In psychology, attitude is a psychological construct, a mental and emotional entity that inheres in, or characterizes a person. They are complex and are an acquired state through experiences. It is an individual's predisposed state of mind regarding a value and it is precipitated through a responsive expression towards oneself, a person, place, thing, or event (the attitude object) which in turn influences the individual's thought and action. Prominent psychologist Gordon Allport described this latent psychological construct as "the most distinctive and indispensable concept in contemporary social psychology." Attitude can be formed from a person's past and present. Key topics in the study of attitudes include attitude strength, attitude change, consumer behavior, and attitude-behavior relationships.
An attitude is an evaluation of an attitude object, ranging from extremely negative to extremely positive. Most contemporary perspectives on attitudes permit that people can also be conflicted or ambivalent toward an object by simultaneously holding both positive and negative attitudes toward the same object. This has led to some discussion of whether the individual can hold multiple attitudes toward the same object.
An attitude can be a positive or negative evaluation of people, objects, events, activities, and ideas. It could be concrete, abstract or just about anything in your environment, but there is a debate about precise definitions. Eagly and Chaiken, for example, define an attitude as "a psychological tendency that is expressed by evaluating a particular entity with some degree of favor or disfavor." Though it is sometimes common to define an attitude as affect toward an object, affect (i.e., discrete emotions or overall arousal) is generally understood as an evaluative structure used to form attitude object. Attitude may influence the attention to attitude objects, the use of categories for encoding information and the interpretation, judgement and recall of attitude-relevant information. These influences tend to be more powerful for strong attitudes which are accessible and based on elaborate supportive knowledge structure. The durability and impactfulness of influence depend upon the strength formed from consistency of heuristics. Attitudes can guide encoding information, attention and behaviors, even if the individual is pursuing unrelated goals.
Attitude is one of Jung's 57 definitions in Chapter XI of Psychological Types. Jung's definition of attitude is a "readiness of the psyche to act or react in a certain way". Attitudes very often come in pairs, one conscious and the other unconscious. Within this broad definition Jung defines several attitudes.
The main (but not only) attitude dualities that Jung defines are the following.
- Consciousness and the unconscious. The "presence of two attitudes is extremely frequent, one conscious and the other unconscious. This means that consciousness has a constellation of contents different from that of the unconscious, a duality particularly evident in neurosis".
- Extraversion and introversion. This pair is so elementary to Jung's theory of types that he labeled them the "attitude-types".
- Rational and irrational attitudes. "I conceive reason as an attitude".
- The rational attitude subdivides into the thinking and feeling psychological functions, each with its attitude.
- The irrational attitude subdivides into the sensing and intuition psychological functions, each with its attitude. "There is thus a typical thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuitive attitude".
- Individual and social attitudes. Many of the latter are "isms".
In addition, Jung discusses the abstract attitude. "When I take an abstract attitude...". Abstraction is contrasted with concretism. "CONCRETISM. By this I mean a peculiarity of thinking and feeling which is the antithesis of abstraction".
The attitude of a person is determined by psychological factors like ideas, values, beliefs, perception, etc. All these have a complex role in determining a person's attitude. Values are ideals, guiding principles in one's life, or overarching goals that people strive to obtain (Maio & Olson, 1998). Beliefs are cognitions about the world—subjective probabilities that an object has a particular attribute or that an action will lead to a particular outcome (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975). Beliefs can be patently and unequivocally false. For example, surveys show that a third of U.S. adults think that vaccines cause autism, despite the preponderance of scientific research to the contrary (Dixon et al., 2015). It was found that beliefs like these are tenaciously held and highly resistant to change. Another important factor that affects attitude is symbolic interactionism, these are rife with powerful symbols and charged with affect which can lead to a selective perception. Persuasion theories say that in politics, successful persuaders convince its message recipients into a selective perception or attitude polarization for turning against the opposite candidate through a repetitive process that they are in a noncommittal state and it is unacceptable and doesn't have any moral basis for it and for this they only require to chain the persuading message into a realm of plausibility (Gopnik, 2015 & O’Keefe, 2016).
Family plays a significant role in the primary stage of attitudes held by individuals. Initially, a person develops certain attitudes from their parents, brothers, sister, and elders in the family. There is a high degree of relationship between parent and children in attitudes found in them.
Societies play an important role in formatting the attitudes of an individual. The culture, the tradition, the language, etc., influence a person's attitudes. Society, tradition, and the culture teach individuals what is and what is not acceptable.
A person's attitude also depends on issues such as his salary, status, work environment, work as such, etc.
The classic, tripartite view offered by Rosenberg and Hovland  is that an attitude contains cognitive, affective, and behavioral components. Empirical research, however, fails to support clear distinctions between thoughts, emotions, and behavioral intentions associated with a particular attitude. A criticism of the tripartite view of attitudes is that it requires cognitive, affective, and behavioral associations of an attitude to be consistent, but this may be implausible. Thus some views of attitude structure see the cognitive and behavioral components as derivative of affect or affect and behavior as derivative of underlying beliefs.
Despite debate about the particular structure of attitudes, there is considerable evidence that attitudes reflect more than evaluations of a particular object that vary from positive to negative. Among numerous attitudes, one example is people's money attitudes which may help people understand their affective love of money motive, stewardship behavior, and money cognition. These ABC components of attitudes formulate, define, and contribute to an overall construct of Monetary Intelligence which, in turn, may be related to many theoretical work-related constructs.
There is also a considerable interest in intra-attitudinal and inter-attitudinal structure, which is how an attitude is made (expectancy and value) and how different attitudes relate to one another. Which connects different attitudes to one another and to more underlying psychological structures, such as values or ideology.
Attitude component model
An influential model of attitude is the multicomponent model, where attitudes are evaluations of an object that have affective, behavioral, and cognitive components (the ABC model):
- Affective component The affective component of attitudes refers to your feelings or emotions linked to an attitude object. Affective responses influence attitudes in a number of ways. For example, many people are afraid/scared of spiders. So this negative affective response is likely to cause you to have a negative attitude towards spiders.
- Behavioral component The behavioral component of attitudes refers to the way the attitude we have influences how we act or behave.
- Cognitive component The cognitive component of attitudes refers to the beliefs, thoughts, and attributes that we would associate with an object. Many times a person's attitude might be based on the negative and positive attributes they associate with an object.
This is the theory of attitude evaluation (motivation and opportunity as determinants of the attitude - behavior relation). When both are present, behavior will be deliberate. When one is absent, impact on behavior will be spontaneous. The MODE model was developed by Fazio. A person's attitude can be measured in two different ways:
- Explicit measure
- Implicit measure
Explicit measure are attitudes at the conscious level, that are deliberately formed and easy to self-report. Implicit measures are attitudes that are at an unconscious level, that are involuntarily formed and are typically unknown to us. Both explicit and implicit attitudes can shape an individual's behavior. Implicit attitudes, however, are most likely to affect behavior when the demands are steep and an individual feels stressed or distracted.
Another classic view of attitudes is that attitudes serve particular functions for individuals. That is, researchers have tried to understand why individuals hold particular attitudes or why they hold attitudes in general by considering how attitudes affect the individuals who hold them. Daniel Katz, for example, writes that attitudes can serve "instrumental, adjustive or utilitarian," "ego-defensive," "value-expressive," or "knowledge" functions. This functional attitude theory suggests that in order for attitudes to change (e.g., via persuasion), appeals must be made to the function(s) that a particular attitude serves for the individual. As an example, the "ego-defensive" function might be used to influence the racially prejudicial attitudes of an individual who sees themselves as open-minded and tolerant. By appealing to that individual's image of themselves as tolerant and open-minded, it may be possible to change their prejudicial attitudes to be more consistent with their self-concept. Similarly, a persuasive message that threatens self-image is much more likely to be rejected.
Daniel Katz classified attitudes into four different groups based on their functions
- Utilitarian: provides us with general approach or avoidance tendencies
- Knowledge: help people organize and interpret new information
- Ego-defensive: attitudes can help people protect their self-esteem
- Value-expressive: used to express central values or beliefs
Utilitarian People adopt attitudes that are rewarding and that help them avoid punishment. In other words, any attitude that is adopted in a person's own self-interest is considered to serve a utilitarian function. Consider you have a condo, people with condos pay property taxes, and as a result you don't want to pay more taxes. If those factors lead to your attitude that "increases in property taxes are bad" your attitude is serving a utilitarian function.
Knowledge People need to maintain an organized, meaningful, and stable view of the world. That being said important values and general principles can provide a framework for our knowledge. Attitudes achieve this goal by making things fit together and make sense. Example:
- I believe that I am a good person.
- I believe that good things happen to good people.
- Something bad happens to Bob.
- So I believe Bob must not be a good person.
Ego-Defensive This function involves psychoanalytic principles where people use defense mechanisms to protect themselves from psychological harm. Mechanisms include:
The ego-defensive notion correlates nicely with Downward Comparison Theory which holds the view that derogating a less fortunate other increases our own subjective well-being. We are more likely to use the ego-defensive function when we suffer a frustration or misfortune.
- Serves to express one's central values and self-concept.
- Central values tend to establish our identity and gain us social approval thereby showing us who we are, and what we stand for.
An example would concern attitudes toward a controversial political issue.
According to Doob (1947), learning can account for most of the attitudes we hold. The study of attitude formation is the study of how people form evaluations of persons, places or things. Theories of classical conditioning, instrumental conditioning and social learning are mainly responsible for formation of attitude. Unlike personality, attitudes are expected to change as a function of experience. In addition, exposure to the 'attitude' objects may have an effect on how a person forms his or her attitude. This concept was seen as the "Mere-Exposure Effect". Robert Zajonc showed that people were more likely to have a positive attitude on 'attitude objects' when they were exposed to it frequently than if they were not. Mere repeated exposure of the individual to a stimulus is a sufficient condition for the enhancement of his attitude toward it. Tesser (1993) has argued that hereditary variables may affect attitudes - but believes that they may do so indirectly. For example, consistency theories, which imply that we must be consistent in our beliefs and values. As with any type of heritability, to determine if a particular trait has a basis in our genes, twin studies are used. The most famous example of such a theory is Dissonance-reduction theory, associated with Leon Festinger, which explains that when the components of an attitude (including belief and behavior) are at odds an individual may adjust one to match the other (for example, adjusting a belief to match a behavior). Other theories include balance theory, originally proposed by Heider (1958), and the self-perception theory, originally proposed by Daryl Bem.
Attitudes can be changed through persuasion and an important domain of research on attitude change focuses on responses to communication. Experimental research into the factors that can affect the persuasiveness of a message include:
- Target characteristics: These are characteristics that refer to the person who receives and processes a message. One such trait is intelligence - it seems that more intelligent people are less easily persuaded by one-sided messages. Another variable that has been studied in this category is self-esteem. Although it is sometimes thought that those higher in self-esteem are less easily persuaded, there is some evidence that the relationship between self-esteem and persuasibility is actually curvilinear, with people of moderate self-esteem being more easily persuaded than both those of high and low self-esteem levels (Rhodes & Woods, 1992). The mind frame and mood of the target also plays a role in this process.
- Source characteristics: The major source characteristics are expertise, trustworthiness and interpersonal attraction or attractiveness. The credibility of a perceived message has been found to be a key variable here; if one reads a report about health and believes it came from a professional medical journal, one may be more easily persuaded than if one believes it is from a popular newspaper. Some psychologists have debated whether this is a long-lasting effect and Hovland and Weiss (1951) found the effect of telling people that a message came from a credible source disappeared after several weeks (the so-called "sleeper effect"). Whether there is a sleeper effect is controversial. Perceived wisdom is that if people are informed of the source of a message before hearing it, there is less likelihood of a sleeper effect than if they are told a message and then told its source.
- Message Characteristics: The nature of the message plays a role in persuasion. Sometimes presenting both sides of a story is useful to help change attitudes. When people are not motivated to process the message, simply the number of arguments presented in a persuasive message will influence attitude change, such that a greater number of arguments will produce greater attitude change.
- Cognitive routes: A message can appeal to an individual's cognitive evaluation to help change an attitude. In the central route to persuasion the individual is presented with the data and motivated to evaluate the data and arrive at an attitude changing conclusion. In the peripheral route to attitude change, the individual is encouraged to not look at the content but at the source. This is commonly seen in modern advertisements that feature celebrities. In some cases, physician, doctors or experts are used. In other cases film stars are used for their attractiveness.
Emotion and attitude change
Emotion is a common component in persuasion, social influence, and attitude change. Much of attitude research emphasized the importance of affective or emotion components. Emotion works hand-in-hand with the cognitive process, or the way we think, about an issue or situation. Emotional appeals are commonly found in advertising, health campaigns and political messages. Recent examples include no-smoking health campaigns and political campaign advertising emphasizing the fear of terrorism. Attitudes and attitude objects are functions of cognitive, affective and cognitive components. Attitudes are part of the brain's associative networks, the spider-like structures residing in long-term memory that consist of affective and cognitive nodes.
By activating an affective or emotion node, attitude change may be possible, though affective and cognitive components tend to be intertwined. In primarily affective networks, it is more difficult to produce cognitive counterarguments in the resistance to persuasion and attitude change.
Affective forecasting, otherwise known as intuition or the prediction of emotion, also impacts attitude change. Research suggests that predicting emotions is an important component of decision making, in addition to the cognitive processes. How we feel about an outcome may override purely cognitive rationales.
In terms of research methodology, the challenge for researchers is measuring emotion and subsequent impacts on attitude. Since we cannot see into the brain, various models and measurement tools have been constructed to obtain emotion and attitude information. Measures may include the use of physiological cues like facial expressions, vocal changes, and other body rate measures. For instance, fear is associated with raised eyebrows, increased heart rate and increase body tension (Dillard, 1994). Other methods include concept or network mapping, and using primes or word cues in the era.
Components of emotion appeals
Any discrete emotion can be used in a persuasive appeal; this may include jealousy, disgust, indignation, fear, blue, disturbed, haunted, and anger. Fear is one of the most studied emotional appeals in communication and social influence research.
Important consequences of fear appeals and other emotion appeals include the possibility of reactance which may lead to either message rejections or source rejection and the absence of attitude change. As the EPPM suggests, there is an optimal emotion level in motivating attitude change. If there is not enough motivation, an attitude will not change; if the emotional appeal is overdone, the motivation can be paralyzed thereby preventing attitude change.
Emotions perceived as negative or containing threat are often studied more than perceived positive emotions like humor. Though the inner-workings of humor are not agreed upon, humor appeals may work by creating incongruities in the mind. Recent research has looked at the impact of humor on the processing of political messages. While evidence is inconclusive, there appears to be potential for targeted attitude change is receivers with low political message involvement.
Important factors that influence the impact of emotion appeals include self efficacy, attitude accessibility, issue involvement, and message/source features. Self efficacy is a perception of one's own human agency; in other words, it is the perception of our own ability to deal with a situation. It is an important variable in emotion appeal messages because it dictates a person's ability to deal with both the emotion and the situation. For example, if a person is not self-efficacious about their ability to impact the global environment, they are not likely to change their attitude or behavior about global warming.
Dillard (1994) suggests that message features such as source non-verbal communication, message content, and receiver differences can impact the emotion impact of fear appeals. The characteristics of a message are important because one message can elicit different levels of emotion for different people. Thus, in terms of emotion appeals messages, one size does not fit all.
Attitude accessibility refers to the activation of an attitude from memory in other words, how readily available is an attitude about an object, issue, or situation. Issue involvement is the relevance and salience of an issue or situation to an individual. Issue involvement has been correlated with both attitude access and attitude strength. Past studies conclude accessible attitudes are more resistant to change.
The effects of attitudes on behaviors is a growing research enterprise within psychology. Icek Ajzen has led research and helped develop two prominent theoretical approaches within this field: the theory of reasoned action and, its theoretical descendant, the theory of planned behavior. Both theories help explain the link between attitude and behavior as a controlled and deliberative process.
Theory of reasoned action
The theory of reasoned action (TRA) is a model for the prediction of behavioral intention, spanning predictions of attitude and predictions of behavior. The subsequent separation of behavioral intention from behavior allows for explanation of limiting factors on attitudinal influence (Ajzen, 1980). The theory of reasoned action was developed by Martin Fishbein and Icek Ajzen (1975, 1980), derived from previous research that started out as the theory of attitude, which led to the study of attitude and behavior. The theory was "born largely out of frustration with traditional attitude–behavior research, much of which found weak correlations between attitude measures and performance of volitional behaviors" (Hale, Householder & Greene, 2003, p. 259).
Theory of planned behavior
The theory of planned behavior was proposed by Icek Ajzen in 1985 through his article "From intentions to actions: A theory of planned behavior." The theory was developed from the theory of reasoned action, which was proposed by Martin Fishbein together with Icek Ajzen in 1975. The theory of reasoned action was in turn grounded in various theories of attitude such as learning theories, expectancy-value theories, consistency theories, and attribution theory. According to the theory of reasoned action, if people evaluate the suggested behavior as positive (attitude), and if they think their significant others want them to perform the behavior (subjective norm), this results in a higher intention (motivation) and they are more likely to do so. A high correlation of attitudes and subjective norms to behavioral intention, and subsequently to behavior, has been confirmed in many studies. The theory of planned behavior contains the same component as the theory of reasoned action, but adds the component of perceived behavioral control to account for barriers outside one's own control.
Motivation and Opportunity as Determinants (MODE)
Russell H. Fazio proposed an alternative theory called "Motivation and Opportunity as Determinants" or MODE. Fazio believes that because there is deliberative process happening, individuals must be motivated to reflect on their attitudes and subsequent behaviors. Simply put, when an attitude is automatically activated, the individual must be motivated to avoid making an invalid judgement as well as have the opportunity to reflect on their attitude and behavior.
A counter-argument against the high relationship between behavioral intention and actual behavior has also been proposed, as the results of some studies show that, because of circumstantial limitations, behavioral intention does not always lead to actual behavior. Namely, since behavioral intention cannot be the exclusive determinant of behavior where an individual's control over the behavior is incomplete, Ajzen introduced the theory of planned behavior by adding a new component, "perceived behavioral control." By this, he extended the theory of reasoned action to cover non-volitional behaviors for predicting behavioral intention and actual behavior.
In 1928 Louis Leon Thurstone published an article titled "Attitudes Can Be Measured" in it he proposed an elaborate procedure to assess people's views on social issues. Attitudes can be difficult to measure because measurement is arbitrary, because attitudes are ultimately a hypothetical construct that cannot be observed directly.
But many measurements and evidence proofed scales are used to examine attitudes. A Likert scale taps agreement or disagreement with a series of belief statements. The Guttman scale focuses on items that vary in their degree of psychological difficulty. The semantic differential uses bipolar adjectives to measure the meaning associated with attitude objects. Supplementing these are several indirect techniques such as unobtrusive, standard physiological, and neuroscientific measures. Following the explicit-implicit dichotomy, attitudes can be examined through direct and indirect measures.
Whether attitudes are explicit (i.e., deliberately formed) versus implicit (i.e., subconscious) has been a topic of considerable research. Research on implicit attitudes, which are generally unacknowledged or outside of awareness, uses sophisticated methods involving people's response times to stimuli to show that implicit attitudes exist (perhaps in tandem with explicit attitudes of the same object). Implicit and explicit attitudes seem to affect people's behavior, though in different ways. They tend not to be strongly associated with each other, although in some cases they are. The relationship between them is poorly understood.
Explicit measures tend to rely on self-reports or easily observed behaviors. These tend to involve bipolar scales (e.g., good-bad, favorable-unfavorable, support-oppose, etc.). Explicit measures can also be used by measuring the straightforward attribution of characteristics to nominate groups. Explicit attitudes that develop in response to recent information, automatic evaluation were thought to reflect mental associations through early socialisation experiences. Once formed, these associations are highly robust and resistant to change, as well as stable across both context and time. Hence the impact of contextual influences was assumed to be obfuscate assessment of a person's "true" and enduring evaluative disposition as well as limit the capacity to predict subsequent behavior. Likert scales and other self-reports are also commonly used.
Implicit measures are not consciously directed and are assumed to be automatic, which may make implicit measures more valid and reliable than explicit measures (such as self-reports). For example, people can be motivated such that they find it socially desirable to appear to have certain attitudes. An example of this is that people can hold implicit prejudicial attitudes, but express explicit attitudes that report little prejudice. Implicit measures help account for these situations and look at attitudes that a person may not be aware of or want to show. Implicit measures therefore usually rely on an indirect measure of attitude. For example, the Implicit Association Test (IAT) examines the strength between the target concept and an attribute element by considering the latency in which a person can examine two response keys when each has two meanings. With little time to carefully examine what the participant is doing they respond according to internal keys. This priming can show attitudes the person has about a particular object. People are often unwilling to provide responses perceived as socially undesirable and therefore tend to report what they think their attitudes should be rather than what they know them to be. More complicated still, people may not even be consciously aware that they hold biased attitudes. Over the past few decades, scientists have developed new measures to identify these unconscious biases.
- Attitude polarization
- Cognitive dissonance
- Elaboration likelihood model
- Expectancy-value theory
- Ludwig Lange
- Propositional attitude
- Sergei Rubinstein
- Teenage rebellion
- Theory of reasoned action
- Theory of planned behaviour
- Alexei Ukhtomsky
- Dimitri Uznadze
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