If we want to know how people are influenced, we first need to ask what exactly we want that influence to achieve. In other words, what is its objective? Usually, the answer is: to change behaviour. But that is often easier said than done. In most cases, after all, we cannot be forced to act in a particular way. That is why influence attempts often focus on modifying our attitudes in the hope that that will eventually alter our behaviour. Advertisers, for instance, try to influence our attitudes towards products in the hope that we will buy them, while government campaigns home in on our attitudes towards sustainability and lifestyle, with the aim of modifying the way we behave.
In everyday speech, we talk about ‘opinions’, ‘feelings’, ‘preferences’ and ‘convictions’. All these are evaluative responses that fall under the generic heading ‘attitude‘. To put it another way, attitudes refer to people’s evaluative responses – positive or negative – to a stimulus, the so-called attitude object. An attitude object can be a person (a politician, your landlord, yourself), an organisation (the tax authority, social services) or a situation (a party, a lesson at school), but also a product (food, cosmetics) or an idea (halting immigration, raising the motorway speed limit).1
- Joop van der Pligt & Michael Vliek, The Psychology of Influence: Theory, research and practice (Routledge 2016). ↩