In the recent years, extensive research has been going on to investigate attitudes and social cognition. From a psychological perspective, these two aspects are of paramount significance to humans because they explain how individuals view the world, and life events. It is apparent that individuals possess diverse opinions over different issues, and they express their attitudes on day-to-day life. Ideally, attitudes exhibit behavioral, cognitive and affective elements; thus attitudes determine the way people make choices, as well as determining the way people live. However, the ways attitudes are formed vary significantly so their expressions are relatively divergent. In theory, attitudes exist in two distinct forms: explicit attitudes and implicit attitudes. Therefore, it is logical to understand how these two levels of attitudes are formed. It is apparent that these attitudes have been investigated to design appropriate measures, although implicit attitudes seem to have attracted immense focus in the recent years (Spence & Townsend, 2007). Explicit attitudes occur at the conscious level; thus they exert intense effects on decisions and behavior. This is why they can be described as deliberately formed attitudes, and they are characterized by the ease in self-reporting. On the other hand, implicit attitudes occur at an unconscious level. These attitudes are formed involuntarily because they lack conscious access; thus their formation cannot be controlled (Rydell & McConnell, 2006). However, it is worth noting that implicit attitudes have a significant influence on behavior and decisions. Despite the extensive research on attitudes, processes that guide the formation and operation of both explicit and implicit attitudes have not yet been unraveled. Therefore, this essay will provide an overview of explicit and implicit attitudes. It will compare and contrast explicit and implicit attitudes, and explain reasons for their weak correlation.
In providing a logical comparison and contrast between explicit and implicit attitudes, it is worth discussing dimensions of attitudes. In theory, an attitude, whether explicit or implicit, is characterized by strength, ambivalence and accessibility. It is believed that strong attitudes have immense influence on behavior because they are firmly conceived. For instance, attitudes in which people express vested interest in are expected to have immense strength. Similarly, important beliefs tend to have strong impacts in people’s behavior. Moreover, attitudes about events or ideas which are known to people are known to be strong. The second dimension of attitudes is ambivalence; the ratio of negative and positive measures constituting an attitude. It is reported that the variance between positive and negative measures determines the ambivalence of an attitude. Thirdly, attitudes can be measured by their accessibility. This is what defines explicit and implicit attitudes as divergent with regard to conscious access.
In comparison, both explicit attitudes and implicit attitudes have influences on behavior. In addition, these two forms of attitudes are expressed irrespective of whether they are voluntary or involuntary. However, it is worth noting that these two levels of attitudes: explicit and implicit attitudes exhibit conspicuous differences. Foremost, an explicit attitude is usually controllable. This aspect of explicit attitudes accounts for behavioral changes among different groups of people. As such, explicit responses can be altered over time depending with the cognitive changes occurring in an individual. It is reported that explicit attitudes are quite easy to change through attitude change manipulations. Ordinarily, attitude change exhibits the basis of the respective attitude formation. According to Rydell & McConnell (2006), this phenomenon occurs through the adoption of rule-based reasoning and fast-learning approaches. In contrast, implicit attitude changes occur through a different mechanism. It is reported that attitude change manipulations are relatively reliable in creating implicit responses. This aspect is attributable to the nature in which implicit attitudes form and operate (Gawronski & Strack, 2004). In reality, implicit attitudes are believed to be influenced by associative reasoning and slow-learning. Despite the reliance of implicit attitudes on slow-learning, research show social roles, as well as contextual stimuli enhance implicit responses (Barden, Maddux, Petty, & Brewer, 2004). Therefore, these two factors: learning speed and the form of reasoning defines explicit attitudes and implicit attitudes as relatively different. This variation can be explained by the manner in which cognitive systems influence behavior, language and thinking. This is why Sloman (1996) proposed two different reasoning systems to explain how explicit and implicit processes occur. He proposed that slow-learning and fast-learning systems operate differently depending on the involved cognitive processes. For instance, the fast-learning system which is a characteristic of explicit attitudes operates at high level of cognition to enhance symbolic representations, verbal and logical aspects of reasoning. As such, the fast-learning system relies on conscious control. This is why explicit attitudes are described as controllable.
On the other hand, the other reasoning system which is associated to implicit attitudes, the slow-learning system, is characterized by paired associations. This associative aspect has been reported to rely on contiguity and similarity. Ordinarily, implicit attitudes form from associations in the memory based on a slow acquisition of information in the learning process. Therefore, these reasoning systems define why explicit attitudes are described as intended, whereas implicit attitudes are considered to be unintended. The aspect of intention which is associated with explicit attitudes can be explained by the nature of the fast-learning system. This system accounts for the observed deliberate and flexible response to abstract information. In contrast, implicit attitudes which are associated to the slow-learning system forms in an automatic process. This is so because the slow-learning system is relatively non-flexible due to its dependence on paired associations. As a result, it is apparent that implicit attitudes are associative in nature, whereas explicit attitudes are based on logic, language and abstractions in a more flexible manner (Smith & DeCoster, 2000).
On another aspect, measures of explicit and implicit attitudes exhibit a relatively weak correlation. In general measures of an explicit attitude are based on controllable and intentional responses. They are also based on direct access to cognitive resources. On the other hand, measures of implicit attitudes are based on reduced controllability, meaning and the absence of intention (Gregg, 2008). As such, it is reported that assessing implicit attitudes requires a combination of procedures and methods because they do not have direct access to cognitive resources. Therefore, measures of implicit attitudes are indirect, whereas those used in explicit attitudes are relatively direct; thus easy (Neto, 2009).
From a theoretical perspective, explicit and implicit attitudes have been described by theorists as independent due to the weak correlation of their tests. This is so because a considerable divergence has been observed in explicit and explicit measures. Over the years, diverse views from theorists have been presented to explain why measures of implicit and explicit attitudes exhibit weak correlations with one another. The first school of thought argues that measures of explicit and implicit attitudes show divergence because they display different attitude representations. This group holds that people are more likely to report contemporary attitudes under the influence of retrospection in which implicit tests capture older attitudes. As such, they possess the view that people are able to hold an array of attitudes, both explicit and implicit, on a specific topic within the same period of time (Wilson, Lindsey & Schooler, 2000).
The second school of thought observes that attitudes remain the same despite the weal correlation exhibited by the explicit and implicit measures. It is reported that these variations between explicit and implicit measures enable people to adjust their responses to diverse degrees. According to Nier (2005), explicit measures tap attitudes downstream, whereas implicit measures operate in the opposite direction. Despite these diverse views over the correlation of explicit and implicit measures, it is agreed that the weak correlation between implicit and explicit tests is attributable to the degree of explicitness and implicitness (Payne, Stoke & Burkley, 2008). In addition, another reason why implicit and explicit measures exhibit weak correlation is the structure, a phenomenon referred to as the ‘structural fit.’ This hypothesis holds that explicit measures apply direct approaches using questionnaires whereas implicit measures apply indirect rating. These two different structures explain why a weak correlation between implicit and explicit tests exists.
In a brief conclusion, it is apparent that explicit attitudes differ from implicit attitudes significantly. For instance, explicit attitudes are controllable, intended and they have access to consciousness. In contrast, implicit attitudes are involuntary and associative with not access to consciousness. On the other hand, these attitudes are formed through different reasoning systems. Explicit responses are associated to fast-learning, whereas implicit responses are formed under slow-learning, and the weak correlation between their measures is determined by their structures.