Cognitive Authority and the Constraint of Attitude Change in Groups
Are individuals’ attitudes constrained such that it is difficult to change one attitude without also changing other attitudes? Given a lack of longitudinal studies in real-world settings, it remains unclear if individuals have coherent attitude systems at all—and, if they do, what produces attitude constraint. I argue and show that groups can endogenously produce attitude constraint via cognitive authorities. Within groups, cognitive authorities explicitly link attitudes and generate feelings of connectedness among members, thereby facilitating the interpersonal processing of attitudes. Using data on interpersonal sentiment relations and attitude changes among members of intentional communities, I find cognitive authorities constrain attitudes via two mechanisms: (1) interpersonal tensions when attitudes and sentiment relations are misaligned (i.e., balance dynamics), and (2) social influence processes leading to attitude changes that are concordant with the group’s attitude system (i.e., constraint satisfaction). These findings imply that attitude change models based exclusively on interpersonal contagion or individual drives for cognitive consistency overlook important ways group structures affect how individuals feel and think.
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