Social Psychology of Attitudes: Part 2 of 2

The concept of attitudes is not more significant than any other topic in the study of social psychology, but in order to adequately describe the theories it has been split over 2 posts, and part 1 can be found by clicking here.  This particular post will cover the topics of self concept and how we integrate information, types of internal conflict, prejudice and discrimination (as well as ways to address this), and theories of persuasion.  Often times a person’s attitude is not given much thought, but there has been significant research into what creates and changes attitudes. This is important information to understand in order to address prejudice and discrimination. It can be of particular interest to advertisers and political parties who attempt to utilize persuasion techniques.

Attitudes falls under the category of Social and Cultural Bases of Behavior, and is weighted at 12%. It is very theory and term heavy, so understanding the small differences between all the theories is important for the EPPP. The study tips page can give you some advice on how to go about learning this information. This information is meant to be supplemented with the information you have already been taught in your degrees, your previous notes or textbooks, and additional study tools as needed.  In order top have the best possible chance of being successful on the EPPP, please take a look at the product reviews page for a variety of additional study tools available.

Self Concept

self-conceptSelf-Verification Theory– A very well researched and documented theory, and developed by William Swann in 1981. The theory believes that people attempt to confirm their self-concepts and seek out information that verifies their this view, even if it is to confirm a negative self-concept.  For example if someone believes they are fat, they will pay more attention to what confirms this self-view rather than what shows contrary evidence.

Self-Enhancement Theory– This is contradictory to self-verification theory, and believes that people seek to see themselves (and for others to see them) as more favorable. That is, we pay more attention to positive information and try to get others to pay more attention to their positive qualities.

Behavioral Confirmation– This theory takes yet a different stance from the 2 previous, and believes that people seek to confirm the expectations that others place on them.  For example if a parent believes their child loves playing hockey, the child may act in a way that confirms this and integrate it into their own self-concept.


This is in regard to personal conflict rather than interpersonal conflict, and typically conflict involves having to make a choice between 2 or more options.

Avoidance-Avoidance Conflict: When the choice is between 2 or more “bad” options, and regardless of the choice it will lead to a negative alternative.  For example, an individual may have to choose between getting a divorce or staying with their spouse who had an affair.  These are typically the most difficult choices and people tend to try to choose whichever one has less negative impact.

Approach-Approach Conflict– When the choice is between 2 or more “good” options, and regardless of the choice it will lead to a positive alternative.  For example, choosing to vacation at an all inclusive beach resort or to take a cruise.  While both options are favorable making a choice can still cause some stress on the individual, but typically once a choice is made the alternative not chosen loses its appeal.

Approach-Avoidance Conflict– This is a choice that will have both positive and negative consequences.  For example deciding whether or not to change jobs often has both positive and negative aspects to the decision.  Typically initially the person focuses more on the good of the choice, but as they get closer to making the decision will focus more on the negative aspects of it.


This is an attitude (typically negative) toward a specific identified group of people. It is thought to be seen in 3 different ways: Our thoughts, our feelings, and our behaviors. Prejudice can develop from a variety of different places, including:


  • Learned: Prejudice can be learned just like any other behavior, through classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and social learning.
  • Personality: Some personalities are more prone to prejudice, specifically authoritarian and dominant personalities.
  • Competition: If there is competition for limited resources, such as jobs during a recession, this can create prejudice toward identifiable groups different than ourselves.
  • Us vs Them:  In order to make sense of our world, cognitive psychologists believe we categorize our world according to simple rules.  We tend to view people like us (or in our ingroup) more favorably than those different than ourselves (or in our outgroup).
  • Scapegoat: This can be a way of placing our aggression or blame on a specific group of people.

In order to help reduce prejudice there have been a number of processes.  On an individual level the most effective is perspective taking or trying to visualize what the person being discriminated against’s life is like. In terms of addressing prejudice on a larger scale there are a few approaches including:

  • Interdependence Approach: When 2 different groups come together and pool resources in order to solve a common problem.
  • Intergroup Contact Approach: Contact between groups can be helpful at reducing prejudice when this contact occurs under optional conditions (such as equal authority, status, and shared goals).
  • Social Identity Approach: Since people tend to favor their ingroup, this approach attempts to un-categorize this ingroup by identifying all individual difference.  This can be furthered by showing the similarities between individuals of a 2 different groups.
  • Disclosure Approach: 2 members from different groups disclose personal information, which show vulnerability and increases trust.


A well chosen picture of Jimmy Carter smiling and looking “trustworthy”

The effectiveness of persuasion depends on 3 factors. 1) The Source of the information, and how likable or credible the source will impact the effectiveness of the persuasion. 2) The Message can have a logical or an emotional appeal (or both).  3) The Audience has an impact on the effectiveness of persuasion, and a highly intelligent audience will more likely benefit from a logical approach, where as a less informed audience will benefit from a emotional approach.  There are many theories that describe persuasion including:

Elaboration Likelihood Model: There are 2 routes to this theory:

  • Central Route: Information is presented in terms of the individuals values and with logical benefits and drawbacks.
  • Peripheral Route: The attractiveness of the advertisement or person influences the persuasion, as there is the tendency to believes if it/he/she looks good it/he/she must be right.

Inoculation: In an attempt to persuade the individual an opposing view or product is presented with a simplified, weak, and easily disputed argument.  This “inoculates” the person from hearing a stronger more robust argument. For example, a commercial for  fast food will show the competitions hamburgers (restaurant X) as small and bland and their own hamburgers (restaurant Y) as large and full of toppings.  This may persuade the consumer that the Y’s large hamburger is better, and later on when someone points out the competing X and Y fast food places actually produce the same size of hamburgers, the buyer has already decided they like restaurant Y’s hamburger better and therefore are immune to X’s hamburger ads. In the 1990’s Pepsi has a very successful advertising campaign against Coca-Cola using this exact method.

Narrative Transportation Theory: People can be influenced by a story and relate to the product on a more personal level as they lose themselves in the narrative.  This is why so many advertisers may show a short skit of an individual overcoming a particular life obstacle while they present the product, and on occasion the product has nothing to do with the story told but the advertisement is effective as a result of the narrative.

There are many more theories that can be added to these topics, but for the purpose of the EPPP it is not the best use of your time to try and know all the theories.  Rather focus on the major ones and continue to research theories you come across in the practice exams that you may not be familiar with.

***In discussion of the topics presented, how do you think schools and the workforce could utilize some of the theories on prejudice and discrimination?  Can you see how advertisers and political parties may take advantage of the theories of persuasion to meet their own agenda?  Can you see this information being of any use to you in your own personal life?  Please comment below with any additional comments.

The information on this site may not be enough to help you feel confident about your ability to pass the exam, and because of that there are a variety of study aids and varying prices that can help you have the best chance possible of passing. Also if this information seems overwhelming to you it does NOT mean you will fail the exam, but you may require a little more in depth material than is offered here. That is why there is a Product Reviews page which will give you a variety of additional options, as well as practice exam questions which I highly recommend as explained on the Study Tips page.

4 thoughts on “Social Psychology of Attitudes: Part 2 of 2

    1. Hi, I think you are pointing out something common in the topic of social psychology…there is just so much. This is a tough topic because of the sheer volume of theories and it can be difficult and maybe not even necessary to know them all for the EPPP. If this seems like new information I suggest you check out the product review section to see the suggested supplementary material at a decent price. There is also posts on operant conditioning, classical conditioning, and psychodynamic interventions that would cover the topics you have pointed out. Happy studying!

  1. Hey Joy,

    Again, an extremely complete post from you. I find it personally helpful to review the conflict approaches, I guess we always like to regroup things and that helps me to understand others’ better, to know how they deal with arguments and how to deal with them, in turn.

    Thanks for sharing!


    1. Hi Anh, thanks for you’re continued involvement in the comments. I agree, I often find reviewing this information and going back to the basic theories not only helps me professionally but personally as well. This post as well as Attitudes Part 1 can help us to be very reflective, but in a scientific and well researched way. For some people knowing that there is research and science behind a concept is validates what they are experiencing and helps them to move forward. Thanks for your participation!

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