The Three Components of Attitudes
- Attitudes are primarily evaluations of attitude objects along a negative or positive dimension, and they include three elements: affect (emotion), cognition (thoughts and knowledge), and action tendencies (behavior).
- Attitudes can be measured with self-report Likert scales, and their strength or importance assessed with response latencies that capture attitude -accessibility (how readily the attitude can become active in an individual’s mind). Attitude linkage measures gauge attitude centrality (how closely an attitude is correlated to attitudes about other issues), and implicit measures tap into attitudes that people are unaware they have or may be unwilling to report.
Predicting Behavior from Attitudes
- It can be surprisingly difficult at times to predict behavior from attitudes, because attitudes are sometimes ambiguous or inconsistent; attitudes sometimes conflict with other powerful determinants of behavior; attitudes are sometimes based on secondhand information about the object; attitudes and the attitude targets we actually confront may be at different levels of generality; and some of our behavior is automatic.
Predicting Attitudes from Behavior
- Behavior can have substantial effects on attitudes. Most of the research showing such effects grew out of cognitive consistency theories, which stress how much people value consistency among their various attitudes and between their attitudes and behavior.
- Balance theory specifies that people desire balance among their beliefs and sentiments and thus prefer to hold attitudes that make sense with their other attitudes and to behave in ways that align with their attitudes.
- Cognitive dissonance theory is based on the idea that people experience dissonance, or discomfort, when attitudes and behavior are inconsistent. People often try to reduce the dissonance they are feeling by bringing their attitudes in line with their behavior.
- After making a choice between two objects or courses of action, people engage in dissonance reduction by finding new attractions in the chosen alternative and previously undetected flaws in the unchosen alternative.
- People engage in effort justification when they exert effort toward some goal and the goal turns out to be disappointing. They justify their expenditure of energy by deciding that the goal is truly worthwhile.
- People attempt to reduce dissonance in induced-compliance situations. For example, when induced by another person to argue for a position at variance with their true attitudes, people who are poorly compensated for doing so feel that they must justify their behavior and typically do so by changing their attitudes to align better with their behavior.
- Inconsistency between attitudes and behavior should produce dissonance only when there is free choice (or the illusion of it) to engage in the behavior, there is insufficient justification for the behavior, the behavior has negative consequences, and the consequences were foreseeable.
- We can offset or reduce the negative effects of psychological inconsistency, and of threats to self-identity and self-esteem more generally, by engaging in self-affirmation—that is, by affirming other important elements of our identity, such as our important values.
- Dissonance is apparently universal, but there are cultural differences in the conditions that prompt people to experience it. For example, the Japanese tend to experience post-decision dissonance only when asked to think about what another person would choose.
- Self-perception theory is based on the premise that people change their attitudes to align with their behavior because they observe their behavior and the circumstances in which it occurs, and then they infer, just as an observer might, what their attitudes must be.
- Whereas self-perception may play a role in generating the effects in some dissonance experiments, evidence indicates that there is often a motivational component as well. Self-perception appears to account for attitude change when attitudes are weak or unclear to begin with, and more motivated dissonance reduction is invoked when attitudes are more strongly held.
- Bodily sensations are often incorporated into our judgments about an object or our appraisal of a situation. For example, we believe communications more when we read them while pulling on something than while pushing on something.
Beyond Cognitive Consistency to Broader Rationalization
- According to system justification theory, people are motivated to justify the broader political and social systems of which they are a part. One way they do so is through stereotypes that play up the advantages of belonging to relatively disadvantaged groups, such as the belief that the poor are happier than the rich.
- The knowledge that we are all destined to die can elicit paralyzing anxiety. Terror management theory maintains that people often cope with this anxiety by striving for symbolic immortality through their offspring and through their identification with institutions and cultural worldviews that live on after their own death.