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Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 1997;1(1):3-25.

Beyond bipolar conceptualizations and measures: the case of attitudes and evaluative space.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Ohio State University, Columbus 43210-1222, USA.


All organisms must be capable of differentiating hostile from hospitable stimuli to survive. Typically, this evaluative discrimination is conceptualized as being bipolar (hostile-hospitable). This conceptualization is certainly evident in the area of attitudes, where the ubiquitous bipolar attitude measure, by gauging the net affective predisposition toward a stimulus, treats positive and negative evaluative processes as equivalent, reciprocally activated, and interchangeable. Contrary to conceptualizations of this evaluative process as bipolar, recent evidence suggests that distinguishable motivational systems underlie assessments of the positive and negative significance of a stimulus. Thus, a stimulus may vary in terms of the strength of positive evaluative activation and the strength of negative evaluative activation it evokes. Low activation of positive and negative evaluative processes by a stimulus reflects attitude neutrality or indifference, whereas high activation of positive and negative evaluative processes reflects attitude ambivalence. As such, attitudes can be represented more completely within a bivariate space than along a bipolar continuum. Evidence is reviewed showing that the positive and negative evaluative processes underlying many attitudes are distinguishable (stochastically and functionally independent), are characterized by distinct activation functions (positivity offset and negativity bias principles), are related differentially to attitude ambivalence (corollary of ambivalence asymmetries), have distinguishable antecedents (heteroscedacity principle), and tend to gravitate from a bivariate toward a bipolar structure when the underlying beliefs are the target of deliberation or a guide for behavior (principle of motivational certainty). The implications for society phenomena such as political elections and democratic structures are discussed.

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