Andrew Luttrell, Ph.D., and Jake Teeny

A Difference of Opinion

Strong Opinions

A first look at the opinions (attitudes) that drive the world.

Posted Dec 01, 2019

So, you found this blog. Maybe you stumbled across a link or thought its name sounded interesting. Regardless, what you’re reading is the first-ever post on a blog that will carefully—and hopefully entertainingly!—discuss the most important topic in the world.

That’s right. The most important.

On this blog, we’ll be discussing the most cutting-edge research on the science of opinions.

What? Opinions don’t sound that important to you?

Well, let’s not forget it’s your opinion on this blog that determines whether you keep reading. People’s opinions on restaurants, movies, books determine success or failure. People’s opinions determine who they spend time with, who receives donations, which candidates and policies get elected, and pretty much every other single decision you can possibly imagine.

So yes, this blog will be examining one of the most pressing, scientific questions facing humanity today:

Why do people hold the opinions that they do?

And how can we go about changing them?

Opinions = Attitudes

In the psychological literature, “opinions” are typically referred to as “attitudes” (i.e., people’s overall evaluation on a topic). At the most fundamental level, people’s attitudes (i.e., opinions) are described as being either positive (e.g., "I like ice cream" = positive attitude) or negative (e.g., "I dislike brain freezes" = negative attitude).

In addition to an attitude’s positivity or negativity, though, researchers have also identified a lot of other features that matter. For example, attitudes could be broad (e.g., “I support protecting the environment”) or more specific (e.g., “I support recycling tin cans). Or attitudes could be based on morality (e.g., “I favor Candidate A because she’s an ethical person”) or based on practicality (e.g., “I favor Candidate B because she’s good with finances”).

In fact, there are a host of attitude features that have proven incredibly important in the research on attitudes (which we will cover in later posts). But there’s one especially useful distinction when it comes to people’s attitudes:

Whether they’re strong or weak.

The Three Tenants of Strong Attitudes

Although every attitude a person has can influence them—from their attitudes toward shampoo to their attitudes toward the military—researchers are particularly interested in strong attitudes.

Strong (vs. weak) attitudes are those that:

  1. Persist over time
  2. Resist persuasion
  3. Guide behavior.

Strong (vs. weak) attitudes are the durable (persistent and resistant) and impactful (influential) attitudes that people hold.

Thus, researchers are most interested in understanding how people come to have strong attitudes, and, importantly, what can be done to change them.

Until the last 30 years or so, however, researchers had largely given up on trying to understand and influence strong attitudes. It was simply assumed that strong attitudes were too hard to predict and definitely too hard to change. But with recent psychological and scientific advancements, researchers have developed a systematic and methodological understanding of strong attitudes.

An understanding we will deliver to you on this blog.

If understanding why your crazy uncle doesn’t trust science, or why you act on some of your attitudes but not others, or how you can convince your sister to give you that very last bite of ice cream, this is the blog for you.

And that’s not just our opinion, that’s a fact.

—Jake & Andy

References

Krosnick, J. A., & Petty, R. E. (1995). Attitude strength: An overview. In R. E. Petty & J. A. Krosnick (Eds.), Attitude strength: Antecedents and consequences (pp. 1-24). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.