Restriction of Theory by Existing Methods

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Our long-standing love affair with copying machines and their spawn, paper-and-pencil items and scales, has also generated a related and perhaps more serious problem. When a substantially new construct is hypothesized by theory, our tendency to use the same assessment techniques used for previous theories and constructs is likely to generate empirical evidence that suggests the new construct adds but little to our pool of variance. Correlated error variance among the original variables and the new constructs may overwhelm any independent variance related to new constructs.

One example of this is the inclusion of affect in theories of attitudes and behavioral intentions (e.g., Fishbein, 1980; Triandis, 1980). When affect or emotion constructs referred to in these theories were studied in empirical research, they were assessed using paper-and-pencil items to elicit descriptions of the stimulus object in terms of such items as nauseating, disgusting, or a source of pleasure. Empirically, these scales, putatively assessing affect aroused by a stimulus object, contributed trivially to the prediction of behavioral intentions beyond that accounted for by more traditional measures of cognitive evaluations of the stimulus objects with which they shared many assessment facets. Emphases on affect or emotion in attitudes, including job attitudes, withered away despite our definitions of these constructs as reflecting affective reactions toward an object.

It is not at all clear that affective reactions can or should be measured independently from ongoing experience and interaction with the object of interest. Is it safe to assume that affective reactions to "cigarettes," for example, are equivalent and constant between what is reported on a questionnaire in the lab and when one is in a smoky bar at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night or when one has just finished breakfast on the third day of attempting to quit smoking? Researchers who attempted to study the role of affect in attitudes and behaviors seem, in retrospect, to have reached a "methodological stalemate" (Larson & Csikszentmihalyi, 1983) in which methods appropriate to an earlier theory or construct are applied to test all derivations from that theory and from new theories in the same general content area.

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