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Abstract

‘Attitudes’ has been the central concept of social psychology in three different periods, over which the interest evolved to three progressively more sophisticated topics. The first of these three peakings was the 1920s and 1930s preoccupation with the static topics of attitude scaling and relation to behaviour. Then, after a 1935–1955 interlude in which the study of group processes supplanted attitude as the central concern of social psychology, attitude research re-emerged as the dominant interest during the 1950s and 1960s enthusiasm for the dynamic topic of attitude change, approached by a convergent style in the 1950s and a divergent style in the 1960s. During the 1965–1985 period interest shifted from attitudes to social cognition, including representational reductions in information encoding and decoding as well as inferential extrapolations in meaning attribution, person perception, and cognitive ramifications. Now we are experiencing the beginnings of a third flourishing of attitude research likely to dominate the 1980s and 1990s, this third peaking focused on more evolved structural issues, including the structure of individual attitudes, of systems of attitudes, and of attitudinal systems as they relate to other systems within the person. Intrinsic and extrinsic forces underlying these shifts of interest are considered.