"Long before it's in the papers"
January 27, 2015


Tendency to hate everything is measurable, scientists decide

Aug. 26, 2013
Courtesy of the University of Pennsylvanis
and World Science staff

Some peo­ple’s ten­den­cy to hate or like just about eve­ry­thing is a per­son­al­ity trait that can be meas­ured, sci­en­tists have found.

They call it “dis­po­si­tional at­ti­tude.”

Peo­ple with a pos­i­tive dis­po­si­tion­al at­ti­tude have a strong ten­den­cy to like things, where­as peo­ple with a neg­a­tive dis­po­si­tion­al at­ti­tude have a strong ten­den­cy to dis­like things, ac­cord­ing to re­search pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Per­son­al­ity and So­cial Psy­chol­o­gy

The notion of dis­po­si­tion­al at­ti­tude “rep­re­sents a new per­spec­tive in which at­ti­tudes are not simply a func­tion of the prop­er­ties of the stim­u­li un­der con­sid­era­t­ion, but are al­so a func­tion of the prop­er­ties of the eval­u­a­tor,” wrote au­thors Jus­tin Hep­ler, Uni­vers­ity of Il­li­nois at Urbana-Champaign and Do­lo­res Al­bar­racín of the Uni­vers­ity of Penn­syl­va­nia.

“At first glance, it may not seem use­ful to know some­one’s feel­ings about ar­chi­tec­ture when as­sess­ing their feel­ings about health care. Af­ter all, health care and ar­chi­tec­ture are in­de­pend­ent stim­u­li with un­ique sets of prop­er­ties, so at­ti­tudes to­ward these ob­jects should al­so be in­de­pend­ent.”

How­ev­er, they note, there is still one crit­i­cal fac­tor that an in­di­vid­u­al’s at­ti­tudes will have in com­mon: the in­di­vid­ual who formed the at­ti­tudes. “Some peo­ple may simply be more prone to fo­cus­ing on pos­i­tive fea­tures and oth­ers on neg­a­tive fea­tures,” Hep­ler said. 

Hep­ler and Al­bar­racín cre­at­ed a test or “scale” that re­quires peo­ple to re­port their at­ti­tudes to­ward a wide va­ri­e­ty of un­re­lat­ed things, such as ar­chi­tec­ture, cold show­ers, pol­i­tics, and soc­cer. Up­on know­ing how much peo­ple (dis­)­like these spe­cif­ic things, the re­sponses were then av­er­aged to­geth­er to cal­cu­late their dis­po­si­tion­al at­ti­tude—how much they tend to like or dis­like things in gen­er­al. 

Their the­o­ry is that if in­di­vid­uals dif­fer in the gen­er­al ten­den­cy to like ver­sus dis­like ob­jects, at­ti­tudes to­ward in­de­pend­ent ob­jects may ac­tu­ally be re­lat­ed. Through­out the stud­ies the re­search­ers found that peo­ple with gen­er­ally pos­i­tive dis­po­si­tion­al at­ti­tudes are more open than peo­ple with gen­er­ally neg­a­tive dis­po­si­tion­al at­ti­tudes. Peo­ple with pos­i­tive dis­po­si­tion­al at­ti­tudes may be more prone to ac­tu­ally buy new prod­ucts, get vac­cine shots and fol­low reg­u­lar pos­i­tive ac­tions such as re­cy­cling, driv­ing care­ful­ly.

“This sur­pris­ing and nov­el dis­cov­ery ex­pands at­ti­tude the­o­ry by dem­on­strat­ing that an at­ti­tude is not simply a func­tion of an ob­jec­t’s prop­er­ties, but it is al­so a func­tion of the prop­er­ties of the in­di­vid­ual who eval­u­ates the ob­jec­t,” con­clud­ed Hep­ler and Al­bar­racín. Dis­po­si­tion­al at­ti­tude, they added, is “a mean­ing­ful con­struct that has im­por­tant im­plica­t­ions for at­ti­tude the­o­ry and re­search.”

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Some people’s tendency to hate or like just about everything is a personality trait that can be measured, scientists have found. They call it “dispositional attitude.” People with a positive dispositional attitude have a strong tendency to like things, whereas people with a negative dispositional attitude have a strong tendency to dislike things, according to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. “The dispositional attitude construct represents a new perspective in which attitudes are not simply a function of the properties of the stimuli under consideration, but are also a function of the properties of the evaluator,” wrote authors Justin Hepler, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Dolores Albarracín of the University of Pennsylvania. “At first glance, it may not seem useful to know someone’s feelings about architecture when assessing their feelings about health care. After all, health care and architecture are independent stimuli with unique sets of properties, so attitudes toward these objects should also be independent.” However, they note, there is still one critical factor that an individual’s attitudes will have in common: the individual who formed the attitudes. “Some people may simply be more prone to focusing on positive features and others on negative features,” Hepler said. Hepler and Albarracín created a scale that requires people to report their attitudes toward a wide variety of unrelated things, such as architecture, cold showers, politics, and soccer. Upon knowing how much people (dis)like these specific things, the responses were then averaged together to calculate their dispositional attitude—how much they tend to like or dislike things in general. Their theory is that if individuals differ in the general tendency to like versus dislike objects, attitudes toward independent objects may actually be related. Throughout the studies the researchers found that people with generally positive dispositional attitudes are more open than people with generally negative dispositional attitudes. In day-to-day practice, they said, this means that people with positive dispositional attitudes may be more prone to actually buy new products, get vaccine shots, follow regular positive actions (recycling, driving carefully, etc.) “This surprising and novel discovery expands attitude theory by demonstrating that an attitude is not simply a function of an object’s properties, but it is also a function of the properties of the individual who evaluates the object,” concluded Hepler and Albarracín. Dispositional attitude, they added, is “a meaningful construct that has important implications for attitude theory and research.”