Vested interest is a communication theory that seeks to explain how influences impact behaviors. Coined by William Crano, vested interest refers to the amount that an attitude object is deemed hedonically relevant by the attitude holder (Crano, 1995). Not to be confused with the pre-existing legal term vested interest, which is related to the concept of vesting. In other words, if an attitude object is deemed to have important perceived personal consequences, then that object is of high vested interest. For example, a 30 year old individual is told that the legal driving age is being raised from 16 to 17 in his state. While he may not agree with this law, it does not affect him as much as the 15 year old prospective vehicle operator. This example illustrates the point that highly vested attitudes concerning issues are related to an individual’s point of view of the situation.
One key factor to consider with this theory concerns the level/type of involvement the individual has with a particular attitude object. This involvement
, sometimes called ego-involvement
, arises from the belief that an individual’s connections with an attitude object have the ability to impact attitude-behavior consistency; that is, those attitude objects which directly implicate personal consequences on the behalf of the individual are more likely to produce consistent
behaviors (Crano, 1995). Ego-involvement’s main foci are an individual’s attitudes psychologically experienced as being a part of “me”. Ego-involvement has three main components. Value-relevant involvement
concerns those behaviors which support/reinforce values of the individual. Impression-relevant involvement
relates to those behaviors which serve to create or maintain a specific image of the individual. Outcome-relevant involvement
concerns those behaviors which hold direct personal consequences for the individual. Outcome-relevant involvement corresponds most directly to vested interest; that is, those attitude objects with the most important personal consequences will be the objects with the highest levels of vested interest for an individual (Crano, 1995). It is important to note that while attitudes of high vested interest are ego-involving, the opposite does not always hold true. Revisit the example of the 30 year old individual. He is not likely to feel any personal consequence as a result of the law; his individual freedoms are not at stake. In this case, his vested interest in this subject is likely to be low. On the other hand, the teenager recognizes that this law would restrict a freedom that he expected to experience within months. Because of the direct personal consequence, the teenager is likely to have a high vested interest in this matter.
The second key factor to consider with this theory and its application towards attitude-consistent actions is attitude importance. Attitude (or issue) importance
concerns not only matters of personal consequence, but also those matters of national/international interest (Crano, 1995). While both of these can fall in line with each other, vested interest and attitude importance are not the same. For example, consider the plight of an African nation that has been ravaged by an influenza epidemic. While an individual may view this situation as objectively important, because of the possibly low level of personal consequence (vested interest), his resultant behaviors may not be indicative of his attitude concerning the situation. In other words, since the issue at hand is of little hedonic relevance to the perceiver, the amount of vested interest is low, and is therefore unlikely to produce attitude-consistent actions.
Vested Interest Theory
Vested interest itself is determined by these five sub-components:
refers to the perceived personal consequence of an attitude, action, or lack thereof. In its basic form, the more that is at stake concerning a particular issue, the stronger the attitude will be; consequently, as attitude strength increases, the consistency of attitude-based actions also increases (Crano, 1995). For example, imagine that a stranger walks up to an individual and asks for $50. At this point, the individual does not lose anything should he refuse the request; in other words, there are no strong personal consequences. On the other hand, if the stranger pointed a loaded weapon towards the individual, the stakes have been tremendously increased. Now, the individual could be killed as a result of noncompliance. This feeling shapes the individual’s attitude; if the feeling is strong enough, he will likely concede to the stranger’s demands.
refers to the perceiver’s awareness of the effects of an attitude upon himself (Crano, 1995). In other words, the prominence of an issue, as perceived by an individual, shapes the strength of his resulting attitude. The most common examples of issue salience are found in the mass media. The existence of a secret cache of nuclear weapons in Siberia is not likely to create much of an uproar among the American public; however, if the mass media continued to report on such an issue around the clock, the issue would become more salient to the perceiver as his exposure to the news reports increases. He is more likely to develop an attitude concerning this issue as a result of his exposure; as this attitude strengthens, resultant actions based on this attitude will become more consistent.
refers to perceived likelihood of personal consequences as a result of an attitude or action (Crano, 1995). Simply stated, if a certain course of action is taken, then the chances of a specific event occurring as a result of this action are evaluated by the perceiver to help shape his resultant attitudes and behaviors. Certainty can be easily applied to situations in which an individual knowingly takes a calculated risk. For example, an individual may be asked to quit smoking because cigarettes cause lung cancer. If this individual (the perceiver) feels that the chances of acquiring such a disease (for example, 50%) are too high to continue on his current course of action, then his attitude towards smoking will likely lead him to amend his behaviors to conform to the advocated position (which is that of a non-smoker). On the other hand, if an individual feels that he is not likely to incur such a consequence (“my grandfather has smoked for over 60 years and there’s nothing wrong with him”), then his attitude (or vested interest) concerning this issue is not likely to change.
refers to an individual’s perceived amount of time between an action and its resulting consequences (Crano, 1995). Immediacy can be considered an extension of certainty; however, these two entities are completely separate. Reconsider the example of the smoker. The perceiver may feel that, as a result of his behavior, he is likely to contract a serious illness; however, since this illness (in the perceiver’s eyes) will not occur for 30 years, no real reason to change his behaviors exists. Therefore, although the perceived personal consequences are certain, because they are not also immediate, the level of vested interest in the advocated position (that of a non-smoker) and resultant judgments are not likely to be as consistent with each other.
, by definition, is the capacity to produce a desired result. Applied to the vested interest theory, self-efficacy
is the amount that an individual believes that they are capable of performing an action associated with an attitude or advocated position (Crano, 1995). Consider the plight of a seldom-used reserve on a basketball team. The head coach of the team creates a scheme to get the reserve the game-tying three point basket at the end of the last game of the season. If the shot is missed, then the team’s season will end; if he makes the shot, then the team will make the playoffs. While the reserve understands the stake, salience, certainty, and immediacy of his possible actions, once the ball is in play, he may doubt his ability to deliver in the clutch. If this attitude (self-doubt) is strong enough, the individual may instead elect to pass the ball instead of taking the shot. In other words, the individual must believe that he is capable of performing the action; this belief must be strong enough to compel the individual to adopt the advocated position (taking the shot).
Drinking Age Experiment
Various studies have been conducted to determine the effects of vested interest on attitude strengths. In one such study, Crano and Sivacek (1982) visited a university and gathered the results of a proposed drinking age referendum in the state of Michigan. The referendum sought to increase the legal drinking age from 18 to 21. The respondents were divided into three categories, which were high vested interest (those who would be significantly impacted immediately as a result of the referendum), low vested interest (those who would be unaffected by the law change at the time of its inception), and moderate vested interest (those who fell between these extremes). Although 80% of the subjects were opposed to the referendum, their respective levels of vested interest clearly indicated that the strength of their attitudes significantly impacted their resultant behaviors. Roughly half of the high vested interest group joined the anti-referendum campaign. However, roughly 1/4 of the moderate vested interest group and 1/8 of the low vested interest group joined the campaign. (Sivacek & Crano, 1982)
Comprehensive Exam Experiment
In a second study, Sivacek and Crano (1982) visited Michigan State University
. In this experiment, subjects were informed that the university was considering the addition of a senior comprehensive examination to the graduate prerequisites. Respondents were given choices to 1) do nothing, 2) sign an opposing petition, 3) join a group that opposed the referendum, and 4) volunteer specific amounts of hours to the opposing group's activities. The respondents were grouped into the same three categories (high, moderate, and low vested interest). The study found that those of the highest levels of vested interest were significantly more inclined to take actions based upon their attitudes concerning the issue; that is, their resultant behaviors (signing the petition, joining the group, pledging multiple hours with the group) occurred much more consistently (and prevalently) than that of the other two vested interest groups. (Sivacek & Crano, 1982)
It is important to note that each of these five entities coexist within an individual’s realm of conscious judgment. Any of these entities, if it creates a strong enough attitude, can cause an individual to either adopt or reject an advocated position. All five are considered anytime an individual is presented with a message that attempts to influence or persuade him to adopt a certain position or perform an action. The process of evaluating these entities can range from near instantaneous to several years; at any rate, all five are considered (consciously or subconsciously) before making a decision.
Crano, W. D. (1995). Attitude strength and vested interest. In R. E. Petty & J. A. Krosnick (Eds.), Attitude strength: Antecedents and Consequences
. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, pp. 131-158.
Sivacek, J., & Crano, W. D. (1982). Vested interest as a moderator of attitude behavior consistency. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, 210-221.