Beyond contingency awareness: the role of influence awareness in resisting conditioned attitudes

Evaluative conditioning procedures change people’s evaluations of stimuli that are paired with pleasant or unpleasant items. To test whether influence awareness allows people to resist such persuasive attempts, we conducted three experiments. In the first two experiments featuring low levels of influence awareness (N1 = 96, N2 = 93) we manipulated the degree of control people have in expressing their attitudes, by providing participants in one condition with the option to “pass” rather than respond, when they felt influenced in their evaluations of conditioned stimuli. In the third experiment (N3 = 240) we manipulated the level of influence awareness by using a warning instruction similar to the one found in prior controllability studies, while giving everyone the option to pass the evaluation when they felt influenced. All studies found that participants often failed to use the skip option to exert control over conditioned preferences. In some cases, this may be because participants failed to notice the pairings, but in most cases because participants lacked awareness that the pairings could influence them. Even when explicitly warned that the pairings could influence them, participants seemed to believe that they were not vulnerable to such effects.