On the automatic activation of attitudes

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1986 Feb;50(2):229-38. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.50.2.229.


We hypothesized that attitudes characterized by a strong association between the attitude object and an evaluation of that object are capable of being activated from memory automatically upon mere presentation of the attitude object. We used a priming procedure to examine the extent to which the mere presentation of an attitude object would facilitate the latency with which subjects could indicate whether a subsequently presented target adjective had a positive or a negative connotation. Across three experiments, facilitation was observed on trials involving evaluatively congruent primes (attitude objects) and targets, provided that the attitude object possessed a strong evaluative association. In Experiments 1 and 2, preexperimentally strong and weak associations were identified via a measurement procedure. In Experiment 3, the strength of the object-evaluation association was manipulated. The results indicated that attitudes can be automatically activated and that the strength of the object-evaluation association determines the likelihood of such automatic activation. The implications of these findings for a variety of issues regarding attitudes--including their functional value, stability, effects on later behavior, and measurement--are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Arousal*
  • Attitude*
  • Consciousness
  • Humans
  • Memory*
  • Mental Recall*
  • Set, Psychology
  • Word Association Tests