Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Attitudes and Behavior

The many definitions of attitude that have been offered through the year have referred to both physical and mental states. As a working definition, we can consider attitudes to be responses that locate objects of thought on some particular dimension of judgment. The attitudes of a large group of people are referred to collectively as public opinion.

Most attitudes have three components: a cognitive or belief aspect, an affective or feeling aspect, and a behavioral or conative component. Different questions and measures may emphasize different aspect of an attitude. Two major measurement technique are the Likert method and the semantic differential techniques. Among the numerous other measures that have been developed, some are rather indirect indexes of attitudes.

Attitudes are formed in a variety of ways. Direct experience with the attitude object itself is a common means of developing an attitude, and learning theory principles can help to explain the acquisition process. Attitudes are also influenced by the opinions and behaviors of parents and peer and by the communication media. The media's influenced can be explained by social learning theory.

Attitude structure refers to the makeup of attitudes. Attitudes vary, for example, in their complexity. Value pluralism suggests that attitudinal complexity is a result of the amount of conflict between competing values that are relevant to a particular issue. Attitudes are related not only to basic values but to other attitudes as well. They also affect the ways in which other information is selected and retained in memory, so that it often supports existent attitudes.

A major issue is the relationship between assessed attitudes and observed behaviors. Some early investigators found little relationship between the two, but more recent work has substantially advanced our understanding of when and how such relationships will be found. The theory of reasoned action bases predictions of behavioral intentions, and in turn behavior, on two factors: one's attitude toward the behavior and subjective norms in regard to that behavior.

An understanding of the relationships between attitude and behavior entails in understanding of the processes involved. Advances in social cognition have helped to develop such understanding. The accessibility of an attitude is a major determinant of its ability to predict behavior, and conditions that make attitudes accessible are being specified.

Deaux, Kay. 1984. Social Psychology. Cole Publishing Company

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