Aging and Susceptibility to Attitude Change

  • Krosnick J
  • Alwin D
  • Krosniek J
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Abstract

Two hypotheses about the relation between age and susceptibility to attitude change were tested. The impressionable years hypothesis proposes that individuals are highly susceptible to attitude change during late adolescence and early adulthood and that susceptibility drops precipitously immediately thereafter and remains low throughout the rest of the life cycle. The increasing persistence hypothesis proposes that people become gradually more resistant to change throughout their lives. Structural equation models were applied to data from the 1956-1960, 1972-1976, and 1980 National Election Panel Studies in order to estimate the stability of political attitudes and unreliability in measures of them. The results support the impressionable years hypothesis and disconfirm the increasing persistence hypothesis. A decrease in the over-time consistency of attitude reports among 66-to 83-year-olds was found to be due to increased random measurement error in their reports, not to in-creased attitude change. A great deal of research has explored individual difference variables that determine the susceptibility of attitudes to change. For example, recent meta-analyses have shown that women are more easily influenced than men under certain cir-cumstances (Cooper, 1979; Eagly & Carli, 1981). Other re-search has found relations between personality and resistance to attitude change (Hovland & Janis, 1959; Newcomb, 1943). And still other research indicates that attitudes that are more central or important to individuals are more resistant to change than are noncentral or unimportant attitudes (Krosnick, 1988). In this article, we explore another possible determinant: age. It is widely believed that susceptibility to attitude change varies as people progress through the life cycle. Two principal hypoth-eses have been proposed, both of which assert that susceptibility to attitude change is greatest during adolescence and early adulthood and decreases thereafter. In this article, we evaluate these hypotheses in two studies of political attitudes. We begin by describing the two hypotheses and highlighting the short-comings of the limited existing evidence testing them. We then report new evidence, using improved data and analytic methods.

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Authors

  • Jon A Krosnick

  • Duane E Alwin

  • Jon A Krosniek

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