Past research has shown that attitudes that are personally important are also more accessible in memory. The hypothesis that accessibility causally influences importance was examined in a laboratory experiment. Accessibility was manipulated on a within-subject basis by varying frequency of attitude expression. Subjects first completed a booklet containing several separate questionnaires in which two target attitudes were solicited five times and two other target attitudes were not solicited at all. Subjects then responded to a computer-administered survey in which response latency was recorded and ratings of attitude importance were collected. Consistent with past research, repeated expression resulted in reduced response latencies (i.e., enhanced attitude accessibility). Repeated expression also resulted in greater perceived attitude importance. The effect of repeated expression on latencies remained reliable when importance ratings were controlled, but the effect of repeated expression on importance disappeared when latencies were controlled. These results suggest that individuals use attitude accessibility as a heuristic cue for inferring attitude importance. Accessibility may best be conceived of as a central index of attitude strength, with importance playing a role as antecedent or consequent to this variable.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Psychology
- Sociology and Political Science