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Research Article

Automatic Attitude Activation and Efficiency: The Fourth Horseman of Automaticity


Dirk Hermans ,

Department of Psychology, University of Leuven, Tiensestraat 102, 3000 Leuven, BE
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Geert Crombez,

University of Ghent, BE
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Paul Eelen

University of Leuven, BE
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Fazio, Sanbonmatsu, Powell, and Kardes (1986) were the first to demonstrate that participants evaluate target adjectives more quickly when these adjectives are primed by altitude object primes (positive or negative nouns) that are evaluatively congruent as compared to affectively incongruent primes. On the basis of these findings, Fazio et al. argued that attitudes stored in memory become automatically active upon the mere presentation of the attitude object. The argument that automatic processes are responsible for these affective/evaluative priming effects is primarily based on studies that have manipulated the interval between the onset of the prime and the onset of the target. In addition to these studies, and in line with a conditional approach of automaticity (Bargh, 1989), we have advocated a more fine-grained analysis of the characteristics of the automatic processes responsible for the affective priming effect In the present study, the efficiency of these processes was examined. Participants performed a standard affective priming task while simultaneously reciting a series of digits. The extent to which this secondary memory load task depleted cognitive capacities was manipulated over three levels on a within-subjects basis. Results showed that response latencies were shorter on affectively congruent trials as compared to affectively incongruent trials. This effect was not mediated by the memory load manipulation. An identical pattern of results emerged in the error data. The results indicate that affective priming effects arc based on relatively efficient processes.

How to Cite: Hermans, D., Crombez, G. and Eelen, P., 2000. Automatic Attitude Activation and Efficiency: The Fourth Horseman of Automaticity. Psychologica Belgica, 40(1), pp.3–22. DOI:
Published on 01 Jan 2000.
Peer Reviewed


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