Universität Bielefeld

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DFG-Project: Lateral Attitude Change


Content: Consider two - at first glance, rather different - research findings:

(1) Friendly contact with members of an outgroup, for example, immigrants, does not only improve attitudes toward this particular group, but also attitudes toward other stigmatized outgroups, such as gay men (Pettigrew, 2009).
(2) Members of the majority who are exposed to a minority's arguments regarding a particular topic, do not change their attitudes toward this topic, but instead change their attitudes toward a different, related issue (Alvaro & Crano, 1997).

These findings have one thing in common: The attempt to influence a person's attitude toward an object X results in the change of their attitude toward other objects (Y) that are mentally related to X. Such "side effects" of influence attempts will be called lateral attitude change (LAC). The systematic study of LAC is the purpose of this research project.

We define LAC as present whenever a person changes her or his implicit or explicit evaluation of a lateral object Y after an influence attempt directed at a focal object X. We distinguish two types of LAC, which are illustrated by the above-cited findings: generalization effects, where the target of an influence attempt accepts the new evaluation of X, and displacement effects, where the target rejects the new evaluation of X. We propose that, in both cases, the evaluation of X that is suggested by the influence attempt will automatically be transferred to other, related objects Y.

The differential patterns of generalization and displacement will thus be found mainly in explicit attitudes, whereas an automatic spreading of the associative evaluation of X on Y is commonly found on the level of implicit attitudes. We have presented the theoretical foundations of our research proposal in a framework on LAC (Glaser, Dickel, Liersch, Rees, Süssenbach & Bohner, 2015, Personality and Social Psychology Review). The LAC framework contains six postulates:

1. Activation of evaluation of focal object X;
2. automatic spread of this evaluation to lateral objects Y;
3. conscious acceptance or rejection of the evaluation of X;
4. resulting conscious processes with regard to Y;
5. conscious acceptance or rejection of the evaluation of Y;
6. delayed attitude change toward X and/or Y when reasons for initial rejection become inaccessible in memory.

In addition, the model specifies moderator variables that influence the extent of LAC, including the strength of association between X and Y, processing effort, and the striving for cognitive consistency. The first three years of the project (2016-2019) are devoted to empirical tests of the LAC model's six postulates as well as the proposed moderation hypotheses.

Project Management: Prof. Dr. Gerd Bohner
Dr. Tina Glaser
Research Staff:
Dipl.-Psych. Roman Linne
Ronja Böge, MSc.
Contact: roman.linne@uni-bielefeld.de