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Attitudes and Behavior

by email icon published, updated 2014

An attitude is "a relatively enduring organization of beliefs, feelings, and behavioral tendencies towards socially significant objects, groups, events or symbols" (Hogg, & Vaughan 2005, p. 150)

"..a psychological tendency that is expressed by evaluating a particular entity with some degree of favor or disfavor" (Eagly, & Chaiken, 1993, p. 1)

Structure of Attitudes

Attitudes structure can be described in terms of three components.

  • Affective component: this involves a person’s feelings / emotions about the attitude object. For example: “I am scared of spiders”.
  • Behavioral (or conative) component: the way the attitude we have influences how we act or behave. For example: “I will avoid spiders and scream if I see one”.
  • Cognitive component: this involves a person’s belief / knowledge about an attitude object. For example: “I believe spiders are dangerous”.

This model is known as the ABC model of attitudes.

One of the underlying assumptions about the link between attitudes and behavior is that of consistency. This means that we often or usually expect the behavior of a person to be consistent with the attitudes that they hold. This is called the principle of consistency.

The principle of consistency reflects the idea that people are rational and attempt to behave rationally at all times and that a person’s behavior should be consistent with their attitude(s). Whilst this principle may be a sound one, it is clear that people do not always follow it, sometimes behaving in seemingly quite illogical ways; for example, smoking cigarettes and knowing that smoking causes lung cancer and heart disease.

There is evidence that the cognitive and affective components of behavior do not always match with behavior. This is shown in a study by LaPiere (1934).

Key Study: LaPiere (1934)

Aim

To investigate the relationship between attitudes and behavior.

Method

LaPiere travelled round America with a Chinese couple, expecting to meet discrimination as a result of anti Chinese feeling. At the time prejudice against Asians was widespread and there were no laws against racial discrimination. They visited 67 hotels and 184 restaurants. Six months later, after their return, all the establishments they had visited were sent a letter, asking whether they would accept Chinese guests.

Results

They were only refused at one of the establishments they visited, and were generally treated very politely. Of the 128 establishments which responded to the letter, 91% said they were not willing to accept Chinese guests.

Conclusion

Attitudes do not always predict behavior. Cognitive and affective components of attitudes are not necessarily expressed in behavior.

The LaPiere's study shows that the cognitive and affective components of attitudes (e.g. disliking Chinese people) do not necessarily coincide with behavior (e.g. serving them).

Attitude Strength

The strength with which an attitude is helattitudeen a good predictor of behavior. The stronger the attitude the more likely it should affect behavior. Attitude strength involves:

Importance / personal relevance refers to how significant the attitude is for the person and relatesattitude-interest, social identification and value. If an attitude has high self-interest for a person (i.e. it is held by a group the person is a member of or would like to be a member of, and is related to a person's values), it is going to be extremely important.

As a consequence, the attitude will have a veryattitudeinfluence upon a person's behavior. By contrast, an attitude will not be important to a person if it does not relate in some way to their life.

The knowledge aspect of attitude