Attitudes from the Actor’s Perspective: Evaluation in the Service of Action

Monday, September 24, 2012

Norbert Schwarz

Research Professor, RCGD & SRC; Charles Horton Cooley Collegiate Professor of Psychology
University of Michigan

Most theories treat attitudes as enduring evaluative tendencies; this dispositional focus enjoys intuitive appeal because it is compatible with observers’ preference for dispositional explanations (aka fundamental attribution error). From the actor’s perspective, evaluation stands in the service of action. Any adaptive system of evaluation needs to be highly sensitive to the specifics of the present, turning deplorable “context dependency” into laudable “context sensitivity.” Attitude construal theories conceptualize the context sensitivity of evaluative judgment and provide a parsimonious account of core findings of the attitude literature. They do so in a way that is compatible with current theorizing about the situated nature of cognition and without requiring us to commit the fundamental attribution error in explaining people’s judgments.

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