt brands. Analysis revealed significant correlations between IAT-measured implicit attitudes, explicit attitudes, and declared behavior.

The goal of the second study was to observe the relations between implicit attitudes, explicit attitudes, and observed behavior. For this experiment two fast food restaurants were chosen: McDonald’s and Milk Bar (local Polish restaurant). Participants were selected based on their actual behaviorBthe place where they had had lunch (40 participants). Users of one of two fast food restaurants showed different implicit attitudes reflecting their preferred and used restaurant, and the implicit attitudes were correlated with explicit attitude and frequency of using a particular restaurant.

The goal of the third study was also to observe the relations between implicit attitudes, explicit attitudes, and observed behavior, but this time in relation to brand differentiation. For this study two strong brands were chosen, with a strong brand image and brand personality: Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Participants were loyal users of one of these two brands and half of them were able to differentiate between the taste of those products, and half were not (103 participants).

Users of each product showed implicit attitudes reflecting their product preferences, product usage, and product taste recognition in "blind" test. Those who were able to differentiate between the taste of Coca-Cola and Pepsi had stronger implicit attitude reflecting attitudes toward their favorite brand than those who were not able to differentiate between the tastes of these brands.



Michaela WSnke, UniversitSt Basel, Switzerland

Henning Plessner, UniversitSt Heidelberg, Germany

Malte Friese, UniversitSt Heidelberg, Germany

Recent theories in social psychology assume that people may have two different attitudes toward an object at the same time, one that is explicit and one that is implicit (for a review see Wilson, Lindsey & Schooler, 2000). Although implicit attitudes are not necessarily subject to introspection they may nevertheless influence information processing and behavior. For example, in previous research, we showed that including implicit attitude measures improves the prediction of actual brand choice than using merely explicit attitudes as a predictor. Based on current theorizing in the literature on the relationship between attitudes and behavior we propose that the respective predictive values of implicit and explicit attitudes are depending on the situation. In general, it has been suggested that implicit attitudes guide spontaneous behavior whereas more deliberative behavior is influenced more by explicit attitudes (Fazio & Towles-Schwen, 1999; Wilson, et al. , 2000). We tested this assumption by measuring implicit and explicit attitudes towards no-name food products and well-known food brands in addition to actual choices of food products of known and no-name brands. Choice was manipulated so that consumers either had ample time to think about their choice or were put under time pressure.

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) (Greenwald, McGhee & Schwartz, 1998) has been presented as an easily adaptable measure of implicit attitudes. In the present study, the IAT was adapted to measure implicit attitudes towards food brands. In a first task, participants were presented with photos of different food products, for example canned corn, margarine, whipping cream etc. The photos were either of well-established brands in the respective product category or of a no-name brand. Participants were instructed to categorize each photo as quickly as possible according to whether it belonged to a no-name brand or a "real" brand by pressing one of two keys on a keyboard. In a second task, words of unambiguous valence were presented and participantsĀ¦ task was to categorize them as quickly as possible according to positive or negative valence. Two further sequences combined both tasks. In one double discrimination task participants were presented with the brands and words in mixed order and had to press one specified key for real brands or a positive word and another key for no-name-brands or a negative word. In the second double discrimination task the key assignment was switched and participants pressed one specified key for known brands or a negative word and the other for no-name brands or a positive word. The difference in response latencies in these two tasks is taken as an indicator for the difference in the strength of associating known brands versus no-name brands with positive valence. Thus, the IAT measured relative attitudinal preferences between these two categories.

As additional measures, explicit attitudes toward the brands were assessed on rating scales. Finally participants were told that as a gift they could choose between two arrangements of equal monetary value. They were shown two photos next to each other on the computer screen, each depicting a range of food products. One of the arrangements contained only branded food products while the other one consisted entirely of no-name products. Again participants had to press a key to indicate their preference. In one condition participants could take as much time as they wanted to make their choice, in the spontaneous-condition time pressure was induced by telling participants they only had 5 seconds to make their choice. While they were shown the photos a time bar was running at the bottom of the screen to show how much time was left. Participants later really received the chosen arrangement as a gift.

For our purpose the most interesting group were the consumers whose implicit attitudes differed from their explicit ones. For those consumers with consistent attitudes either could be used in predicting brand choice. But for those with inconsistent attitudes the crucial question is really which of the two, implicit or explicit attitude, is a better behavioral predictor. As we had hoped, a considerable number of participants showed such inconsistent attitudes. Of those the overwhelming majority reported more positive attitudes for no-name products when asked explicitly but showed a preference for brand products on the IAT.

Actual choices were coded as either being consistent or inconsistent with explicit attitudes and analyzed as a function of consistent vs. inconsistent attitudes and time pressure vs. no time pressure. An analysis of variance showed a significant interaction between both factors, F(1,48)=5.11, p<.03. Figure 1 shows the results (for easier interpretation the figure presents the percentage of respondents who chose the brand congruent with their explicit attitude).


Consumers whose implicit and explicit attitudes differed were apparently guided by their explicit attitudes when making an actual choice. In fact, 90% chose the brand congruent with their explicit and incongruent with their implicit attitudes. However, this was only so when consumers had the opportunity to elaborate on their choice. If a prolonged decision process was undermined, implicit attitudes gained influence. In this case only 38% chose the brand they explicitly preferred while the rest, and the majority, chose the brand preferred implicitly but not explicitly. This difference proved statistically significant, t(48)=2.98, p<.01.

In sum, our data support the assumption that spontaneous behavior is more congruent with implicit than explicit attitudes, given they differ, while the opposite is true for controlled behavior. Implicit attitudes measures may thus prove valuable for marketers in predicting behavior.



Patrick T. Vargas, University of Illinois, U.S.A.

Attitude measurement has traditionally relied on direct, explicit techniques, wherein respondents are asked evaluate attitude objects (e.g., semantic differential scales) or indicate the extent of their agreement with valenced statements about the attitude objects (e.g., Thurstone, Likert scales). Such measures have been demonstrated to reliably predict multiple-act behavioral criteria (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1974). However, explicit attitude measures are relatively poor predictors of behavior when respondents are either unwilling or unable to report their true attitudes. For example, when asked about socially undesirable attitude objects (e.g., cheating), attitude-behavior correlations are very low (Corey, 1937). Due to such "willing and able" problems with explicit attitude measures, researchers developed indirect, or implicit, attitude measures.

Implicit measures are designed to assess evaluative tendencies, without requiring respondents to consciously or effortfully recall stored evaluative information. Implicit measures have come in a variety of forms (e.g., disguised self-report, behavioral measures, physiological measures), but I am first concerned with contemporary implicit attitude measures that rely on the automatic activation of attitudes, and the speed with which respondents can categorize words (e.g., priming measures, Fazio et al., 1995; the Implicit Association Test, Greenwald et al., 1998). When uncorrelated, contemporary implicit attitude measures and explicit attitude measures tend to predict qulitatively different types of behaviors (Wilson et al., 2000).

Implicit measures predict spontaneous, or less-thoughtful behaviors (e.g., amount of eye contact during a conversation with African-American v. Caucasian confederate, Dovidio et al., 1997); explicit measures predict more deliberative, or thoughtful behaviors (e.g., ratings of guilt of African-American defendants, Dovidio et al., 1997). More recent research, however, has suggested that implicit measures can also predict deliberative behaviors: smoking, vegetarianism (Swanson et al., 2001), and choosing different brands of coffee (Wanke et al., 2001). Further, in the coffee choice study, simultaneous multiple regression analyses revealed that implicit attitudes predicted unique variance in behavior, beyond what was predicted by explicit attitudes. This finding suggests that rather than pitting implicit and explicit attitudes against one another, researchers might be able to enhance behavioral prediction using both implicit and explicit measures simultaneously. But are researchers limited to only two types of attitude measures? Might three or more types of attitude measures enhance behavioral prediction even further?

The present paper recalls a classic scheme for categorizing and using attitude measures (Cook & Selltiz, 1964), and notes how contemporary attitude measures still fit neatly into the categories. One particular group of measures, those that rely on interpretations of partially structured stimuli, has virtually disappeared from attitude research: partially structured measures. According to Cook and Selltiz (1964), "the subject is not asked to state his own reactions directly; he is ostensibly describing a scene, a character, or the behavior of a third person," (p. 47). Attitudes are inferred on the basis of respondents’ interpretation of partially structured stimuli (e.g., projective tests; Proshansky, 1943). Thus, these measures may be considered implicit because they do not require the recollection of stored evaluations. In a series of four studies, a new partially structured attitude measure is developed, and used to predict unique variance in self-reported, and actual, deliberative and spontaneous behaviors.

Study one examines a socially undesirable attitude object, cheating. Participants were given an opportunity to cheat on a "test" and were asked to complete a self-report checklist of dishonest behaviors they have performed (e.g., stolen food from a restaurant, turned in work that was not my own). Participants also completed a series of measures assessing attitudes towards cheating. In simultaneous multiple regression analyses explicit and partially structured measures both predicted unique variance in self-reported cheating; however, only the partially structured measure predicted actual cheating behavior. A second study replicated and extended these results in a domain in which social desirability is not a concern.

Attitudes toward political conservatism were assessed using explicit and partially structured attitude measures. In simultaneous multiple regression analyses, explicit and partially structured measures predicted unique variance in participants’ tendencies to request information from campus political groups. A third study examined yet another attitude object, and examined the ability of a contemporary implicit measure (IAT) to predict deliberative behaviors.

Attitudes toward religion were assessed using explicit, partially structured, and a contemporary implicit measure at two separate times during the semester (separated by 6 to 10 weeks). In simultaneous multiple regression analyses, partially structured measures predicted unique variance in self-reported religious behaviors, beyond that predicted by five different explicit measures, and the IAT. A fourth study used an experimental manipulation to extend these results.

Early in the semester, participants provided attitudes toward political conservatism and political liberalism. Between six and eight weeks later, participants returned to the lab and were randomly assigned to interact with a confederate whom they believed to be either politically conservative or poitically liberal. Partially structured measures reliably predicted a variety of different behaviorsBan observer’s rating of the participant’s level of animation during the interaction, the confederate’s rating of the amount of eye contact made during the interaction, and the participant’s self-reported comfort level during the interaction.

These studies suggest that partially structured attitude measures can be much more useful than has previously been acknowledged. Such measures have traditionally been reserved for use when social desirability concerns are expected to limit the efficacy of explicit attitude measures. Partially structured attitude measures, however, seem to reliably predict behavior even when social desirability is not a concern. Further, they seem to predict variance beyond what can be accounted for with traditional, explicit measures. Further still, they predict both spontaneous and deliberative behaviors. Researchers in a variety of domains (political science, advertising, marketing) may be able to enhance their ability to predict behavior by including implicit measures in their toolkits.



S. Christian Wheeler, Stanford University, U.S.A.

Pablo BriĀ±ol, The Ohio State University, U.S.A.

Richard E. Petty, The Ohio State University, U.S.A.

Research has shown that individuals may frequently have implicit attitudes and beliefs that can contradict those that are explicitly held and endorsed. This paper focuses on the domain of implicit and explicit self-beliefs and shows how these self-beliefs can exert independent and interdependent impact on persuasion outcomes. More specifically, two experiments indicate how implicit and explicit self-schemata can influence cognitive elaboration and attitudes and show that the operation of implicit and explicit self-schemata can depend on properties of the persuasion environment. It was hypothesized that under low elaboration conditions, both implicit and explicit self-schemata would serve as independent cues to determine favorability toward the target object. Under moderate elaboration conditions, however, more complex interactive effects were predicted to obtain. Specifically, individuals with inconsistent implicit and explicit self-views, or those experiencing implicit/explicit ambivalence, were predicted to engage in greater elaboration of related information in order to reduce the tension between the implicit and explicit self-views.

Experiment 1 provided a test of the low elaboration condition hypothesis and used two self-concept variables: Need for Cognition (Petty & Cacioppo, 1982) and Locomotion and Assessment (Kruglanski, Thompson, Higgins, Atash, Pierro, Shah, & Spiegel, 2000). Need for Cognition corresponds to an individual’s propensity to enjoy and engage in effortful cognitive activities, and Locomotion and Assessment correspond to the extent one considers oneself to be a "planner" or a "doer." Each of these constructs was measured using both explicit self-report scales and the Implicit Association Test (Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998).

Participants viewed a series of novel products and services. For each product or service, participants saw the brand name and the attributes that were associated with the product or service’s "brand personality" (Aaker, 1997). Embedded among the stimuli were two target brands. One brand, described as "intelligent, technical, and corporate" was predicted to appeal to high Need for Cognition individuals, because these individuals value thinking and prefer complex stimuli. A second brand, described as "glamorous, upper-class, and good looking" was predicted to appeal to high assessment individuals, because these individuals often evaluate others on the basis of features like social status, clothing, and looks (Kruglanski, et al., 2000).

Each of the brands and associated brand adjectives was presented to participants for a short duration (i.e., 6 seconds). Participants were required t rate their favorability towards the brand during the exposure window. When entered into a simultaneous regression to predict attitudes toward the target brands, both explicit and implicit self-schemata predicted preferences for the brands independently. That is, individuals high in implicit (b=.37) and explicit (b=.29) Need for Cognition rated the "thinking" brand more favorably than those low in explicit and implicit Need for Cognition. Similarly, individuals high in implicit (b=.36) and explicit (b=.36) Assessment rated the "status" brand more favorably than those low in explicit and implicit Assessment.

Experiment 2 examined the role of implicit and explicit self-schemata under more deliberative conditions. Previous work has indicated that explicit ambivalence, or the simultaneous endorsement of both positive and negative attitudinal elements, can increase message elaboration (e.g., Maio, Bell, & Esses, 1996). In the Experiment 2, we extended the notion of ambivalence to cases in which the explicit and the implicit constructs are not consonant. In this framework, people are said to hold ambivalent attitudes when their explicit attitudes are discrepant from their implicit attitudes. Our hypothesis was that conflicting explicit and implicit attitudes may cause ambivalent people to be more motivated to elaborate ads that are presumed to contain information relevant to such incompatibility.

Participants first completed an IAT task assessing their implicit Need to Evaluate (NE). NE corresponds to individuals’ tendency to engage in evaluative responding and form extreme attitudes (Jarvis & Petty, 1996). After the IAT task, participants were told that they would also be participating in another study assessing their attitudes toward a public topic. In order to create an evaluative frame, all participants were explicitly told that the goal of this second study was to measure their evaluations of a current commercial campaign. Participants received an advertisement in favor of eating vegetables that contained either strong or weak arguments. Then, participants indicated the thoughts that they had had while reading the message. After the thought-listing procedure, participants reported their attitudes toward eating vegetables. Finally, participants completed the NE Scale.

Responses to the explicit and implicit NE measurements were standardized. Ambivalence was computed as the absolute difference between the standardized implicit and explicit scores. This ambivalence score was entered with the argument quality term and the interaction term to predict attitudes and thought positivity. The analysis on the attitudes composite revealed two effects. There was a significant main effect of argument quality (b=.19) that was qualified by a significant interaction between ambivalence and argument quality (b=.20) such that highly ambivalent individuals also distinguished more between strong and weak arguments than did individuals low in ambivalence. Analyses on the thought index revealed a main effect of argument quality (b=.51) and a significant argument quality by ambivalence interaction (b=.21). The thoughts of individuals high in implicit/explicit ambivalence corresponded more to the quality of the arguments in the message than did those for low ambivalence individuals.

Taken together, these two studies indicate multiple roles for implicit and explicit constructs. Under low elaboration conditions, each may act as a cue, but when elaboration likelihood is moderate, implicit and explicit constructs can interact with each other to produce differences in cognitive elaboration. This research additionally calls for the need for further research examining how implicit and explicit constructs can interact with the environment and each other to determine judgment and behavior outcomes.


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Henning Plessner, UniversitSt Heidelberg, Germany


AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2002

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