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A direct measure of attitude function was used to examine symbolic and instrumental elements of racial attitudes as a function of level of abstraction. Two studies were conducted in different countries, in which participants explained their thoughts and feelings concerning a specific (e.g., "Indians" or "Chinese") or abstract (e.g., "Ethnic Minorities") attitude object, and then rated the importance of each thought or feeling. A coding scheme was used to record the attitude function represented by each thought or feeling. In both studies, symbolic functions were more present for the abstract target than the specific targets. These differences have important implications for interventions and theories that address prejudice. They also provide evidence that functions of attitudes towards broader social groups cannot be regarded as the central tendency of functions toward subgroups, which is an important potential caveat to theories of social categorization. © 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

Publication Date





441 - 449