Investigating the impact of general action and inaction goals on attitude polarization

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Previous research shows that people can hold general goals for action or inaction. Further, action (vs. inaction) goals can result in less or greater attitude change in response to a persuasive message under different circumstances. To explain this opposite pattern of results, the current research explored the possibility that action (inaction) goals enhance (diminish) the default tendency of a given situation. Furthermore, research on attitude polarization demonstrates that despite exposure to equally strong yet opposing messages on a particular topic, individuals evaluate information consistent with their existing attitude as stronger (i.e. biased assimilation) and report more polarized attitudes as a result. Thus, for the present thesis, it was hypothesized that action (inaction) goals would enhance (diminish) this default tendency for biased information processing, leading to more (less) polarized attitudes compared to participants who receive no (control) goals. In this experiment, participants with non-neutral initial attitudes toward the impact of illegal immigration on the economy completed word fragments as part of an apparent verbal agility task. Via random assignment, this task actually primed either a general action, inaction, or no (control) goal. Next, participants viewed equally strong but opposing messages in a side-by-side format where one message supported and the other refuted the economic benefits of illegal immigration. Finally, participants responded to several measures to assess direct and perceived attitude polarization, as well as biased assimilation of the messages. The results replicated several findings in attitude polarization literature; however, goal primes yielded no effects, thus the hypotheses were unsupported. Several explanations of the results and possibilities for future research are discussed.




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