Attitude and opinion data provide a basis for inferring the meaning of opinions held by individuals and groups and also for predictions about their future behavior. Such inferences and predictions, if they are to be made effectively, require a theoretical foundation which explains the processes by which people adopt and express particular opinions. Here is a theory of three processes by which persons respond to social influence.
A crucial issue in communication research relates to the nature of changes (if any) that are brought about by a particular communication or type of communication. It is not enough to know that there has been some measurable change in attitude; usually we would also want to know what kind of change it is. Is it a superficial change, on a verbal level, which disappears after a short lapse of time? Or is it a more lasting change in attitude and belief, which manifests itself in a wide range of situations and which is integrated into the person?s value system? Or, to put it in other terms, did the communication produce public conformity without private acceptance, or did it produce public conformity coupled with private acceptance? (Cf. 1, 4.) Only if we know something about the nature and depth of changes can we make meaningful predictions about the way in which attitude changes will be reflected in subsequent actions and reactions to events.
A number of studies have reported on factors that affect conformity to social pressures and social norms (e.g., 2, 5, 13, 19, 24). Very little is known, however, about the relationship between conformity to social norms and actual changes in attitude. From everyday observations we are familiar with two opposing phenomena. On the one hand, there are individuals who conform outwardly to the norms of their social group, but do not really accept these norms (ef. the distinction between public and private attitudes). On the other hand, there are individuals who at first conform behaviorally and verbally to the norms of the group to which they want to belong, but who gradually internalize these norms and begin to believe them. The questions arises, then, as to the conditions under which conformity leads to actual changes in attitude, and the conditions under which it fails to do so.