Toward a formalized account of attitudes: The Causal Attitude Network (CAN) model

Psychol Rev. 2016 Jan;123(1):2-22. doi: 10.1037/a0039802. Epub 2015 Oct 19.


This article introduces the Causal Attitude Network (CAN) model, which conceptualizes attitudes as networks consisting of evaluative reactions and interactions between these reactions. Relevant evaluative reactions include beliefs, feelings, and behaviors toward the attitude object. Interactions between these reactions arise through direct causal influences (e.g., the belief that snakes are dangerous causes fear of snakes) and mechanisms that support evaluative consistency between related contents of evaluative reactions (e.g., people tend to align their belief that snakes are useful with their belief that snakes help maintain ecological balance). In the CAN model, the structure of attitude networks conforms to a small-world structure: evaluative reactions that are similar to each other form tight clusters, which are connected by a sparser set of "shortcuts" between them. We argue that the CAN model provides a realistic formalized measurement model of attitudes and therefore fills a crucial gap in the attitude literature. Furthermore, the CAN model provides testable predictions for the structure of attitudes and how they develop, remain stable, and change over time. Attitude strength is conceptualized in terms of the connectivity of attitude networks and we show that this provides a parsimonious account of the differences between strong and weak attitudes. We discuss the CAN model in relation to possible extensions, implication for the assessment of attitudes, and possibilities for further study.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological*