Perceiving attitude change: How qualitative shifts augment change perception

Perceiving attitude change: How qualitative shifts augment change perception

By
Christopher Bechler, Zakary Tormala, Derek Rucker
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
2019, Vol. 82, Pages 160-175

Attitude change and persuasion are among the most studied topics in social psychology. Surprisingly, though, as a field we have virtually zero insight into perceived attitude change—that is, how people assess the magnitude of a shift in someone’s attitude or opinion. The current research provides an initial investigation of this issue. Across 6 primary experiments and a series of supplemental studies (total N = 2,880), we find consistent support for a qualitative change hypothesis, whereby qualitative attitude change (change of valence; e.g., from negative to positive) is perceived as greater than otherwise equivalent non-qualitative attitude change (change within valence; e.g., from negative to less negative or from positive to more positive). This effect is mediated by ease of processing: Qualitative attitude change is easier for people to detect and understand than non-qualitative attitude change, and this ease amplifies the degree of perceived change. We examine downstream consequences of this effect and discuss theoretical, methodological, and practical implications.