From the Introduction:
A growing body of literature suggests that attitudes may be much less enduring and stable than has traditionally been assumed. ... self-reports of attitudes are highly context dependent and can be profoundly influenced by minor changes in question wording, question format, or question order. For some researchers, this malleability simply reflects measurement error ... For other researchers, the same findings indicate that all we assess in attitude measurement are evaluative judgments that respondents construct ... based on whatever information happens to be accessible (e.g. Schwarz & Strack, 1991). From this perspective, the traditional attitude concept may not be particularly useful and we may learn more about human cognition and behavior from a detailed analysis of the underlying judgmental processes. Other researchers have taken intermediate positions ... For example, Lord & Lepper (in press) and Tourangeau and his colleagues (e.g. Tourangeau, 1992) equate attitudes with relatively stable memory structures, but assume that individuals sample from these structures when they answer attitude questions. Hence, a stable attitude can result in variable attitude reports, depending on which aspect of the knowledge structure (attitude) is accessed. Others (e.g., Wilson, 1998) suggested that individuals may hold multiple attitudes about an object, accessing different ones at different points in time. As we illustrate below, it is surprisingly difficult to design conclusive empirical tests to evaluate the relative merit of these proposals ... Yet, a scientific concept like “attitude” is to be evaluated on the basis of its explanatory power – and without taking judgmental processes into account, there is little that the attitude concept explains. In fact, the contemporary definition of attitudes as “likes and dislikes” (Bem, 1970, p. 14) equates attitudes with evaluative judgments. Hence, the first section of this chapter highlights judgmental processes and the second section applies these process assumptions to some findings that are typically considered evidence for the enduring nature of attitudes.
In response to the malleability of attitude reports, social psychologists have repeatedly
tried to replace or supplement verbal self-report measures with other, presumably more
direct, ways to assess individuals’ evaluative responses to attitude objects. These attempts range from the “bogus pipeline” (Jones & Sigall, 1971) of the 1970s to the recent development of sophisticated “implicit” measures of attitudes (e.g. Dovidio & Fazio, 1992). Recent findings suggest that such measures may be just as context dependent as verbal reports, although the relevant contextual variables may differ. The third section addresses these developments, which are discussed in more detail by Banaji and colleagues (Chapter 7, this volume) and Bassili (Chapter 4, this volume).
Much as the enduring nature of attitudes has been called into question, another body of
research suggested that attitudes may not be closely related to behavior either (see Wicker, 1969, for an influential early review). Instead, we may expect a close relationship between attitudes and behavior only under some specific, and relatively narrow, conditions (see Chapter 19, this volume). These conditions can be fruitfully conceptualized within a judgment perspective, as we review in the final section.