Attitude Object Evaluations

Current Influences of Attitude Object Evaluations

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Current Influences of Attitude Object Evaluations
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Objects can elicit a variety of emotional and cognitive responses from an individual (reviewed by Giner-Sorolla, 2004). The emotional and cognitive components of a response together define the summary attitude taken towards the object. The degree to which an object can influence behavior appears to be linked to the ‘rate’ with which an individual develops a summary attitude, such that faster appraisals are more influential because they elicited a stronger attitude. Strack and Deutsch (2004) attempt to merge numerous dualistic models in an effort to delineate the elements that influence an evaluative process. Based on their reflective-impulsive model, motivation is the primary driver of behavior, but the interval between the sighting of an attitude object and the resulting behavior varies depending on whether a person reacts primarily in a reflective (cognitive) or impulsive (emotional) manner.

Findings by Giner-Sorolla (2004) suggest that the quality of the summary attitude, whether emotionally- or cognitively-biased, predicts the temporal order of the emotional (impulsive) or cognitive (reflective) response. In other words, if a person feels strongly about the War in Afghanistan without having spent much time pondering the rational basis for their feelings, then the attitude towards the conflict will be primarily impulsive.

In Strack’s and Deutsch’s (2004, p. 222) reflective-impulsive model, the degree of deprivation can help determine whether a person will evaluate through an emotional or cognitive process. This model proposes that the greater the felt need for an object, the shorter the interval between sighting an attitude object and a behavioral response. If the need is great, Strack and Deutch (2004) suggest that the behavioral response will be preactivated and the evaluation impulsive. In other words, is a person wants something bad enough the resulting behavior is simply waiting for an attitude object to appear, and once it appears, the appraisal and behavioral response is automatic.

A number of factors have been found through empirical studies to influence the appraisal process. Since impulsive evaluations typically precede a reflective one, the nature and strength of the impulsive appraisal can influence a reflective appraisal (Strack and Deutsch, 2004, p. 229-230). In addition, impulsive and reflective appraisals can occur in parallel and interact with each other. When in agreement, a strong attitude is adopted, but when in conflict this can result in hesitation and temptation. Another potential influence on the appraisal process is the current goal or motivational orientation (Strack and Deutsch, 2004, p. 231). An example of being goal oriented would be craving a cheeseburger and vanilla shake with such strength that other foods are avoided until these objects are consumed. The physical status of an individual can influence the appraisal as well. When research subjects were asked to nod or shake their heads in response to words, nodding and shaking were found to enhance recognition of positive and negative words, respectively (Strack and Deutsch, 2004, p. 232-234). Posture, facial expressions, and arm muscle contractions or extensions are other physical factors that can influence the appraisal process. A person’s mood, whether positive or negative, will influence the appraisal process. A good example is a person who is so angry that nothing seems to appease him or her; all the usual comfort objects, such as chocolate, a funny joke, or a good movie, are insufficient to overcome the negative affect.

Finally, the appraisal process can be influenced by what have been termed ‘standards’ (Rannazzisi, 2009, p. 11-19). While absolute standards do exist, for example a test score above 90 is typically an A grade, many evaluations rely on comparisons with less stable standards. One of the more widely recognized and accepted standards are social comparison. Social standards can be the attributes and experiences of a single individual, group, class, or society and the valuation of an attitude object will often be evaluated in reference to these social standards. The common cliche ‘keeping up with the Jones” represents a neighbor’s struggle to obtain attitude objects equal or superior in value to their neighbors. Evaluations may also be valued with respect to a person’s past accomplishments. These temporal standards can coexist with social standards during an appraisal process and often do. Imaginary standards are also commonly used and can be based on fantasy or reality. The expectation that a college football team ‘should have’ won last Saturday’s game because the opposing team had a worse record, may be more fantasy than reality since the opposing team has had a much tougher season schedule.

Factors Influencing Reflective Attitudes

Strack and Deutsch (2004, p. 229) make an assumption in their reflective-impulsive model of appraisal that the behavior schemata activated by an attitude object evaluation is always encoded in the impulsive system, whether the attitude is primarily a product of a reflective or impulsive appraisal. Behavioral schemata in turn represent sensory-motor clusters that frequently co-occur (habits) and can be thought of as long-term behavioral memories. If parts of a behavioral schema are activated by an attitude object, the likelihood that the behavior will be activated increases. Once a threshold level of activation is achieved, the behavior ensues. If multiple schemata are activated, the one that reaches the threshold first is acted out. For example, a dieter may choose to avoid having dessert with their meal if they have the cognitive capacity to control their behavior, but if he or she is still hungry, the urge to splurge may be irresistible. This example represents a conflict between reflective and impulsive appraisals.

Should a person engage in a reflective evaluation of an attitude object, then activation of a behavioral schemata occurs after reflecting on the feasibility of the action and the possibility of a positive outcome (Strack and Deutsch, 2004, p. 230). Strack and Deutsch (2004) discuss at length how a seemingly reasoned action is in fact often corrupted by many irrational factors.

One of the primary corrupting factors is the impulsive appraisal, since an impulsive evaluation is almost always triggered by an attitude object (Strack and Deutsch, 2004, p. 223). The impulsive system is also the default evaluation system when cognitive capacity and/or arousal levels are low, since reflection requires moderate levels of both. However, high levels of arousal seem to promote stereotypical behaviors in response to attitude objects and therefore undermine reflective evaluations. The empirical evidence for the influential role of cognitive capacity and arousal is substantial, and therefore is included in most dualistic models.

Other factors that can favor an impulsive evaluation over a reflective one include a strong deprivation of need and motivational orientation (Strack and Deutsch, 2004, p. 229-230), which were discussed in the previous section. Accessibility to associations and behavioral options will also influence an evaluation. For example, a young athletic person may not notice that a woman walking with a cane across an intersection may run out of time before the light turns green, because the concept of limited physical ability is one infrequently encountered. In contrast, a nurse working in the field of geriatrics would quickly assess the situation and step in to block traffic until the disabled woman has finished crossing the intersection.

The link between reflective evaluations and behavior can also be disrupted if attainment of the goal is blocked or delayed (Strack and Deutsch, 2004, p. 230). In many cases specific conditions must be met before a behavioral schema can be engaged, and when absent can sometimes result in a temporal delay. For example, if a person is craving a sushi, but is short on cash, then satisfaction of this goal will have to await payday. According Strack and Deutsch (2004), the behavioral schemata arrived at through a reflective evaluation is stored until reactivated. These ‘intended’ behaviors are extinguished once the goal has been fulfilled or no longer sought.


Giner-Sorolla, Roger. (2004). Is affective material in attitudes more accessible than cognitive material? The moderating role of attitude basis. European Journal of Social Psychology, 34, 761-780.

Rannazzisi, Danielle Marie. (2009). Appraisal processes and emotion: An examination of the influence of relative standards on the evaluation of negative situations. (Doctoral dissertation). ProQuest Dissertations and Thesis. (Accession 2009-99220-267).

Strack, Fritz and Deutsch, Roland. (2004). Reflective and impulsive determinants of social behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 8(3), 220-247.

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