Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


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R. Glen Hass

Committee Members

Arthur S. Reber

Sheldon Solomon

Subject Categories



This research explored the cognitive processes underlying the Response Amplification Effect (RAE), which is ambivalent people's tendency to judge the object of their ambivalence (typically, a stigmatized other) more extremely than a comparable control target. Being in a state of ambivalence is known to be uncomfortable. This discomfort may be dealt with by implementing changes in the accessibility level of attitudinal elements. It is suggested that cognitions compatible with the side of the ambivalence made salient by the current situation will be super-activated and that incompatible elements will be sub-activated, thus leading to amplified reactions congruent with the current context. In a first study, conducted soon after the September 11th 2001 Al-Qaeda-led terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, attitudes toward people of Middle Eastern/Arab origin were assessed. Participants completed a personality survey followed by exposure to two vignettes in which men believed to be of Middle Eastern origin were described as behaving in an ambiguous manner (i.e. their behavior could be interpreted as threatening or not threatening). Participants' interpretation of the situation, along with the degree of conflict experienced, were assessed. Results revealed that many individuals in the sample felt conflicted between being tolerant and/or vigilant toward members of the target group. The second experiment followed the same procedures as the first with the addition of a vignette priming either tolerance or vigilance concerns. This text served as a priming context for a subsequent lexical decision task in which participants' response time to categorize items as words or nonwords was measured. Some of the words were compatible with tolerance concerns; others were compatible with vigilance concerns. It was expected that ambivalent individuals would show increased accessibility of words congruent with the prime along with inhibition of items incompatible with the prime. Non-ambivalent subjects' reaction times were expected to reflect their dominant attitude and not be strongly affected by the prime. No difference in accessibility level was found across priming conditions nor was any difference found between ambivalent, tolerance-, and vigilance-oriented participants. A critical review of previous accounts of the RAE as well as implications of the current findings are also discussed.


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