Attitude:Content, structure


Should abortion be illegal? Should we cancel third world debt? How quickly should we reduce carbon emissions? Should there ever be a death penalty for any crime? Are you liberal or conservative? A soccer fan? A music lover? An optimist? The answers to all these questions depend upon psychological characteristics that define who we are: our attitudes. An attitude is a set of beliefs that we hold in relation to an attitude object, where an attitude object is a person, thing, event or issue. Attitudes can be positive or negative, or we can simply have opinions about issues without any strong emotional commitment. In this chapter we introduce what social psychologists have learned about attitudes: how they are formed, why we hold them, what implications they have for our behavior, and how they change.

Allport defined an attitude as a mental or neural state of readiness, organized through experience, exerting a directive or dynamic influence on the individual’s response to all objects and situations to which it is related. A simpler definition of attitude is a mindset or a tendency to act in a particular way due to both an individual’s experience and temperament. Typically, when we refer to a person’s attitudes, we are trying to explain his or her behavior. Attitudes are a complex combination of things we tend to call personality, beliefs, values, behaviors, and motivations. As an example, we understand when someone says, “She has a positive attitude toward work” versus “She has a poor work attitude.” When we speak of someone’s attitude, we are referring to the person’s emotions and behaviors. A person’s attitude toward preventive medicine encompasses his or her point of view about the topic (e.g., thought); how he or she feels about this topic (e.g., emotion), as well as the actions (e.g., behaviors) he or she engages in as a result of attitude to preventing health problems. This is the tri-component model of attitudes. An attitude includes three components: an affect (a feeling), cognition (a thought or belief), and behavior (an action).

Attitudes help us define how we see situations, as well as define how we behave toward the situation or object. As illustrated in the tricomponent model, attitudes include feelings, thoughts, and actions. Attitudes may simply be an enduring evaluation of a person or object (e.g., “I like John best of my coworkers”), or other emotional reactions to objects and to people (e.g., “I dislike bossy people” or “Jane makes me angry”). Attitudes also provide us with internal cognitions or beliefs and thoughts about people and objects (e.g., “Jane should work harder” or “Sam does not like working in this department”). Attitudes cause us to behave in a particular way toward an object or person (e.g., “I write clearly in patients’ charts because it upsets me when I can’t read someone else’s handwriting”). Although the feeling and belief components of attitudes are internal to a person, we can view a person’s attitude from his or her resulting behavior.

Structure of attitude

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 models

Multicomponent model is the most influential model of attitude. Where attitudes are evaluations of an object that have cognitive, affective, and behavioural components. These components are also known as taxi CAB, that will get you where you want to go.

Cognitive component: The cognitive component of attitudes refer 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.

Affective component: The affective component of attitudes refer 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.

Behavioural component: The behavioural component of attitudes refer to past behaviours or experiences regarding an attitude object. The idea that people might infer their attitudes from their previous actions. This idea was best articulated by Bem.

MODE model

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.

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