Attitude: its relation with thoughts and behavior

Attitude: its relation with thoughts and behavior

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”.

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.

Attitude behavior consistency

Attitude-behavior consistency is when a person’s attitude is consistent with their behavior. This is not true in many cases. The fact that people often express attitudes that are inconsistent with how they act may surprise those unfamiliar with social and behavioral science, but it is an important fact to understand because facts are often reported as if they are about people’s actions when they may only be known to be true about their words. It is often much easier to conduct interviews or surveys than to obtain records of how people behave in situations. Sometimes attitudes, such as voting, are measurably consistent with behavior. In such cases it may be possible to obtain accurate estimates of behavior. However, there is no general method for correcting for attitude-behavior inconsistency.

Personality and Attitude Effects

Our personality is defined as a set of traits that can explain or predict a person’s behavior in a variety of situations. In other words, personality is a set of characteristics that reflect the way we think and act in a given situation. Because of this, our personality has a lot to do with how we relate to one another at work. How we think, what we feel, and our normal behavior characterize what our colleagues come to expect of us both in behavior and the expectation of their interactions with us. For example, let’s suppose at work you are known for being on time but suddenly start showing up late daily. This directly conflicts with your personality—that is, the fact that you are conscientious. As a result, coworkers might start to believe something is wrong. On the other hand, if you did not have this characteristic, it might not be as surprising or noteworthy. Likewise, if your normally even-tempered supervisor yells at you for something minor, you may believe there is something more to his or her anger since this isn’t a normal personality trait and also may have a more difficult time handling the situation since you didn’t expect it. When we come to expect someone to act a certain way, we learn to interact with them based on their personality. This goes both ways, and people learn to interact with us based on our personality. When we behave different than our normal personality traits, people may take time to adjust to the situation.

Our attitudes are favorable or unfavorable opinions toward people, things, or situations. Many things affect our attitudes, including the environment we were brought up in and our individual experiences. Our personalities and values play a large role in our attitudes as well. For example, many people may have attitudes toward politics that are similar to their parents, but their attitudes may change as they gain more experiences. If someone has a bad experience around the ocean, they may develop a negative attitude around beach activities. However, assume that person has a memorable experience seeing sea lions at the beach, for example, then he or she may change their opinion about the ocean. Likewise, someone may have loved the ocean, but if they have a scary experience, such as nearly drowning, they may change their attitude.

The important thing to remember about attitudes is that they can change over time, but usually some sort of positive experience needs to occur for our attitudes to change dramatically for the better. We also have control of our attitude in our thoughts. If we constantly stream negative thoughts, it is likely we may become a negative person.  In a workplace environment, you can see where attitude is important. Someone’s personality may be cheerful and upbeat. These are the prized employees because they help bring positive perspective to the workplace. Likewise, someone with a negative attitude is usually someone that most people prefer not to work with. The problem with a negative attitude is that it has a devastating effect on everyone else. Have you ever felt really happy after a great day and when you got home, your roommate was in a terrible mood because of her bad day? In this situation, you can almost feel yourself deflating! This is why having a positive attitude is a key component to having good human relations at work and in our personal lives.

 

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