)q$i Vd 47. No. 6. II9I-IM5
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American Psychological Association. Inc
Empirical Validation of Affect, Behavior, and Cognition as
Distinct Components of Attitude
Steven J. Breckler
Johns Hopkins University
A prevalent model of attitude structure specifies three components: affect, behavior, and cognition. The validity of this tripartite model was evaluated. Five conditions needed for properly testing the three-component distinction were identified. Two new studies were then designed to validate the tripartite model.
A consideration of the tripartite model's theoretical basis indicated that the most important validating conditions are (a) the use of nonverbal, in addition to verbal, measures of affect and behavior, and (b) the physical presence of the attitude object Study 1, in which subjects' attitudes toward snakes were examined, indicated very strong support for this tripartite model: The model was statistically acceptable, its relative fit was very good, and the intercomponenl correlations were moderate (.38 < r < .71). Study 2 was a verbal report analogue of Study 1.
Results from Study 2 indicated that higher intercomponent correlations occurred when attitude measures derived solely from verbal reports and when the attitude object was not physically present.
In discussions of the attitude concept, it is very common to identify three attitude components: affect, behavior, and cognition. The present concern is with the validity of this tripartite model of attitude structure.
Figure 1 suggests a useful way for conceptualizing the tripartite model. Attitude is denned as a response to an antecedent stimulus or attitude object. The stimulus may or may not be observable, and can best be thought of as an independent or exogenous variable. Affect, behavior, and cognition are
This research was supported by a Graduate Alumni
Research Award and a Herbert Toops Research Award
(both to S. J. Breckler), and by NSF Grant BNS
82-17006 (to A. G. Greenwald). It is partly based on a doctoral dissertation completed in the social psychology program at Ohio State University. The article was written, in part, while the author was a National Institute of
Mental Health Post-Doctoral Trainee in the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University. Dissertation committee members Thomas M. Ostrom and Robert C.
MacCallum provided helpful feedback during all phases of the research. I am especially grateful to my advisor,
Anthony G. Greenwald, and to Anthony R. Pratkams, both of whom contributed in every way possible to this work. I also thank Thomas D. Cook, Harry C. Tnandis, and three anonymous reviewers for commenting on an earlier draft of the manuscript
Requests for reprints should be sent to Steven J.
Breckler, Department of Psychology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland 21218.
three hypothetical, unobservable classes of response to that stimulus.
In the present view, affect refers to an emotional response, a gut reaction, or sympathetic nervous activity. One can measure it by monitoring physiological responses (e.g., heart rate, galvanic skin response) or by collecting verbal reports of feelings or mood.
Behavior includes overt actions, behavioral intentions, and verbal statements regarding behavior. Beliefs, knowledge structures, perceptual responses, and thoughts constitute the cognitive component.
A core assumption underlying the attitude concept is that the three attitude components vary on a common evaluative continuum (cf.
Allport, 1935). Affect can vary from pleasurable (feeling good, happy) to unpleasurable
(feeling bad, unhappy). Behavior can range from favorable and supportive (e.g., keeping, protecting) to unfavorable and hostile (e.g., discarding, destroying). Likewise, cognitions or thoughts may vary from favorable to unfavorable (e.g., supporting versus derogating arguments). History of the Tripartite Model
The affect-behavior-cognition distinction is an