The Mere Perception of Elaboration Creates Attitude Certainty: Exploring the Thoughtfulness Heuristic Jamie Barden
Richard E. Petty
Ohio State University
Attitude theory has long proposed a mechanism through which antecedents of message elaboration produce attitude strength consequences. However, little direct evidence exists for the intervening process. The proposed thoughtfulness heuristic holds that perceiving that more thought has taken place leads to greater attitude certainty. Two roles were established for this heuristic: first as a mediator of the impact of antecedents of elaboration on attitude certainty and second as a way to influence attitude certainty independent of actual elaboration. In Studies 1 and 2, antecedents of elaboration (need for cognition, distraction) impacted attitude certainty because they impacted the actual amount of processing, which in turn affected perceptions of the amount of processing. In Studies 3 and 4, a manipulation of perceived thought impacted certainty independent of actual thought (i.e., after thinking had already occurred). Furthermore, the thoughtfulness heuristic was shown to influence behavioral intentions, establishing perceived amount of processing as both a mediator and an independent cause of attitude strength consequences. Keywords: heuristics, elaboration, attitude strength, certainty, persuasion
Social psychologists have for a long time been interested in the role of thought processes in attitudes and persuasion (Festinger, 1957; Hovland, Janis, & Kelly, 1953; Tesser, 1978). Of these, no aspect of thought has captured the interest of persuasion researchers as much as the amount of thought (elaboration) about an attitude object (see Petty & Wegener, 1998, for a review). Contemporary models of persuasion such as the heuristic–systematic model (Chaiken, 1987), the elaboration likelihood model (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986), and the unimodel (Kruglanski & Thompson, 1999) hold that the amount of thought that occurs in response to a persuasive message is an important determinant not only of the extent of persuasion but also of the strength of the attitude that results (Petty & Krosnick, 1995). That is, according to each of these models, attitudes based on high amounts of thought are proposed to be more persistent over time, resistant to attack, and
Jamie Barden, Department of Psychology, Howard University; Richard E. Petty, Department of Psychology, Ohio State University. This article is based in part on Jamie Barden’s dissertation, which was submitted to the Graduate School at Ohio State University. We thank Russell H. Fazio, Marilynn B. Brewer, and the members of the Ohio State Group for Attitudes and Persuasion 2004 –2007 for comments on earlier versions of this work, and Michael Browne for his consultation regarding the statistical analyses. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jamie Barden, Department of Psychology, Howard University, 525 Bryant Street, Washington, DC 20059 or Richard E. Petty, Department of Psychology, Ohio State University, 1835 Neil Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210-1222. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
predictive of behavior than attitudes formed or changed with little thought (see Petty, Haugtvedt, & Smith, 1995, for a review). Thus, understanding the role of elaboration in attitude strength is clearly of critical importance for anyone trying to develop persuasive communications with consequences, whether for product advertising, health promotions, election campaigns, or simply a discussion around the dinner table. Given the conceptual importance of elaboration as a determinant of attitude strength, it is perhaps not surprising that a number of studies have investigated this linkage empirically. For example, research has demonstrated that various causes of elaboration, including personal relevance (Haugtvedt & Strathman, 1990; Petty, Haugtvedt,...