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The role age plays in the susceptibility to enduring attitude changes

The role age plays in the susceptibility to enduring attitude changes

In order to do this in a clear way, relevant research and theories will be considered. Attitudes can be defined as a person’s positive and negative views on another person or object or even an event. These are often referred to as ‘attitude objects.’ Attitudes can be seen as people’s judgements on something or someone. These develop through the ‘ABC model.’ The ABC model stands for the affect, behaviour and cognition model. This model shows how people develop their attitudes about attitude objects. For example, the effect is the person’s emotional response to the object, the affect it has on the person emotionally, determining whether they like it or not. The behavioural is the verbal and visual/physical behaviour the person shows in response to the object following their emotional response to it, and the cognition part is when the person evaluates their experiences and therefore constitutes a belief for that object which overall will form that person’s attitude towards that object. Attitudes can be formed from observational learning and also direct experiences that one has throughout life. Even though sometimes a girl will have an attitude like a woman, age does not affect the attitude of females because power and experiences are stronger. What this essay will look at is the effects that age has on the susceptibility of attitude changes in people’s lives.

There are five main hypotheses. These hypotheses are: the increasing persistence hypothesis, which is when attitudes change in early adulthood – as people gain more knowledge from experiences, they become more focused on the attitudes they follow. The impressionable years hypothesis, in which it is said all the core attitudes someone has are fixed by the stage of early adulthood, thereafter, these do not change. The life stages hypothesis, which holds that people are highly susceptible to attitude changes during early and late adulthood but lower during middle adulthood stage. The lifelong openness hypothesis; where people are susceptible to attitude change throughout life. And finally, Persistence hypothesis, holding that we tend to persist with the attitudes we form in early adulthood. Research done on finding out what role age plays in the susceptibility to enduring attitude changes have mainly focused on these five hypothesis, some studies look at two or three only, in depth.

A study done by Jon A. Krosnick and Duane F. Alwin (1989) looked at the relation between age and the susceptibility of attitude changes. In this study, there were two hypotheses that were considered. The first hypothesis was that attitude change is highly susceptible during late adolescence and early adulthood and that after this period susceptibility drops and remains low. As shown above, this hypothesis was called the ‘impressionable years’ hypothesis. The second hypothesis, called the ‘increasing persistence’ hypothesis held that people gradually become more resistant to attitude change rather than just after a certain period. In order to test these hypotheses: “structural equation models were applied to data from the 1956-1960, 1972-1976 and 1980 National Equation Panel studies in order to estimate the stability of political attitudes and unreliability in measures of them.” http://communication.stanford.edu/faculty/krosnick/docs/Aging%20and%20Att%20Change%20-%20Krosnick%20and%20Alwin.pdf (29th December 2009)

From doing so, the impressionable years hypothesis was confirmed, showing that attitude change is susceptible during the period between late adolescence and early adulthood and declines thereafter. According to the impressionable years hypothesis, the socializing experiences that people experience when they are young, impact their thinking throughout their life. This shows that from a young age people start to develop their attitudes from their experiences. However, according to this hypothesis, once at a certain stage in life, the person’s attitudes are fixed and these are unlikely to change subsequently.

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However, in contrast to the study above, another study was done by Regina Schuller and Tom Tyler (1991) to find out the ‘openness’ of attitude change amongst different ages. As in the previous study there were also two different models in this study, one of them being the ‘impressionable years’ and the second called ‘openness’ model. The openness model held that age had nothing to do with attitude change, and that it was an on-going process. Two studies were done. In both studies, the effect that people’s personal experiences of the government agencies had on their attitudes towards the government was examined. It showed that attitudes of older people changed just as much or maybe even more than those younger, overall, supporting the openness model. Therefore meaning, attitude change can occur even at a later age not just late adolescence/early adulthood. Schuller R. A.; Tyler T.R.; (1991) Ageing and attitude change. Journal of personality and social psychology. 61(5). 689-697 (12th January 2010)

From both of these studies, we are able to see that age plays a role in attitude changes. However it may be that other factors also effect attitude changes and these are more likely to take effect when people are considering views on an attitude object.

Another study was done by Anna Regula Herzog (1979), in order to observe the role of age in relation to attitude changes. This study involved a group of young women and a group of older women. In the experiment the two groups of women were presented with persuasive information in different speeds. The higher speed level, in which the information was presented in, was used in order to decrease the information intake therefore decreasing the chances of attitude changes in the group of people. Although this was the case, there was however no age difference observed.

However, at a normal speed level, it seemed that older women changed their attitudes more than the younger women. The results showed that older women group reacted more positively to the information given. However, they understood less of it compared to the younger women. (Attitude change in older age: an experimental study.) http://geronj.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/34/5/697 (29th December 2009)

This study shows that age may not have much to do with attitude change. It is the way in which the information is given rather the age the person is that determines whether the information will evoke an attitude change or not.

Overall the studies that have been looked at so far in this assignment show that age does not play a major role in the susceptibility to enduring attitude changes in people’s life. This can be seen as there are contrasting results as to when attitude change is at the highest or when attitude change can occur in life. Also, this can be seen from the final study that has been looked at so far showing that age is a minor factor in attitude changes, and that it depends more on the information available and how it has been portrayed to the person.

Attitudes are formed by people through several different approaches. These include: the mere exposure effect, the classical conditioning approach and the instrumental conditioning approach. All these approaches lead to people forming the attitudes they have towards something or someone. For example with the mere exposure effect, according to research carried out by Robert Bornstein (1989), the more something or someone is exposed to the person the more likely they are to form positive views on this ‘attitude object.’ These positive views can be considered attitudes. According to Bornstein’s research, when the object is presented subliminally rather than the person being consciously aware of it, it has a higher effect on the person’s attitude change. http://www.vivelecanada.ca/article/235930204-mere-exposure-to-john-mccain-can-be-dangerous (13th January 2010)

These approaches take place throughout life; children from a young age experience these approaches, for example in school instrumental conditioning may take place due to the reinforcement they receive from their teachers. Where a response to an object or model is given reinforcement, encouraging that child’s attitudes to form on what they have been reinforced for. This shows that attitudes start to develop from a young age due to certain approaches and experiences in life. These attitudes that start to form at a young age through instrumental conditioning are the basis of most adult attitudes.

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According to Albert Bandura’s theory on observational learning (1977), children gain knowledge on their environment and behaviours from observing adults around them. Therefore it can be said that if adults have an attitude towards certain objects or people, the children are likely to also gain these attitudes from observing the behaviour and response to it and forming the same sort of attitudes that the adult has. However, when children get older and start to develop their own attitudes according to their own experiences these attitudes that they first have on an attitude object may change. This shows that attitude change is likely to take place during adolescence, as shown in the ‘Ageing and Susceptibility to Attitude change’ study.

Other influences that people have throughout life on the attitudes they develop include; their parents, peers, superiors and the mass media.

There are communication methods that are used in order to help people change their attitudes towards certain attitude objects such as smoking or drinking. For example, according to Leventhal, Watts and Pagano (1967), using fearful communication can help persuade people to stop smoking. This shows that if persuasion at a later stage in life can encourage people to change their attitudes, then there cannot be a clear age relation for the susceptibility to enduring attitude changes as it can be done through different methods throughout life, as shown by the ‘Yale approach.’ However, it is important to see whether there is a relation between emotional arousal and attitude change. In order to see whether attitudes can be changed using persuasion of some sort whether positive or negative, we would need to know whether there is a link between the arousal people experience from the persuasion and attitude changes. A study on finding out whether fear arousing messages can encourage an attitude change on a certain attitude object was done by Janis and Feshbach (1953). In their study, they encouraged participants to take better care of their dental hygiene in three different contexts. The first being the low-fear condition; whereby they were told of the outcomes that could be suffered due to gum disease and thereafter suggestions were made on how to take better care of their teeth. The second was the moderate-fear condition, where the oral hygiene message was a great deal more explicit and finally the high-fear condition. Results of this study showed after a week from hearing the messages, the participants in the low-fear condition followed a better routine for dental hygiene, followed by the moderate condition than the high-fear participants. The results here support the point made above, that people’s attitudes can be changed through persuasion. However finding the right amount of fear-arousing message is important. This is also supported by the Yale approach.

The ‘Yale approach,’ (McGuire, 1968) holds that in six steps: presentation, attention, comprehension, yielding, retention and finally behaviour – people’s attitudes can be changed. In this approach it is also said that if attitudes can be changed through persuasion techniques as in the Yale approach once, they can be changed over and over again using persuasive methods and therefore the attitude change is not a permanent fixture in the mind of those people. Many of the studies that have been looked at in the course of this assignment link with the Yale approach; in that the studies show that people’s attitudes can be changed over time, even after a certain period in life and that people’s attitudes are susceptible to change at any age in life as long as the correct methods are followed. These methods include; understanding the characteristics of the person giving the messages, the person who is to receive them and also the contents of the message to be given.

Persuasive messages used to evoke arousal in people in order to encourage them to change their attitudes can lead to cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is when the person experiences an unpleasant psychological tension, where they have two or more opposing cognitions. In order to reduce this dissonance, people tend to look for fitting reasons for one of the cognitions and therefore reduce dissonance. However, it is said that cognitive dissonance can be avoided if persuasive messages/methods were not used in the first place.

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Overall, age is a variable when it comes to attitude changes in life but there are several other factors that also have an influence on attitude changes. The studies that have been observed show different results, some show that susceptibility to enduring attitude changes are high during only a certain period of life, others show that it is an on-going process and people develop attitudes throughout life. Age plays a role in attitude changes however it does not



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