(GS PAPER- 4) Functions of Attitude

Functions of Attitude

  • Attitudes serve four major functions for the individual: (By Daniel Katz)
  1. The adjustments / utilitarian / adaptive (or instrumental) function
  2. The ego defensive function
  3. The value expressive (or ego-expressive) function
  4. The knowledge function.
  • Any particular attitude may satisfy one or more of these functions. The most important function of any attitude can only be ascertained by considering it in relation to the person who holds it and the environment in which they operate. Consequently, what is apparently the same attitude may serve rather different purposes depending on who holds it and where/when it becomes salient to them.
  • Ultimately these functions serve people’s need to protect and enhance the image they hold of themselves. In more general terms, these functions are the motivational bases which shape and reinforce positive attitudes toward goal objects perceived as need satisfying and / or negative attitudes toward other objects perceived as punishing or threatening.
  • The functions themselves can help us to understand why people hold the attitudes.

1. Adjustment Function

  • The adjustment function directs people toward pleasurable or rewarding objects and away from unpleasant, undesirable ones. It serves the utilitarian concept of maximizing reward and minimizing punishment. We develop favorable attitudes towards things that aid or reward us.
  • We favor political parties that will advance our economic lot – if we are in business, we favor the party that will keep our taxes low, if unemployed we favor one that will increase social welfare benefits.
  • We are more likely to change our attitudes if doing so allows us to fulfill our goals or avoid undesirable consequences.

2. Ego Defensive Function

  • The ego-defensive function refers to holding attitudes that protect our self-esteem or that justify actions that make us feel guilty.
  • This function involves psychoanalytic principles where people use defense mechanisms to protect themselves from psychological harm. Mechanisms include:
    • Denial
    • Repression
    • Projection
    • Rationalization
  • For example a consumer who has made a poor purchase decision or a poor investment may staunchly defend the decision as being correct at the time or as being the result of poor advice from another person. Such ego defensive attitude helps us to protect out self image and often we are unaware of them.

3. Value expression function:

  • Whereas ego defensive attitudes are formed to protect a person’s self image, value expressive attitudes enable the expression of the person’s centrally held values. Central values tend to establish our identity and gain us social approval thereby showing us who we are, and what we stand for.
  • Some attitudes are important to a person because they express values that are integral to that person’s self concept (i.e. their ideas about who they are).
  • EX: if you view yourself as a Muslim, you can reinforce that image by adopting Islamic beliefs and values.
  • EX: We may have a self-image of ourselves as an enlightened conservative or a militant radical, and we therefore cultivate attitudes that we believe indicate such a core value.

4. Knowledge function:

  • Some attitudes are useful because they help to make the world more understandable. They help people ascribe causes to events and direct attention towards features of people or situations that are likely to be useful in making sense of them. Consequently, they help to make the world more understandable, predictable and ‘knowable’.
  • Humans have a need for a structured and orderly world, and therefore they seek consistency stability definition and understanding. Out of this need develops attitudes toward acquiring knowledge.
  • Attitudes achieve these goals 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 Abhishek.
    • So I believe Abhishek must not be a good person.
  • Stereotyping is an example of the knowledge function of attitudes. Stereotypes are mental structures that allow us to predict the characteristics a person based on the group they belong to. Using stereotypes to make sense of people is quick and requires minimal mental effort – both significant advantages in a complicated and fast-moving world.
  • One of the more common stereotype examples is stereotypes surrounding race. For example, saying that all Blacks are good at sports is a stereotype, because it’s grouping the race together to indicate that everyone of that race is a good athlete.
  • Of course, the down side of this type of thinking is that the inferences we make about people based on stereotypes may be unhelpful and wildly inaccurate. Possible prejudicial effects of stereotypes are:
    • Justification of ill-founded prejudices or ignorance
    • Unwillingness to rethink one’s attitudes and behavior towards stereotyped groups
    • Preventing some people of stereotyped groups from entering or succeeding in activities or fields


  • Katz’s functionalist theory also offers an explanation as to why attitudes change. According to Katz, an attitude changes when it no longer serves its function and the individual feels blocked or frustrated. That is, according to Katz, attitude change is achieved not so much by changing a person’s information or perception about an object, but rather by changing the person’s underlying motivational and personality needs.
  • EX: As your social status increases, your attitudes toward your old car may change – you need something that better reflects your new status. (For that matter, your attitudes toward your old friends may change as well).

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