April 20, 2021
by Patricia Tomasi
A new study published in the Journal of Psychological Science looked at attitudes and feelings and whether they are fixed or fleeting.
“We wanted to understand which opinions stick with a person for a long time and which ones fluctuate over time,” study author Matthew Rocklage told us. “Although researchers have long acknowledged that well-reasoned, thoughtful attitudes persist over time, we anticipated that the emotional basis of an opinion would be an unappreciated sign that a person would hold the same opinion when surveyed multiple times.”
Recent research has been finding that emotion-based opinions can be particularly strong, especially when the attitude is positive. For example, the more someone’s attitude has an emotional basis, the quicker they are to give their opinion when prompted. As a result, it seemed plausible that these kinds of opinions would also be especially stable over time.
“People’s attitudes, opinions, and views play a central part in their lives,” study author Andrew Luttrell told us. “From political views to consumer preferences to feelings about other people, it’s useful to not only know where someone stands, but also whether that’s an opinion they’ll hold onto for the long term. In addition, when we try to change people’s minds, we want to make lasting change, so we must understand what kinds of opinions end up persisting into the future.”
The researchers conducted seven studies. Although these studies used different methodologies, in each one they were able to get the same people’s opinions at least two times, so they could see how much their responses changed over the course of days, weeks, or even years. Using several strategies, they could also assess how much these opinions had an emotional basis. They could then examine how much this emotionality corresponded with change (or lack thereof) in the opinions over time.
“Across 20,000 people who gave us their opinions on brand-new Christmas gifts, brands, and restaurants, we found that the more emotion someone expressed, the longer that person’s attitude lasted when we followed up with them one month or even years later,” Rocklage told us. “In a final experiment, we also found that a persuasive message that evoked greater emotion led to attitudes that decayed less over time compared to a persuasive message that was equally positive, but didn’t evoke the same level of emotion.”
Prior research has focused largely only on the long-lasting nature of attitudes based on thoughtful reasoning. Moreover, Rocklage told us he conducted a survey of around 1,000 lay individuals and they also believed that attitudes based on thoughtful reasoning were the way to create long-lasting attitudes, whereas they didn’t give much credence to those based on emotion. Nevertheless, based on recent research he had done, he had reason to believe that attitudes based on emotion could be particularly strong. Thus, this research shows a novel pathway to create strong attitudes.
“The results show the predictive ability of emotion to forecast what a person’s attitude will be in the future,” Luttrell told us. “Moreover, given we used people’s language as the basis for measuring their attitudes, the results also indicate that you can listen to what people are saying to understand which of their opinions are more likely to stand the test of time. The results also suggest that emotion is a way to help nudge people to create long-lasting attitudes. Finally, the results may also help to understand why some people’s opinions – on politics, vaccinations, etc. – might be so difficult to change.”
About the Author
Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog: www.patriciatomasiblog.wordpress.com