Social Cognition, Vol. 25, No. 5,2007, pp. 582-602
THE ADVANTAGES OF AN INCLUSIVE DEFINITION OF ATTITUDE
Alice H. Eagly Northwestern University Shelly Ghaiken Berkeley, CA
In The Psychology of Attitudes, we provided an abstract—or umbrella—definition of attitude as "a psychological tendency that is expressed by evaluating a particular entity with some degree of favor or disfavor" (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993, p. 1). This definition encompasses the key features of attitudes—namely, tendency, entity (or attitude object), and evaluation. This conception of attitude distinguishes between the inner tendency that is attitude and the evaluative responses that express attitudes. Our definition invites psychologists to specify the natureof attitudes by proposing theories that provide metaphors for the constituents of the inner tendency that is attitude. We advocate theoretical metaphors that endow attitudes with structural qualities.
New efforts to contemplate the definition of attitude are welcome in light of innovations in attitude theory and research. Researchers have the burden of figuring out whether the phenomena that they have discovered are compatible with definitions of attitude that emerged in the field in earlier years. After all, Allport (1935) may have believed that he had provided the definition for all time, and this definition lingered for decades in social psychology textbooks. However, his definition became too diffuse as attitude research developed in the second half of the 20th century. If contemporary researchers suspect that the attitudinal phenomena that they have identified may not be compatible with established definitions, there are two possible outcomes: the definition should change, or researchers should think harder to understand how
We thank Wendy Wood for comments on a draft of this article. Please address correspondence to AUce H. Eagly, Department of Psychology, Northwestern University, 2029 Sheridan Rd., Evanston, IL 60208; E-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. 582
AN INCLUSIVE DEFINITION OF ATTITUDE
these phenomena are compatible with the established definition. So, given important theoretical and empirical developments in attitude research, the present is an excellent time for determining how phenomena ordinarily identified as attitudinal relate to current and alternative defirutions of attitude. Why should social psychologists bother to settle on a definition of attitude? Perhaps scientists should just do research and not worry so much about abstractions and labels. Not so. A science without definitions of basic constructs would be chaotic. Defirutions identify fields of inquiry by setting their boundaries and distinguishing their questions from questions that deal with other phenomena. Precise definitions also foster valid measurement. They provide a framework that enhances theory development and empirical research in a community of scientists. We should therefore all welcome this latest exchange of ideas on the definition of the attitude concept. THE ABSTRACT, UMBRELLA DEFINITION OF ATTITUDE We offer an abstract—or umbrella—definition of attitude that posits three essential features: evaluation, attitude object, and tendency (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993). Together these elements refer to an individual's propensity to evaluate a particular entity with some degree of favorability or unfavorability. Evaluation refers to all classes of evaluative responding, whether overt or covert, or cognitive, affective, or behavioral. Evaluation thus encompasses the evaluative aspects of beliefs and thoughts, feelings and emotions, and intentions and overt behavior. None of these reactions need be consciously experienced by the holder of an attitude, although they may be conscious. This evaluative responding is directed to some entity or thing that is its object—that is, we may evaluate a person (George W. Bush), a city (Chicago), an ideology (conservatism), and a myriad of other...
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