Studies on how one behavior affects subsequent behaviors find evidence for two opposite trends: Sometimes a first behavior increases the likelihood of engaging in additional behaviors that contribute to the same goal (positive behavioral spillover), and at other times a first behavior decreases this likelihood (negative spillover). A factor that may explain both patterns is attitude strength. A stronger (more favorable) attitude toward an issue may make the connections between related behaviors more salient and increase the motivation to work toward the underlying goal. We predicted that people with a stronger (more favorable) attitude are more likely to engage in subsequent behaviors that address an issue they care about. Two experiments tested the prediction in the contexts of pro-environmental and health behavior. Study 1 (N = 378) provided some support for the predicted moderating role of attitude toward the environment when participants recalled either an environmentally friendly or unfriendly action: A strong attitude increased the likelihood, whereas a weak attitude decreased the likelihood of carrying out successive goal-conducive behaviors. When compared to a neutral control condition in Study 2 (N = 929), participants with a weak environmental attitude supported pro-environmental petitions less strongly after an environmentally harmful action. Support for such petitions did not waver, however, among participants with a strong environmental attitude: They consistently acted environmentally friendly. Contrary to the hypothesis, in neither study did strength of attitude toward personal health moderate the effect of an initial behavior in the expected direction. In sum, the two studies provided only limited evidence for behavioral spillover: Participants mostly acted in accordance with their attitude but were hardly affected by recalling previous actions. When behavioral spillover did occur, however, a strong environmental attitude tended to increase the likelihood of acting in an environmentally friendly way, whereas the behavior of those with a weak attitude was less predictable. This research contributes to a more nuanced theoretical understanding of the role of attitude in spillover, but provides only limited evidence for its role as a moderator.
Brügger, A., & Höchli, B. (2019). The role of attitude strength in behavioral spillover: Attitude matters-but not necessarily as a moderator. Frontiers in Psychology, 10(MAY). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01018