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Zakary L. Tormala


Research Interests


Professor Tormala is an experimental social and consumer psychologist who works in the areas of attitudes, persuasion, and social influence.  At a general level, his research on these topics has a fundamental goal of shedding light on the factors and processes that open and close attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to change.  In exploring these issues, he seeks to simultaneously advance basic psychological theory and uncover new and important phenomena -- and potentially powerful strategies -- relevant to predicting and influencing social and consumer behavior. Below is a list of his published papers and accompanying abstracts on these topics. To request a reprint, please email Professor Tormala at





Journal Articles


  • Akhtar, O., Paunesku, D., & Tormala, Z.L. (in press). Weak > strong: The ironic effect of argument strength on supportive advocacy. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

When people seek support for a cause, they typically present the strongest case they can muster. The present research suggests that under some conditions the opposite strategy may be superior—in particular, presenting weak rather than strong arguments might stimulate greater advocacy and action. Across four studies, we show that when individuals already agree with a cause (i.e., it is pro-attitudinal), receiving weak arguments in its favor can prompt them into advocating more on its behalf. Perceived argumentation efficacy mediates this effect such that people exposed to weak arguments are more likely to think they have something valuable to contribute. Moreover, consistent with the notion that it is driven by feelings of increased efficacy, the effect is more likely to emerge when initial argumentation efficacy and attitude certainty are moderate or low. Individuals with high argumentation efficacy and high certainty generally advocate more, regardless of the strength of arguments received.


  • Clarkson, J.J., Tormala, Z.L., Rucker, D.D., & Dugan, R.G. (in press).  The malleable influence of social consensus on attitude certainty.  Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

People often reflect on the opinions of others and express greater attitude certainty when they perceive their attitudes to be shared by others (high attitude consensus). The present research tests the possibility that either high or low attitude consensus can increase attitude certainty depending on people’s salient social identification needs. In particular, high attitude consensus with a target group is found to be more validating when people seek to belong to the group, as this identification motive promotes a search for similarities between themselves and the group. In contrast, low attitude consensus with a target group is found to be more validating when people seek to be unique from a group, as this identification motive promotes a search for dissimilarities between themselves and the group. Two experiments support these hypotheses, offering insight into the intra-personal motives that alter the diagnostic value of social consensus information.


  • Clarkson, J.J., Valente, M.J., Leone, C., & Tormala, Z.L. (in press).  Motivated reflection on attitude-inconsistent information: An exploration of the role of fear of invalidity in self-persuasion. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

The mere thought effect (Tesser, 1978) is defined in part by the tendency of self-reflective thought to heighten both the generation of and reflection upon attitude-consistent thoughts. By focusing on individuals’ fears of invalidity, we explored the possibility that the mere opportunity for thought sometimes motivates reflection on attitude-inconsistent thoughts. Across three experiments, both dispositional and situational fear of invalidity was shown to heighten reflection on attitude-inconsistent thoughts. This heightened reflection, in turn, interacted with individuals’ thought confidence to determine whether attitude-inconsistent thoughts were assimilated or refuted and consequently whether individuals’ attitudes and behavioral intentions depolarized or polarized following a sufficient opportunity for thought, respectively. These findings emphasize the impact of motivational influences on thought reflection and generation, the importance of thought confidence in the assimilation and refutation of self-generated thought, and the dynamic means by which the mere thought bias can impact self-persuasion.


  • Kupor, D., Tormala, Z.L., Norton, M.I., & Rucker, D.D. (in press).  Thought calibration: How thinking just the right amount increases one’s influence and appeal.  Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Previous research suggests that people draw inferences about their attitudes and preferences based on their own thoughtfulness. The current research explores how observing other individuals make decisions more or less thoughtfully can shape perceptions of those individuals and their decisions, and ultimately impact observers’ willingness to be influenced by them. Three studies suggest that observing others make more (versus less) thoughtful decisions generates more positive reactions when a choice is difficult, but more negative reactions when a choice is easy.  In essence, people perceive the quality of others’ decisions to be greater when other individuals engage in the right amount of thinking for the situation.  These assessments then affect observers’ own decisions and openness to influence.


  • Rucker, D.D., Tormala, Z.L., Petty, R.E., & Briñol, P.  (in press).  Consumer conviction and commitment: An appraisal-based framework for attitude certainty.  Journal of Consumer Psychology.

This paper explores consumers’ commitment to and conviction about their beliefs in the form of attitude certainty. Based on a review of past research, we present a new framework for understanding attitude certainty and how consumers’ attitude certainty is shaped by their resisting or yielding to persuasive messages, or even by their reflections on the evidence supporting their attitudes. We propose that attitude certainty is formed and changed largely through an attribution-based reasoning process linked to a finite set of distinct appraisals. Our framework is used to both organize past research and offer guidance for future research endeavors. In addition, we distinguish our framework of appraisal-based attitude certainty from past models in attitudes and persuasion research that have referenced or taken note of the attitude certainty construct. Implications and future directions for the study of consumer behavior are discussed.


  • Reich, T., & Tormala, Z.L. (2013). When contradictions foster persuasion: An attributional perspective. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49, 426-439.

Conventional wisdom and past research suggest that contradicting oneself, or changing one’s stated opinion, should undermine one’s persuasiveness. In contrast to this view, we propose that under specifiable conditions contradicting oneself might offer a persuasive advantage. Across a series of experiments, we find evidence for this contradiction effect and explore its mechanism and boundaries. In particular, we show that contradictions can prompt attributional processing geared toward understanding why a shift in opinion has occurred. When strong arguments are provided, they foster favorable attributions (e.g., the source thought more about the issue and/or gathered new information), which result in increased persuasive impact. When weak arguments are provided, they induce less favorable attributions, which in turn dampen or even reverse the effect.  Furthermore, consistent with an attributional perspective, we find that contradictions introduce a persuasive advantage only when they come from a single source and only when trust in that source is high.


  • Tormala, Z.L., Jia, J.S., & Norton, M.I. (2012). The preference for potential. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103, 567-583.

When people seek to impress others, they often do so by highlighting individual achievements.  Despite the intuitive appeal of this strategy, we demonstrate that people often prefer potential rather than achievement when evaluating others. Indeed, compared to references to achievement (e.g., “this person has won an award for his work”), references to potential (e.g., “this person could win an award for his work”) appear to stimulate greater interest and processing, which can translate into more favorable reactions. This tendency creates a phenomenon whereby the potential to be good at something can be preferred over actually being good at that very same thing. We document this preference for potential in laboratory and field experiments, using targets ranging from athletes to comedians to graduate school applicants and measures ranging from salary allocations to online ad clicks to admission decisions. 


  • Khan, U., & Tormala, Z.L. (2012). Inviting questions. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 22, 408-417.

Consumers are frequently invited to ask questions in everyday life. The current research provides an initial examination of how inviting consumers to ask questions influences their attitudes and intentions. Two experiments show that inviting questions can have a positive or negative effect depending on whether consumers actually ask them. Experiment 1 shows that merely inviting questions has a positive effect, but that this effect reverses when consumers actually ask questions. Following a similar logic, Experiment 2 shows that inviting questions has a positive effect under low involvement conditions, but a negative effect under high involvement conditions where the likelihood of generating questions is higher.


  • Ein-Gar, D., Shiv, B., & Tormala, Z.L. (2012). When blemishing leads to blossoming: The positive effect of negative information. Journal of Consumer Research, 38, 846-859.

This research uncovers a counterintuitive effect of negative information, showing that under specifiable conditions people will be more favorably disposed to a product when a small dose of negative information is added to an otherwise positive description. This effect is moderated by processing effort and presentation order, such that the enhanced positive disposition toward the product following negative information emerges when the information is processed effortlessly rather than effortfully, and when the negative information follows rather than precedes positive information. Four studies demonstrate this blemishing effect in both lab and field settings and explore the proposed boundary conditions.


  • Clarkson, J.J., Tormala, Z.L., & Leone, C. (2011). A self-validation perspective on the mere thought effect. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 449-454.

Self-generated thought has an important impact on attitude change, with repeated demonstrations of increased opportunity for thought about an attitude object increasing attitude extremity.  The traditional explanation for this mere thought effect is that more time to think allows people to produce more attitude-consistent thoughts, which polarizes their attitudes.  Expanding on this structural perspective, the current research explores a metacognitive account for the effect of time on attitude polarization.  Three experiments demonstrate that thought confidence plays an independent mediating role in the mere thought effect (Experiment 1), that it accounts for reversals in the mere thought effect when people have too much time to think (Experiment 2), and that this reversal is tied to the difficulty people have retrieving thoughts when too much time is provided (Experiment 3).  Thus, taking metacognitive features of thought into account sheds new light on self-persuasion in the mere thought paradigm. 


  • Clarkson, J.J., Tormala, Z.L., & Rucker, D.D. (2011). Cognitive and affective matching effects in persuasion: An amplification perspective. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 1415-1427.

Past research suggests that cognitive and affective attitudes are more open to change toward cognitive and affective (i.e., matched) persuasive attacks, respectively.  The present research investigates how attitude certainty influences this openness.  Although an extensive literature suggests that certainty generally reduces an attitude’s openness to change, we explore the possibility that certainty might increase an attitude’s openness to change in the context of affective/cognitive appeals.  Based on the recently proposed amplification hypothesis (Clarkson, Tormala, and Rucker, 2008), we posit that high (versus low) attitude certainty will boost the resistance of attitudes to mismatched attacks (e.g., affective attitudes attacked by cognitive messages), but boost the openness of attitudes to matched attacks (e.g., affective attitudes attacked by affective messages).  Two experiments provide support for this hypothesis.  Implications for increasing the openness of attitudes to both matched and mismatched attacks are discussed.


  • Dubois, D., Rucker, D.D.., & Tormala, Z.L. (2011). From rumors to facts, and facts to rumors: The role of certainty decay in consumer communications. Journal of Marketing Research, 48, 1020-1032.

How does a rumor come to be believed as a fact as it spreads across a chain of consumers?  The present research proposes that because consumers’ certainty about their beliefs (e.g., attitudes, opinions) is less salient than the beliefs themselves, certainty information is more susceptible to being lost in communication. Consistent with this idea, the current studies reveal that although consumers transmit their core beliefs when they communicate with each other, they often fail to transmit their certainty or uncertainty about those beliefs. Thus, a belief originally associated with high uncertainty (certainty) tends to lose this uncertainty (certainty) across communications. We demonstrate that increasing the salience of one’s uncertainty/certainty when communicating or receiving information can improve uncertainty/certainty communication, and we investigate the consequences for rumor management and WOM communications.


  • Petrocelli, J.V., Percy, E.J, Sherman, S.J., & Tormala, Z.L. (2011). Counterfactual potency. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 30-46.
  • Counterfactual thoughts typically take the form of implied or explicit if-then statements. We propose that the multiplicative combination of “If Likelihood” (the degree to which the antecedent condition of the counterfactual is perceived to be likely) and “Then Likelihood” (the perceived conditional likelihood of the outcome of the counterfactual, given the antecedent condition) determine the strength and impact of counterfactuals. This construct, termed counterfactual potency, is a reliable predictor of the degree of influence of counterfactual thinking upon judgments of regret, causation, and responsibility. Through four studies, we demonstrate the predictive power of this construct in a variety of contexts, and show that it plays a causal role in determining the strength of the effects of counterfactual thought. Implications of counterfactual potency as a central factor of counterfactual influence are discussed.


    • Rucker, D.D., Preacher, K.J., Tormala, Z.L., & Petty, R.E. (2011). Mediation analysis in social psychology: Current practices and new recommendations. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 5, 359-371.

    A key aim of social psychology is to understand the social psychological processes through which independent variables affect dependent variables. This objective has given rise to statistical methods for mediation analysis.  In mediation analysis, the significance of the relationship between the independent and dependent variables has been integral in theory testing, being used to determine (1) whether to proceed with analyses of mediation and (2) whether a proposed mediator fully or partially accounts for an effect.  Synthesizing past research and offering new arguments, we suggest the collective evidence raises considerable concern that the focus on the significance of the relationship between the independent and dependent variables, both before and after mediation tests, is unjustified and can impair theory development and testing. To expand theory involving social psychological processes, we argue that attention in mediation should be shifted towards assessing the magnitude of indirect effects.


  • Tormala, Z.L., Clarkson, J.J., & Henderson, M.D. (2011). Does fast or slow evaluation foster greater certainty? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 422-434.

This research investigates the effect of perceived evaluation duration—that is, the perceived time or speed with which one generates an evaluation—on attitude certainty. Integrating diverse findings from past research, the authors propose that perceiving either fast or slow evaluation can augment attitude certainty depending on specifiable factors. Across three studies, it is shown that when people express opinions, evaluate familiar objects, or typically trust their gut reactions, perceiving fast rather than slow evaluation generally promotes greater certainty. In contrast, when people form opinions, evaluate unfamiliar objects, or typically trust more thoughtful responses, perceiving slow rather than fast evaluation generally promotes greater certainty. Mediation analyses reveal that these effects stem from tradeoffs between perceived rational thought and the perceived ease of retrieving an attitude.  Implications for research on deliberative versus intuitive decision making are discussed.


  • Chen, F.S., Minson, J.A., & Tormala, Z.L. (2010). Tell me more: The effects of expressed interest on receptiveness during dialogue. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 850-853.

Two studies investigated the effect of expressed interest on individuals’ openness to opposing viewpoints and perceptions of debate counterparts. Participants in Study 1 engaged in an online conversation with a purported debate counterpart who did or did not express interest in the participants’ viewpoint by asking an elaboration question—that is, a question geared at soliciting additional information. Compared to control participants, participants who received a question rated their debate counterpart more favorably, were more willing to engage in future interaction with their counterpart, and acted in a more receptive manner. Study 2 tested the effects of instructions to prepare elaboration questions on listeners’ responses to a speaker offering counter-attitudinal arguments. Preparing questions caused participants to be more open to the idea of having a conversation with the speaker, to make more positive attributions about typical proponents of the speaker’s viewpoint, and to judge the conclusions of the speech as more valid. Theoretical and practical implications of this research are discussed.


  • Karmarkar, U.R., & Tormala, Z.L. (2010). Believe me, I have no idea what I'm talking about: The effects of source certainty on consumer involvement and persuasion. Journal of Consumer Research, 46, 1033-1049.

This research explores the effect of source certainty—that is, the level of certainty expressed by a message source—on persuasion. The authors propose an incongruity hypothesis, suggesting that source certainty effects depend on perceived
source expertise. In three experiments, consumers receive persuasive messages from sources of varying expertise and certainty. Across studies, low expertise sources violate expectancies, stimulate involvement, and promote persuasion when they express certainty, whereas high expertise sources violate expectancies, stimulate involvement, and promote persuasion when they express uncertainty. Thus, nonexpert (expert) sources can gain interest and influence by expressing certainty (uncertainty).


  • Litt, A., & Tormala, Z.L. (2010). Fragile enhancement of attitudes and intentions following difficult decisions. Journal of Consumer Research, 37, 584-598.

Increased liking of one’s choice following difficult decisions (e.g., choosing between similarly attractive options) is well-documented. Given the common mechanism proposed for this effect—a highly involving dissonance-reduction process—it would be reasonable to expect such choice enhancement to be quite durable, and resistant to later change. Instead, the authors show the contrary: that difficulty-driven choice enhancement is exceptionally fragile, collapsing easily against even minor attack. In three experiments, consumers make easy or difficult product choices, report attitudes toward their choice, and subsequently encounter a negative customer review. Compared to easy decisions, difficult decisions lead to more extreme initial positivity toward chosen products, but also more vulnerability to subsequent attack. Moreover, this fragile enhancement effect is exacerbated, not ameliorated, by choice involvement. Thus, making difficult decisions between similarly attractive options may motivate a bubble-like inflation of positivity, having some semblance of strength yet remaining highly prone to collapse.


  • Mayer, N.D., & Tormala, Z.L. (2010).  “Think” versus “feel” framing effects in persuasion. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, 443-454.

Three studies explored think (“I think . . . ”) versus feel (“I feel . . . ”) message framing effects on persuasion. The authors propose a matching hypothesis, suggesting that think framing will be more persuasive when the target attitude or message recipient is cognitively oriented, whereas feel framing will be more persuasive when the target attitude or message recipient is affectively oriented. Study 1 presented cognitively and affectively oriented individuals with a think- or feel-framed message. Study 2 primed cognitive or affective orientation and then presented a think- or feel-framed message. Study 3 presented male and female participants with an advertisement containing think- or feel-framed arguments. Results indicated that think (feel) framing was more persuasive when the target attitude or recipient was cognitively (affectively) oriented. Moreover, Study 2 demonstrated that this matching effect was mediated by processing fluency. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.


  • Petrocelli, J.V., Clarkson, J.J., Tormala, Z.L., & Hendrix, K.L. (2010). Perceiving stability as a means to attitude certainty: The role of implicit theories of attitudes. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 874-883.

This research introduces the concept of implicit theories of attitude stability. Across three studies, individuals are shown to vary both naturally and situationally in their lay theories about the stability of attitudes. Furthermore, these general theories are shown to impact people's certainty in their specific attitudes by shaping their perceptions of the stability of the attitude under consideration. By affecting attitude certainty, implicit theories of attitude stability also influence the extent to which people rely on their attitude when committing to future attitude-relevant behavior. Moreover, following exposure to a persuasive attack, implicit theories are shown to interact with situational perceptions of attitude stability to determine attitude certainty. Collectively, these findings suggest that implicit theories of attitude stability have an important influence on people's attitude certainty, subsequent behavioral intentions, and resistance to persuasive messages. Future directions concerning the potential impact of these theories for other attitudinal phenomena are discussed.


  • Wan, E.W., Rucker, D.D., Tormala, Z.L., & Clarkson, J.J. (2010). The effect of regulatory depletion on attitude certainty. Journal of Marketing Research, 47, 531-541.

This research explores how regulatory depletion affects consumers’ responses to advertising. Initial forays into this area suggest that the depletion of self-regulatory resources is irrelevant when advertisement arguments are strong or consumers are highly motivated to process. In contrast to these conclusions, the authors contend that depletion has important but previously hidden effects in such contexts. That is, although attitudes are equivalent in valence and extremity, consumers are more certain of their attitudes when they form them under conditions of depletion than nondepletion. The authors propose that this effect occurs
because feeling depleted induces the perception of having engaged in thorough information processing. As a consequence of greater attitude certainty, depleted consumers’ attitudes exert greater influence on their purchase behavior. Three experiments, using different products and ad exposure times, confirm these hypotheses. Experiment 3 demonstrates the potential to vary consumers’ naive beliefs about the relationship between depletion and thoroughness of processing, and this variation moderates the effect of depletion on attitude certainty. The authors discuss the theoretical contributions and implications for marketing.


  • Wichman, A.L., Briñol, P., Petty, R.E., Rucker, D.D., Tormala, Z.L., & Weary, G. (2010).  Doubting one's doubt: A formula for confidence? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 350-355.

People feel, think, and act differently when doubt rather than confidence is accessible. A traditional perspective on the accessibility of doubt holds that multiple sources of doubt activation should lead to increased levels of uncertainty. In contrast, we find that under some conditions two sequential sources of doubt activation result in decreased levels of uncertainty. We suggest that this follows from a metacognitive process in which people come to ‘‘doubt their doubt.” In Study 1, individuals with chronically accessible uncertainty who were further exposed to an uncertainty manipulation paradoxically reported reduced uncertainty. In Study 2, participants were first primed with doubt or certainty and then exposed to a manipulation associated with either confidence (i.e., head nodding) or doubt (head shaking). Supporting the idea that people can either trust or doubt their own doubts, head nodding (vs. shaking) accentuated (vs. attenuated) the impact of the initial doubt vs. certainty manipulation. These findings advance the literature on meta-cognition, self-doubt, and embodiment, and may have clinical applications.


  • Clarkson, J.J., Tormala, Z.L., DeSensi, D.L., & Wheeler, S.C. (2009). Does attitude certainty beget self-certainty? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 436-439.

This research explores the possibility that changes in attitude certainty can affect general self-certainty and, thus, have consequences that extend beyond the attitude domain. Across two studies, attitude certainty is manipulated using repeated attitude expression and attitude consensus paradigms. The implications of these manipulations are tested for feelings of general self-uncertainty (Study 1) and global self-doubt about one’s abilities (Study 2). In each study, it is demonstrated that participants feel greater self-certainty under conditions of high rather than low attitude certainty, but only when they view aspects of the attitude as central to their self-concept.


  • Tormala, Z.L., & DeSensi, V.L. (2009). The effects of minority/majority source status on attitude certainty: A matching perspective. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 114-125.

Building on recent work exploring metacognitive factors in minority/majority influence, three studies tested the hypothesis that when people receive persuasive messages from sources in the minority or majority, their attitude certainty can be determined by the extent to which source status and perceived argument quality match or mismatch. In Study 1, participants were presented with strong or weak arguments from a minority or majority source. Minority condition participants reported greater
attitude certainty when arguments were weak rather than strong. Majority condition participants showed the opposite effect. Study 2 replicated this interaction using a manipulation of perceived rather than actual argument quality. In Study 3, these effects only emerged when message recipients’ processing motivation was high. Taken together, the results suggest that attitude certainty can be high or low following minority or majority messages, depending on processing motivation and message recipients’ assessments of other persuasive evidence.


  • Tormala, Z.L., DeSensi, V.L., Clarkson, J.J., & Rucker, D.D. (2009).  Beyond attitude consensus: The social context of persuasion and resistance.  Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 149-154.

The current research presents a new type of social context effect on attitude certainty. It is proposed that when people receive persuasive messages, they appraise their attitudes not only in terms of whether they are shared or not shared by others, but also in terms of whether they are based on similar or dissimilar assessments of the information presented. In two experiments, participants were presented with persuasive messages. In Experiment 1, they were induced to perceive that they responded favorably (persuasion) or unfavorably (resistance) to the message arguments. In Experiment 2, they were allowed to vary in their actual message responses. In both experiments, message response similarity—the degree to which people perceived that their evaluations of persuasive arguments were shared or unshared by others—moderated the classic effect of attitude similarity on attitude certainty. In particular, attitude similarity only affected attitude certainty under conditions of message response similarity. When message responses were believed to be dissimilar, attitude similarity had no effect on attitude certainty.


  • Clarkson, J.J., Tormala, Z.L., & Rucker, D.D. (2008). A new look at the consequences of attitude certainty: The amplification hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 810-825.

It is well established that increasing attitude certainty makes attitudes more resistant to attack and more predictive of behavior. This finding has been interpreted as indicating that attitude certainty crystallizes attitudes, making them more durable and impactful. The current research challenges this crystallization hypothesis and proposes an amplification hypothesis, which suggests that instead of invariably strengthening an attitude, attitude certainty amplifies the dominant effect of the attitude on thought, judgment, and behavior. In 3 experiments, the authors test these competing hypotheses by comparing the effects of
attitude certainty manipulations on univalent versus ambivalent attitudes. Across experiments, it is demonstrated that increasing attitude certainty strengthens attitudes (e.g., increases their resistance to persuasion) when attitudes are univalent but weakens attitudes (e.g., decreases their resistance to persuasion) when attitudes are ambivalent. These results are consistent with the amplification hypothesis.


  • Tormala, Z.L., & Clarkson, J.J. (2008). Source trustworthiness and information processing in multiple persuasive message situations: A contextual analysis. Social Cognition, 26, 357-367.

This research explores the possibility that when people receive sequential persuasive messages about different issues, the trustworthiness of the source of an early (prior) message can influence people’s motivation to process a subsequent (target) message. Participants were presented with a target persuasive message from a source of ambiguous trustworthiness. Preceding
this message, participants received a message about a different issue from a source unambiguously high or low in trustworthiness. When primed to focus on similarities, participants showed greater processing of the target message when the prior source was low rather than high in trustworthiness (assimilation). When primed to focus on dissimilarities, participants showed the opposite effect (contrast). As expected, however, these effects were particularly likely to manifest for low need for cognition individuals, who are not otherwise inclined to engage in extensive processing. High need for cognition individuals engaged in extensive processing regardless of the prime and prior source manipulations.


  • Tormala, Z.L., & DeSensi, V.L. (2008). The perceived informational basis of attitudes: Implications for subjective ambivalence. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 275-287.

Three studies tested the hypothesis that when people receive persuasive messages, their perceptions of the information on which they base their attitudes can determine feelings of subjective ambivalence. Across studies, it is shown that when elaboration (e.g., need for cognition, personal relevance) is high, people have more subjective ambivalence when they perceive that they have based their attitudes on the source of a message rather than the arguments contained in that message. When elaboration is low, this effect is reversed. These findings suggest that people can assess the informational basis of their attitudes and that these assessments influence feelings of attitude ambivalence.


  • Tormala, Z.L., Rucker, D.D., & Seger, C.R. (2008). When increased confidence yields increased thought: A confidence-matching hypothesis. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44, 141-147.

Traditional theories of confidence and information processing suggest that people engage in greater processing activity when they feel doubtful as opposed to confident. Recent research, however, has hinted at the possibility that this effect might be malleable. The current research tests a confidence-matching hypothesis to determine when increased confidence yields increased processing and when increased confidence yields decreased processing. Based on recent advances in research on matching effects, it is proposed that the classic negative effect of confidence on information processing will reverse when messages are framed in terms of confidence. This hypothesis is tested by presenting participants with a persuasive message containing strong or weak arguments under confidence or doubt conditions. As predicted, when the message is framed in confidence terms, participants engage in greater message processing when they feel confident rather than doubtful, as indicated by greater argument quality effects on attitudes and thought favorability.


  • Kardes, F.R., Fennis, B.M., Hirt, E.R., Tormala, Z.L., & Bullington, B. (2007). The role of the need for cognitive closure in the effectiveness of the disrupt-then-reframe influence technique. Journal of Consumer Research, 34, 377-385.

The disrupt-then-reframe (DTR) influence technique involves confusing consumers with a disruptive message and then reducing ambiguity by reframing the message. Experiment 1 shows that the DTR technique increases retail sales in a supermarket setting. Experiment 2 shows that the DTR technique increases the willingness to pay to join a student interest group. Experiment 3 shows that the DTR technique increases student support for a tuition increase. The results also show that the DTR effect increases as the need for closure increases and that disruption motivates consumers to embrace a reframed message that facilitates closure by reducing ambiguity.


  • Petrocelli, J.V., Tormala, Z.L., & Rucker, D.D. (2007). Unpacking attitude certainty: Attitude clarity and attitude correctness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 30-41.

Attitude certainty has been the subject of considerable attention in the attitudes and persuasion literature. The present research identifies 2 aspects of attitude certainty and provides evidence for the distinctness of the constructs. Specifically, it is proposed that attitude certainty can be conceptualized, and empirically separated, in terms of attitude clarity (the subjective sense that one knows what one’s attitude is) and attitude correctness (the subjective sense that one’s attitude is correct or valid). Experiment 1 uses factor analysis and correlational data to provide evidence for viewing attitude clarity and attitude correctness as separate constructs. Experiments 2 and 3 demonstrate that attitude clarity and attitude correctness can have distinct antecedents (repeated expression and consensus feedback, respectively). Experiment 4 reveals that these constructs each play an independent role in persuasion and resistance situations. As clarity and correctness increase, attitudes become more resistant to counterattitudinal persuasive messages. These findings are discussed in relation to the existing attitude strength literature.


  • Tormala, Z.L., Briñol, P., & Petty, R.E. (2007). Multiple roles for source credibility under high elaboration: It’s all in the timing. Social Cognition, 25, 536-552.

Past research suggests that under high elaboration conditions, source credibility can play more than one role in persuasion. In particular, source credibility can affect the valence of people’s thoughts generated in response to persuasive messages or it can affect the confidence with which people hold those thoughts. In the present research, two experiments explore the conditions under which these conceptually distinct effects occur. It is demonstrated that the effect of source credibility on thought confidence is dominant when source information follows, rather than precedes, a persuasive message. When source information precedes a message, it affects the valence of issue–relevant thinking.


  • Tormala, Z.L., & Clarkson, J.J. (2007). Assimilation and contrast in persuasion: The effects of source credibility in multiple message situations. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 559-571.

The present research explores a contextual perspective on persuasion in multiple message situations. It is proposed that when people receive persuasive messages, the effects of those messages are influenced by other messages to which people recently have been exposed. In two experiments, participants received a target persuasive message from a moderately credible source.
Immediately before this message, participants received another message, on a different topic, from a source with high or low credibility. In Experiment 1, participants’ attitudes toward the target issue were more favorable after they had first been exposed to a different message from a low rather than high credibility source (contrast). In Experiment 2, this effect only emerged when a priming manipulation gave participants a dissimilarity mindset. When participants were primed with a similarity
mindset, their attitudes toward the target issue were more favorable following a different message from a high rather than low credibility source (assimilation).


  • Tormala, Z.L., DeSensi, V.L., & Petty, R.E. (2007). Resisting persuasion by illegitimate means: A metacognitive perspective on minority influence. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 354-367.

The present research tests a new metacognitive perspective on resistance in minority influence situations. It is proposed that when people initially resist persuasive messages from sources in the numerical minority, they can lose attitude certainty if they perceive that they have based their attitudes on the source’s minority status and also believe this is an illegitimate basis for resistance. In three studies, participants were presented with a message from a minority source. In Study 1, participants
became less certain of their attitudes after resisting this message. In Study 2, this effect only emerged when participants were led to believe they had based their attitudes on the source’s minority status and this was an illegitimate thing to do. In Study 3, this effect was shown to have implications for persuasion in response to a second message. The implications of these findings
for classic minority influence effects are discussed.


  • Tormala, Z.L., Falces, C., Briñol, P., & Petty, R.E. (2007). Ease of retrieval effects in social judgment: The role of unrequested cognitions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 143-157.

The present research explores a new mechanism for ease of retrieval effects in social judgment. It is suggested that in the most common ease of retrieval paradigm, when it is difficult for people to generate or retrieve the specific type of cognition requested (e.g., positive thoughts about an issue or memories of assertive behavior), they are more likely to spontaneously generate or retrieve unrequested cognitions (e.g., negative thoughts about the issue or memories of unassertive behavior), and the presence of these unrequested cognitions can affect social judgment. In 4 experiments, participants were asked to generate
a high (difficult) or low (easy) number of cognitions in a given direction. Across experiments, when participants were asked to generate a high number of cognitions, they also had more unrequested cognitions, and these unrequested cognitions played a mediating role in the ease of retrieval effect on judgment. In the 3rd and 4th experiments, this mechanism was found to be independent of previously identified mediators.


  • Tormala, Z.L., & Petty, R.E. (2007). Contextual contrast and perceived knowledge: Exploring the implications for persuasion. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43, 17-30.

The present research tested the notion that perceived target knowledge can be affected by the amount of information one has about other recently encountered stimuli—whether that information is relevant or not. Furthermore, the present research tested the implications of this effect for persuasion. In 4 experiments, participants were presented with a persuasive message promoting a fictitious department store, but first received another message containing more or less information about something else (e.g., another store, a car, or a person). Regardless of the type or valence of initial information received, the initial message had a contrast effect on perceived target knowledge, which influenced target attitudes. The less information the initial message contained, the more persuasive knowledge participants thought they received from the target message, and the more their attitudes agreed with that message. These findings suggest that the perceived amount of persuasive information one has about a target stimulus can be manipulated to increase persuasion, even when the actual amount of information about the target stimulus does not vary.


  • Tormala, Z.L., & Rucker, D.D. (2007). Attitude certainty: A review of past findings and emerging perspectives. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1, 469-492.

Attitude certainty, or the sense of conviction with which one holds one’s attitude, has been the subject of considerable research attention. This article provides an overview of past, present, and future research on this topic. First, we review past work on attitude certainty, focusing on what has been learned about the antecedents and consequences of feeling certain or uncertain of one’s attitude. Following this review, we examine emerging perspectives on attitude certainty. In particular, we describe recent work exploring the metacognitive appraisals that shape attitude certainty, the different meanings attitude certainty can have,
and the dynamic effects of attitude certainty on attitude strength. Along the way, we also highlight important questions that have yet be answered about the certainty construct.


  • Bizer, G.Y., Tormala, Z.L., Rucker, D.D., & Petty, R.E. (2006). Memory-based versus on-line processing: Implications for attitude strength. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42, 646-653.

Three experiments tested whether the manner in which attitudes are created—through on-line or memory-based processing—can impact the resultant strength of those attitudes. In each study, participants were presented with 20 behavioral statements about a person named Marie. Whereas some participants were asked to continually evaluate Marie based upon each sentence and then report their overall evaluation (on-line processing), others were asked to focus on the sentence structure and to evaluate Marie only after they had read all the sentences (memory-based processing). Even when controlling for attitude accessibility, attitudes created through on-line processing were stronger than attitudes created through memory-based processing: Experiment 1 showed that participants in the on-line condition felt more certain of their attitudes, Experiment 2 showed that on-line attitudes were better predictors of participants’ evaluative preferences, while Experiment 3 showed that on-line attitudes manifested stronger attitude–behavioral intention correspondence.


  • Briñol, P., Petty, R.E., & Tormala, Z.L. (2006). The malleable meaning of subjective ease. Psychological Science, 17, 200-206.

People can generate the same thoughts or process the same information with different degrees of ease, and this subjective experience has implications for attitudes and social judgment. In prior research, it has generally been assumed that the experience of ease or fluency is interpreted by people as something good. In the two experiments reported here, the meaning or value of ease was directly manipulated, and the implications for evaluative judgments were explored. Across experiments,
we replicated the traditional ease-of-retrieval effect (more thought-congruent attitudes when thoughts were easy rather than difficult to generate) when ease was described as positive, but we reversed this effect when ease was described as negative. These findings suggest that it is important to consider both the content of metacognition (e.g., ‘‘those thoughts were easy to generate’’) and the value associated with that content (e.g., ‘‘ease is good’’ or ‘‘ease is bad’’).


  • Petty, R.E., Tormala, Z.L., Briñol, P., & Jarvis, W.B.G. (2006). Implicit ambivalence from attitude change: An exploration of the PAST model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 21-41.

Traditional models of attitude change have assumed that when people appear to have changed their attitudes in response to new information, their old attitudes disappear and no longer have any impact. The present research suggests that when attitudes change, the old attitude can remain in memory and influence subsequent behavior. Four experiments are reported in which initial attitudes were created and then changed (or not) with new information. In each study, the authors demonstrate that when people undergo attitude change, their old and new attitudes can interact to produce evaluative responses consistent with
a state of implicit ambivalence. In Study 1, individuals whose attitudes changed were more neutral on a measure of automatic evaluation. In Study 2, attitude change led people to show less confidence on an implicit but not an explicit measure. In Studies 3 and 4, people whose attitudes changed engaged in greater processing of attitude-relevant information than did individuals whose attitudes were not changed.


  • Tormala, Z.L., Briñol, P., & Petty, R.E. (2006). When credibility attacks: The reverse impact of source credibility on persuasion. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42, 684-691.

Recent research on the self-validation hypothesis suggests that source credibility identified after message processing can influence the confidence people have in their own thoughts generated in response to persuasive messages (Briñol, Petty, & Tormala, 2004). The present research explored the implications of this effect for the possibility that high credibility sources can be associated with more or less persuasion than low credibility sources. In two experiments, it is demonstrated that when people generate primarily positive thoughts in response to a message (e.g., because the message contains strong arguments) and then learn of the source, high source credibility leads to more favorable attitudes than does low source credibility. When people have primarily negative thoughts in response to a message (e.g., because it contains weak arguments), however, this effect is reversed—that is, high source credibility leads to less favorable attitudes than does low source credibility.


  • Tormala, Z.L., Clarkson, J.J., & Petty, R.E. (2006). Resisting persuasion by the skin of one’s teeth: The hidden success of resisted persuasive messages. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 423-435.

Recent research has suggested that when people resist persuasion they can perceive this resistance and, under specifiable conditions, become more certain of their initial attitudes (e.g., Z. L. Tormala & R. E. Petty, 2002). Within the same metacognitive framework, the present research provides evidence for the opposite phenomenon—that is, when people resist persuasion, they sometimes become less certain of their initial attitudes. Four experiments demonstrate that when people perceive that they have done a poor job resisting persuasion (e.g., they believe they generated weak arguments against a persuasive message), they lose attitude certainty, show reduced attitude– behavioral intention correspondence, and become more vulnerable to subsequent persuasive attacks. These findings suggest that resisted persuasive attacks can sometimes have a hidden yet important success by reducing the strength of the target attitude.


  • Briñol, P., Petty, R.E., & Tormala, Z.L. (2004). The self-validation of cognitive responses to advertisements. Journal of Consumer Research, 30, 559-573.

Two studies tested the notion that the confidence consumers have in their cognitive responses to an ad can increase or decrease the favorability of product attitudes. Increasing confidence in positive thoughts enhanced advertisement effectiveness.
Increasing confidence in negative thoughts reduced advertisement effectiveness. These self-validation effects occurred regardless of the type of product and regardless of whether thought confidence was measured or induced through an experimental manipulation. The present research also demonstrated that source credibility can influence consumer attitudes by affecting thought confidence. Finally, thought confidence was distinguished from other potentially related thought dimensions.
Antecedents, moderators, and consequences of self-validation effects are described.


  • Tormala, Z.L., & Petty, R.E. (2004). Source credibility and attitude certainty: A metacognitive analysis of resistance to persuasion. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 14, 427-442.

Recent research (Tormala & Petty, 2002) has demonstrated that when people resist persuasion, they can perceive this resistance and become more certain of their initial attitudes. This research explores the role of source credibility in determining when this effect occurs. In two experiments, participants received a counterattitudinal persuasive message. When participants
counterargued this message, they became more certain of their attitudes, but only when it came from a source with high expertise. When the message came from a source with low expertise, resisting it had no impact on attitude certainty. This effect was shown using both a traditional measure of attitude certainty (Experiment 1) and a well-established consequence of certainty—the correspondence between attitudes and behavioral intentions (Experiment 2). In addition, the effect was confined to high elaboration conditions, and occurred even when participants were not explicitly instructed to counterargue. These results are consistent with a metacognitive framework proposed to understand resistance to persuasion.


  • Tormala, Z.L., & Petty, R.E. (2004). Resistance to persuasion and attitude certainty: The moderating role of elaboration. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 1446-1457.

Recent research (Tormala & Petty, 2002) has demonstrated that when people resist persuasive attacks, they can under
specifiable conditions become more certain of their initial attitudes. The present research explores the role of elaboration in
determining when this effect will occur. Using both self-reported differences in situational elaboration (Study 1) and chronic
individual differences in the need for cognition (Study 2), it is demonstrated that resisting persuasion increases attitude certainty
primarily when elaboration is high. When elaboration is low, resisting persuasion does not appear to impact attitude certainty.
These findings shed light on the role of metacognitive factors in resistance to persuasion, pinpointing the conditions under which these factors come into play.


  • Leonardelli, G., & Tormala, Z.L. (2003). The negative impact of perceiving discrimination on collective well-being: The mediating role of perceived ingroup status. European Journal of Social Psychology, 33, 507-514.

Previous research has found that, among stigmatized group members, perceiving discrimination against the ingroup simultaneously yields a positive indirect effect on self-worth (mediated by ingroup identification) and a negative direct effect (Branscombe, Schmitt, & Harvey, 1999). This study not only replicated these effects with a sample of women, but also revealed that the negative direct effect was mediated by perceived status of the ingroup: as perceived discrimination increased, perceived ingroup status decreased, which in turn lowered collective self-worth. Perceiving discrimination also increased the accessibility of the stigmatized group’s devalued status. A new direction for future research may be to consider when stigmatized group members might affirm the ingroup rather than protect self-worth.


  • Petty, R.E., Briñol, P., & Tormala, Z.L. (2002). Thought confidence as a determinant of persuasion: The self-validation hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 722-741.

Previous research in the domain of attitude change has described 2 primary dimensions of thinking that impact persuasion processes and outcomes: the extent (amount) of thinking and the direction (valence) of issue-relevant thought. The authors examined the possibility that another, more meta-cognitive aspect of thinking is also important—the degree of confidence people have in their own thoughts. Four studies test the notion that thought confidence affects the extent of persuasion. When positive thoughts dominate in response to a message, increasing confidence in those thoughts increases persuasion, but when negative thoughts dominate, increasing confidence decreases persuasion. In addition, using self-reported and manipulated thought confidence in separate studies, the authors provide evidence that the magnitude of the attitude–thought relationship depends on the confidence people have in their thoughts. Finally, the authors also show that these self-validation effects are most likely in situations that foster high amounts of information processing activity.


  • Tormala, Z.L., Petty, R.E., & Briñol, P. (2002). Ease of retrieval effects in persuasion: A self-validation analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 1700-1712.

Three studies are reported examining a new explanation for ease of retrieval effects in persuasion. In each study, participants
read a persuasive communication and were induced to generate either a low or high number of favorable or unfavorable thoughts in response. In conflict with the assumptions of most previous studies, the authors predicted and found that ease of retrieval effects occur primarily under high rather than low-elaboration conditions. Under high-elaboration conditions, people were more influenced by their thoughts when few rather than many were retrieved (ease of retrieval effect), and this was mediated by the confidence participants had in those thoughts. These findings are consistent with the self-validation hypothesis. Under low-elaboration conditions, participants based judgments more on the actual number of thoughts generated, reflecting a numerosity heuristic.


  • Tormala, Z.L., & Petty, R.E. (2002). What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger: The effects of resisting persuasion on attitude certainty. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1298-1313.

The present research proposes a metacognitive framework for understanding resistance to persuasion. It is suggested that when people resist persuasion, they can become more certain of their initial attitudes. Several experiments demonstrated that when participants resisted persuasion, attitude certainty increased, but only when the attack was believed to be strong. For attacks believed to be weak, certainty was unchanged. It was also demonstrated that attitude certainty only increased when people actually perceived that persuasion had been resisted. This increased certainty was shown to have implications for
resistance to subsequent attacks and the correspondence between attitudes and behavioral intentions. These findings suggest that when people perceive their own resistance, they form inferences about their attitudes that adjust for situational factors.


  • Petty, R.E., Tormala, Z.L., Hawkins, C., & Wegener, D.T. (2001). Motivation to think and order effects in persuasion: The moderating role of chunking. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 332-344.

Two studies examined the hypothesis that chunking—defined as the degree to which information is grouped into explicitly labeled categories of distinct valence—moderates the impact of motivation to think on order effects in persuasion. Studies 1 and 2 examined motivation to think in terms of perceived personal relevance and need for cognition, respectively. In both studies, participants read arguments for and against a hypothetical exam policy. These arguments were presented in varying orders and in either a chunked or an unchunked format. Results were consistent with the predictions: Under chunked conditions, participants who were highly motivated to think were more susceptible to primacy effects than were those low in motivation to think. Under unchunked conditions, this pattern was reversed—those highly motivated to think were more susceptible to recency effects than those low in motivation to think.


  • Tormala, Z.L., & Petty, R.E. (2001). On-line versus memory-based processing: The role of ‘need to evaluate’ in person perception. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 1599-1612.

Two studies are reported examining individual differences in the need to evaluate as a determinant of memory-based versus online information processing. In each study, participants read statements describing the behaviors of a hypothetical target person and reported their attitudes toward this person. Consistent with expectations, high need to evaluate individuals formed attitudes in a spontaneous, on-line fashion, whereas low need to evaluate individuals formed them in a less spontaneous, more
memory-based fashion. This conclusion was supported by two kinds of evidence: attitude-recall valence relationships (Experiments 1 and 2) and response latency measures (Experiment 2). These results suggest that evaluative responding in the domain of person perception is less pervasive than concluded in prior research.


  • Kennedy, M.G., Stover, D.L., & Tormala, Z.L. (2000). Using social marketing to raise funds for prevention programs. Social Marketing Quarterly, 6, 44-53.

Effective prevention programs are worthy products, but they do not necessarily sell themselves. Social marketing strategies can be used to encourage donors to sustain preventive interventions financially. Viewing potential program funders as the target audience, this paper defines major audience segments, suggests audience research materials, and raises other marketing considerations. Examples of the application of social marketing principles to fundraising are drawn from the experiences gained during the Prevention Marketing Initiative (PMI) Local Site Demonstration Project, as the project sites sought ongoing financial support at the end of their federal demonstration funding period.


Book Chapters

  • Petty, R.E., Wheeler, S.C., & Tormala, Z.L. (in press).  Persuasion and attitude change.  In D. K. Freedheim & I. B. Wiener (Eds.), The Handbook of Psychology (2nd ed).  New York: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Briñol, P., Tormala, Z.L., & Petty, R.E. (2013).  Ease and persuasion: Multiple processes, meanings, and effects.  In C. Unkelbach & R. Greifeneder (Eds.), The Experience of Thinking: How the Fluency of Mental Processes Influences Cognition and Behavior (pp. 101-118).  New York: Psychology Press.
  • Rucker, D.D., & Tormala, Z.L. (2012).  Meta-cognitive theory in consumer research.  In P. Briñol & K. DeMarree (Eds.), Social Metacognition (pp. 303-321).  New York, NY: Psychology Press.
  • Tormala, Z.L., Petty, R.E., & DeSensi, V.L. (2010). Multiple roles for minority sources in persuasion and resistance. In R. Martin & M. Hewstone (Eds.), Minority influence and innovation: Antecedents, processes, and consequences (pp. 105-131). London: Psychology Press.
  • Tormala, Z.L. (2008). A new framework for resistance to persuasion: The resistance appraisals hypothesis. In W. D. Crano & R. Prislin (Eds.), Attitudes and Attitude Change (pp. 213-234). New York, NY: Psychology Press.
  • Petty, R.E., Briñol, P., Tormala, Z.L., & Wegener, D.T. (2007). The role of metacognition in social judgment. In A. W. Kruglanski & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles (2nd edition, pp. 254-284). New York: Guilford.
  • Briñol, P., Rucker, D., Tormala, Z.L., & Petty, R.E. (2004). Individual differences in resistance to persuasion: The role of beliefs and meta-beliefs. In E.S. Knowles & J.A. Linn (Eds.), Resistance and persuasion (pp. 83-104). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Petty, R.E., Tormala, Z.L., & Rucker, D.D. (2004). Resistance to persuasion: An attitude strength perspective. In J. T. Jost, M. R. Banaji, & D. A. Prentice (Eds.), Perspectivism in social psychology: The yin and yang of scientific progress (pp. 37-51). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
  • Tormala, Z.L., & Petty, R.E. (2004). Resistance to persuasion and attitude certainty: A meta-cognitive analysis. In E.S. Knowles & J.A. Linn (Eds.), Resistance and persuasion (pp. 65-82). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Petty, R.E., Wheeler, S.C., & Tormala, Z.L. (2003). Persuasion and attitude change. In T. Millon & M. J. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of psychology, Volume 5: Personality and Social Psychology (pp. 353-382). New York: John Wiley & Sons.



 Note: To request a reprint, email Professor Tormala at -- tormala_zakary AT