Content and Structure of Attitude

What is Attitude?

  • An attitude is an expression and psychological tendency of some degree of favor or disfavor toward a person, place, thing, or event (the attitude object).
  • An attitude is an evaluation of an attitude object, ranging from extremely negative to extremely positive. Most contemporary perspectives on attitudes also 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 individual can hold multiple attitudes toward the same object.
  • An attitude can be as a positive or negative evaluation of people, objects, events, activities, and ideas. It could be concrete, abstract or just about anything in your environment.
  • Attitude is the evaluation of various aspects of the world. It can be evaluation of an idea, object, action (eg: playing cricket or watching football match etc) or about a person (eg: towards Mahendra Singh Dhoni or Sachin Tendulkar). The attitude may be strong (eg: attitude towards drinking behaviour – people usually have strong opinion for or against drinking) or weak.
  • Attitudes are an important topic of study for social psychologists because they help determine what we do – what we eat, how we vote, what we do with our free time, and so on.

What Is the Difference Between Prejudice, Stereotyping, and Discrimination?

  • Prejudice (attitudes), stereotypes (beliefs), and discrimination (actions) are three separate facets of some of our more troubling social behaviors toward one another.
  • Prejudice literally means “prejudgment.”  Prejudice is an attitude about another person based on his or her perceived membership in a group. So people use the perceived group membership of another person to provide a ready-made attitude about the person. Attitudes can be positive or negative. A positive attitude toward a brand of milk might lead to purchasing that brand on a regular basis. A negative attitude about snakes might lead to avoidance of snake displays at a zoo. Negative prejudice, or attitudes about members of perceived groups have negative connotations and lead to avoidance.
  • Where prejudice involves attitudes, stereotypes are cognitions or beliefs. When making a stereotype, a person categorizes others in ways that are overly simplistic based on perceived group membership. For example, the stereotype that professors are absent-minded might be true of some, but is highly unlikely to be true of all professors.
  • Discrimination is behavior based on stereotypes and prejudices. If a person has negative beliefs and attitudes about a perceived group, he or she might act on those beliefs and attitudes in situations such as hiring a new employee. The actions of making hiring based on prejudice and stereotyping are discriminatory. Although laws cannot influence people’s attitudes and beliefs very much, laws can and do help prevent people acting on those attitudes and beliefs in discriminatory ways.

Measurement of Attitude:

  • Attitudes can be difficult to measure because measurement is arbitrary, meaning people have to give attitudes a scale to measure it against, and attitudes are ultimately a hypothetical construct that cannot be observed directly.
  • But still, 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.

(a) Explicit Attitude and Its Measurement:

  • Explicit attitudes are attitudes that are at the conscious level, are deliberately formed and are easy to self-report. For example: Imagine you’re out with some friends and meet someone new. This new acquaintance is wearing a Chennai Superkings jersey, and they happen to be your favorite team. You decide you already like this person and start a friendly conversation. From an attitude perspective, you consciously noticed the jersey and determined that this was obviously someone with which you would get along. Your attitude is at the conscious level, was deliberately formed and you are able to tell someone else about your attitude.
  • 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.)

(b) Implicit Attitude and Its Measurement:

  • Implicit attitudes are attitudes that are at the unconscious level, are involuntarily formed and are typically unknown to us. For Example: Imagine you are out with your friends. You vaguely notice some of the strangers around you but don’t meet anyone. You talk with your friends but feel extremely uncomfortable. Maybe your friend even notices and asks what’s wrong, but you have no idea. In this scenario, it would be possible that one of the strangers near you reminds you of someone from your past that you greatly disliked. Your attitude towards this person is what is making you feel uncomfortable. However, the attitude is at the unconscious level, was involuntarily formed, and you have no idea it’s there, so you couldn’t tell anyone about it.
  • 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 in which you can do manipulation in self reporting). 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.
  • The stronger an implicit attitude the more likely it is that it will show up in an explicit attitude. Strong attitudes are stable and not easily changed due to persuasion and can therefore help predict behaviors.
  • Implicit measures therefore usually rely on an indirect measure of attitude.

Structure of Attitude:

  • Attitude has three components as illustrated by the ABC Model: affective, behavioral and cognitive. Three components:
  1. Affective / Emotional component (How do you feel about it?)
  2. Cognitive component  (What do you think about it?)
  3. Behavioral component (Are you walking the walk or just talking the talk?)
  • Although every attitude has these three components, any particular attitude can be based on one component more than another.
  • 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.

ABC Components of Attitude:

(a) Affective component:

  • The affective component of attributes refer to your feelings or emotions linked to an attitude object. For Example: Suppose Abhishek has ophidiophobia (a phobia of snakes). A snake is an attitude object. Whenever Abhishek is exposed to a snake – whether he sees one or thinks about one – he feels extreme anxiety and fear. This is only one component of this specific attitude.
  • An attitude that is stemmed from or originally created by an emotion is called an affectively-based attitude. Attitudes about hot-button issues – such as politics, sex, and religion – tend to be affectively-based, as they usually come from a person’s values. This type of attitude is used to express and validate our moral belief or value systems.

(b) Behavioral component:

  • Behavioral component refers to the way one tends to act or behave when exposed to an attitude object. For Example: Think about Abhishek and his snake phobia again. We already identified the affective component of his attitude towards snakes – fear and anxiety. How do you think he behaves when it comes to snakes? Most likely, he avoids them whenever possible. If he does see one, he would probably scream or cries. This behavior is the second component of that particular attitude.
  • The behavioral component of attitudes also refer to past behaviors or experiences regarding an attitude object. For Example: Think about the question: where does an attitude come from? Sometimes, we are unsure of our feelings about a particular topic. Imagine a friend asks if you like Pizza. Since you don’t regularly eat Pizza and can’t immediately recall what it tastes like, you think back about the times that you have eaten it. You remember that you normally eat all of the Pizza you are given, so conclude that you must like it (or at least, that you don’t dislike it). Because your attitude is determined by observing your own behavior, this is an example of behaviorally-based attitude.

(c) 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.
  • For Example: We have already determined that Abhishek avoids snakes and is scared when he is exposed to them. But, what does he think about snake? It is likely he believes that all snakes are dangerous and gross. Beyond the physical and emotional reaction of his phobia, there is also the cognitive component of his attitude.

Understanding ‘Components of Attitude” with another example in summarised form:

  1. Cognitive – our thoughts, beliefs, and ideas about something. When a human being is the object of an attitude, the cognitive component is frequently a stereotype, e.g. “welfare recipients are lazy”
  2. Affective – feelings or emotions that something evokes. e.g. fear, sympathy, hate. May dislike welfare recipients.
  3. Behavioral – tendency or disposition to act in certain ways toward something. Might want to keep welfare recipients out of our neighborhood. Emphasis is on the tendency to act, not the actual acting; what we intend and what we do may be quite different.

Formation of Attitude:

  • Attitudes form directly as a result of experience and learning. They may emerge due to direct personal experience, or they may result from observation.
  • Social roles and social norms can have a strong influence on attitudes. Social roles relate to how people are expected to behave in a particular role or context. Social norms involve society’s rules for what behaviors are considered appropriate.
  • Attitudes can be learned in a variety of ways:

Classical Conditioning or Respondent Conditioning or Pavlovian Conditioning:

  • Classical conditioning theory involves learning a new behavior via the process of association. Classical conditioning helps forming an attitude when a neutral stimulus is paired with a stimulus that naturally evokes an emotional response (Learning through association).
  • Example: You are driving down a dark and curvy road when you narrowly miss a collision with a large truck that has edged over into your lane. You experience a rapid pulse, sweating palms, and your stomach begins to churn. After this near miss, you continue driving down the road. A few days later, as you approach the same curve, you begin to experience the same reactions (your heart beats faster, your palms begin to sweat) but there are no other vehicles around.
  • Classical conditioning was made famous by Pavlov and his experiments conducted with dogs: Bell was rung when dogs received food. Food made dogs salivate. Then whenever a bell was rung, dogs salivated even when food was not present. 
  • Consider how advertisers use classical conditioning to influence your attitude toward a particular product. In a television commercial, you see young, beautiful people having fun in on a tropical beach while enjoying a sport drink. This attractive and appealing imagery causes you to develop a positive association with this particular beverage.

  Operant Conditioning or Instrumental Learning:

  • Operant conditioning is a method of learning that occurs through reinforcements and punishments for behavior. Behaviors or attitudes that are followed by positive consequences are reinforced and are more likely to be repeated than are behaviors and attitudes that are followed by negative consequences.
  • Operant conditioning can be used to influence how attitudes develop. Imagine a young man who has just started smoking. Whenever he lights up a cigarette, people complain, chastise him and ask him to leave their vicinity. This negative feedback from those around him eventually causes him to develop an unfavorable opinion of smoking and he decides to give up the habit.
  • Operant conditioning is distinguished from classical conditioning in that operant conditioning deals with the reinforcement and punishment to change behavior. Operant behavior operates on the environment and is maintained by its antecedents and consequences, while classical conditioning is maintained by conditioning of reflexive behaviors, which are elicited by antecedent conditions.

Observational learning (Observing the people around):

  • People also learn attitudes by observing the people around them. When someone you admire greatly espouses a particular attitude, you are more likely to develop the same beliefs. For example, children spend a great deal of time observing the attitudes of their parents and usually begin to demonstrate similar outlooks.


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