Taking too much for granted? : A study on the measurement of social attitudes
The aim of this thesis is to gain insight into the conditions under which the basic assumptions of (traditional) attitude research hold. These basic assumptions are: 1) people have a univocal mental representation of the attitude object as a distinct entity; 2) it is possible to measure evaluations with regard to these representations, and 3) these mental representations are comparable between people, i.e. people attach the same denotative meaning(s) to the attitude object as presented in the questionnaire. We were especially interested to what extent the validity of those assumptions depends on the type of attitude object. In this study, we measured attitudes of Dutch adults toward three different social groups in The Netherlands: ‘allochtonen’ (foreigners in general), Muslims and Moroccan youths. The results of this study show that respondents were most likely to attach a univocal denotative meaning to the attitude object ‘Moroccan youths’. Respondents who were interviewed about Muslims did not assign a univocal denotative meaning to this attitude object. However, there was consensus among respondents about the non-univocal denotative meaning of Muslims, i.e. the majority of the respondents made a distinction between moderate Muslims and Muslim extremists. In case of ‘allochtonen’, respondents did not assign a univocal denotative meaning to this group. Also, there was hardly any consensus about the denotative meaning among respondents. A second result is that the often-assumed three-dimensional attitude structure in which the attitude structure consists of an affective, cognitive and conative dimension does not hold in the three samples in this study. In this study, we present an alternative model consisting of two dimensions. One dimension includes items about the images of the group and another dimension includes items about the perceived relationship between the respondent and members of the group.
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