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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2002 Jun;82(6):919-34.

Guilty by mere association: evaluative conditioning and the spreading attitude effect.

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  • 1Department of Pyschology, University of Heidelberg, Germany.


Five experiments investigated the phenomenon that attitude formation is not confined to the co-occurrence of an attitudinal object with an evaluated experience. The pairing of a target with a (dis)liked person not only affects the evaluation of the previously neutral person but spreads to other individuals who are (pre)associated with the target (spreading attitude effect). Experiments 1 and 2 provided evidence for the spreading attitude effect in appetitive as well as aversive evaluative conditioning. Experiment 3 showed that the spreading attitude effect is a robust phenomenon resistant to extinction. Experiment 4 demonstrated that attitude spread can be transferred to 2nd-order conditioning. Finally, Experiment 5 supports the notion that the spreading attitude effect is not dependent on cognitive resources. Implications for social as well as applied psychology are discussed.

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