Anticipatory Attitude Change Definition
Anticipatory attitude change refers to shifting or changing one’s expressed opinion or attitude on a topic as a result of being informed that one will be exposed to a message or communication on the topic. Thus, prior to receiving any aspect of the message itself, people might adjust their opinions on a topic to be more positive, negative, or neutral simply in anticipation of receiving a message. In other words, when you know someone is going to try to change your mind, you may change it some already in advance, before even hearing what that person has to say.
Anticipatory attitude change has been studied primarily within the domain of forewarning research, which involves informing people they will be exposed to a persuasive message. Within this domain, researchers have focused on how people’s reporting of their opinions change as a result of warning them they will receive a message, prior to actually receiving the message.
Motives for Anticipatory Attitude Change
Anticipatory attitude change has been argued to stem from several different motives. First, if the topic of the message challenges the beliefs held by individuals, individuals may respond by becoming more negative on the topic prior to message exposure. This negative response might result from a simple negative feeling associated with having one’s opinion attacked, or might result from a more thoughtful attempt to consider the reasons in favor of one’s attitude against the opposing perspective.
A second motivation that might underlie anticipatory attitude change reflects a desire to avoid feeling gullible by providing perspectives that are in agreement with others. Thus, individuals who are told the position of a message may shift their attitudes, in a manner to agree with the message, prior to message exposure to avoid appearing as if they had been persuaded. If the message is in favor of a position, individuals’ attitudes will become more positive toward the position; if the message is against a position, individuals’ attitudes will become more negative toward the position.
A final cause for anticipatory attitude change follows from concerns about interacting with a person or expressing one’s attitude without knowing whether the message or person is in favor or against a particular topic. When another person’s view is not known, the best way to safely allow for the possibility of agreement is simply to shift one’s attitude to be more moderate. This allows one to more easily take a position similar to the person or message once they learn the position endorsed. For example, if a person becomes more moderate in his or her views, that person is more easily able to agree with another person regardless of the other person’s stance on the topic.
Although evidence is still accumulating as to when and whether each of the previously discussed motives operates, it seems likely that each may serve as a motive for anticipatory attitude change under the right circumstances.
Anticipatory Attitude Change and Topic
One important determinant of the effects of anticipatory attitude change is the topic of the message. On the one hand, if people perceive they will be receiving a message that threatens a valued topic or cherished attitude, they are likely to respond by becoming even more entrenched in their position (i.e., shifting their attitudes to be more opposed to the message position). On the other hand, if people perceive they will be receiving a message that does not challenge important beliefs, they are more inclined to respond by showing acquiescence and shifting their attitudes in favor of the position perceived to be advocated by the message.
Anticipatory Attitude Change and Likelihood of Being Persuaded
A second important moderator of whether people shift their attitude toward the message (for less-important topics) is whether people feel they are likely to be persuaded by the message. Individuals are much more inclined to show anticipatory attitude shifts if they believe a message will persuade them. Consequently, research has found individuals show more agreement with a position, prior to the message, if they believe the message is expected to be highly persuasive or to be delivered by a highly persuasive source (e.g., a person with expertise or knowledge). These findings are consistent with the idea that people might sometimes shift their attitudes to avoid appearing to have been persuaded and gullible.
Duration of Anticipatory Attitude Change
The long-term effects of anticipatory attitude change may well depend on whether an actual message is received or not. In fact, research suggests that anticipatory attitude change may be extremely short-lived if no message is presented. When people are informed they will no longer be receiving a message and then are asked to provide their attitude a second time, their attitudes often revert back to the same attitudes they had prior to the anticipatory attitude change. Thus, an individual who became more negative toward a topic, upon learning a message would be given on that topic, would become less negative as soon as he or she learned the message would not be given, reverting back to his or her original opinion.
If a message is actually presented, however, the attitudes resulting from anticipatory attitude change may influence how the message is processed or scrutinized. For example, individuals may attend to the information in a message in a manner that supports the attitudes that resulted from anticipatory attitude change. Individuals who become more negative in anticipation of the message may focus on the negatives within the message, reaffirming their negative attitudes upon hearing the message. Similarly, individuals who become more positive in anticipation of the message may focus on the positives within the message, reaffirming their positive attitudes. This pattern of processing may lead to actual and enduring attitude change. As a result, anticipatory attitude change might also have potentially long-term and enduring results.
- Quinn, J. M., & Wood, W. (2004). Forewarnings of influence appeals: Inducing resistance and acceptance. In E. S. Knowles & J. A. Linn (Eds.), Resistance and persuasion (pp. 193-213). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
- Wood, W., & Quinn, J. M. (2003). Forewarned and forearmed? Two meta-analysis syntheses of forewarnings of influence appeal. Psychological Bulletin, 129(1), 119-138.