can be based on a person’s values, specific beliefs, emotions, and behaviors (both actual and anticipated). As noted above, forming attitudes is typically necessary before decisions can be made or behaviors enacted. Thus, if older people are going to change their diets or exercise more, they first need to develop favorable attitudes toward these behaviors and toward making these changes.
Indeed, a major premise of research in social psychology is that attitudes are important because they guide people’s decisions and actions (e.g., Fishbein and Ajzen, 1975; Sanbonmatsu and Fazio, 1990). Stated simply, people will choose an option they like over one they dislike. When two options are both evaluated positively (or negatively), the option evaluated more positively (or less negatively) typically will be selected. Thus, if a person likes Coke more than Pepsi, Coke is more likely to be purchased. If two options are equivalent in their desirability, then the option toward which one holds the more confident or accessible attitude will be chosen (Petty and Krosnick, 1995). The attitudes of others are also important in influencing actions. For example, if people believe that you are forgetful, they will tend to act in a manner toward you that is consistent with this belief, and this action may in turn elicit the forgetful behavior that is expected (see Snyder, 1992). Thus, both people’s own attitudes and the attitudes that others have about them can influence behavior.
Because of the critical role that attitudes have in guiding behavior, understanding how evaluations are formed and changed and whether these judgments are strong or weak (e.g., how confident or accessible they are) is an important undertaking. Considerable research has examined attitude change processes in younger adults and much can be learned from this work. In contrast, relatively little effort has been aimed at understanding how older adults form or change their attitudes.
There are several areas of research that seem ripe for exploration with respect to older people. One area focuses on the underlying mechanisms by which attitudes are formed or changed and what techniques are most effective in persuading older people. These may or may not be dependent on cultural values and racial or minority group membership. Understanding of persuasion can be useful from the standpoint of producing desirable changes (e.g., a physician persuading older patients to take their medications) and protecting people from undesirable agents of influence (e.g., avoiding telephone scams). A second area concerns the unique role that emotional factors might play in the choices that older adults make. This is of particular interest because of evidence that emotional regulation processes become better and more important with age. A third area involves investigating the factors in older people that produce an initial change in possible contrast with those that are responsible for maintaining a change once it has oc-