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I. The Nature of AttitudesMilton Rokeach


II. Attitude ChangeM. Brewster Smith


General considerations of attitude structures, their development, and their measurement are discussed under this heading. For discussion of similar concepts see General will; Ideology; norms; Public opinion; Values. Attitudinal development is described in Adolescence; Aging; Developmental psychology; Infancy; Learning theory; Moral development; Personality; Socialization. Specific configurations of attitudes are discussed in Bodyimage; Conformity; Consensus; International relations, article on Psychological aspects; Personality, Political; Prejudice; Self concept; Stereotypes; Systems analysis, article onpsychological systems. Methods of inducing attitude change are described in Brainwashing; Communication, mass; Communication, political; Education, article oneducation and society; Groups, articles Ongroup formationandgroup behavior; Hypnosis; Persuasion; Propaganda; Suggestion. Methods of assessing attitudes are discussed in Interviewing, article onsocial research; Survey analysis. Major theoretical positions are described in Cognitive theory; Field theory; Gestalt theory. Also relevant are the biographies of Allport; Hovland; Mcdougall; Stouffer; Thurstone.


The concept of attitude is not only indispensable to social psychology, as Allport has pointed out in his classic article (1935), but also to the psychology of personality. The purpose of this article is to consider its relevance for the two fields by describing the structure and function of attitudes within the total personality and the various ways in which attitudes may lead to or determine social behavior.

Allport traces three points of origin of the modern concept of attitude: (1) the experimental psychology of the late nineteenth century, which, in its laboratory investigations of reaction time, perception, memory, judgment, thought and volition, employed such conceptual precursors to attitude as muscular set, task-attitude, Aufgabe, mental and motor attitudes, Einstellung, and determining tendencies; (2) psychoanalysis, which emphasized the dynamic and unconscious bases of attitudes; and (3) sociology, wherein attitudes came to be recognized as the psychological representations of societal and cultural influence. The sociological study of the Polish peasant by Thomas and Znaniecki (1918) is generally credited with being the first to propose that the study of social attitudes is the central task of social psychology, and it was the first to give systematic priority to this concept.

But it was not until the decade of the 1940s, which began with the publication of Erich Fromm’s Escape From Freedom (1941) and ended with The Authoritarian Personality (Adorno et al. 1950), that the relevance of social attitudes for personality theory became widely recognized.

Despite the central position of attitudes in social psychology and personality, the concept has been plagued with a good deal of ambiguity. As the student pores over and ponders the many definitions of attitude to be found in the literature, he finds it difficult to grasp in precisely what ways they are conceptually similar to, or different from, one another. Even more important, it is difficult to assess what difference these variations in conceptual definitions make. Most of the definitions of attitude seem to be more or less interchangeable insofar as attitude measurement and hypothesis testing are concerned.

Two critics have gone so far as to suggest that the attitude concept be discarded. Doob (1947) argues that while attitude is a socially useful concept, it has no systematic status as a scientific construct and therefore should be replaced with such learning theory constructs as afferent-habit strength, efferent-habit strength, drive, anticipatory and mediating responses, etc. Blumer (1955), writing from a sociological standpoint, recommends abandoning the concept because it is ambiguous, thereby blocking the development of a body of sound social-psychological theory; it is difficult to ascertain what data to include as part of an attitude and what to exclude; and it lacks an empirical reference and hence cannot be used effectively as a unit of analysis either in personality organization or in the study of social action.

Such views are, however, in the minority; and it is safe to predict that the concept of attitude will, despite its ambiguity, remain with us for many years to come. This writer is of the opinion that the confused status of the concept can best be corrected not by abandoning it but by subjecting it to continued critical analysis with the aim of giving it a more precise conceptual and operational meaning.

Definition of attitude

What exactly is an attitude? A favorite way to proceed is to present first several definitions of attitude found in the literature and then after commenting on their common elements present one’s own with the hope that it is a distillation of the essence of these other definitions. Rather than burdening the reader with such an approach, this writer will start out with his own definition and, in elaborating upon it, comment on the ways in which it is similar and dissimilar to other conceptions of the nature of attitudes. An attitude is a relatively enduring organization of beliefs around an object or situation predisposing one to respond in some preferential manner.

Relatively enduring. Some predispositions are momentary ones, in which case they are not called attitudes. While such concepts as set, or Einstel-lung, are typically employed in referring to a momentary predisposition, the concept of attitude is typically reserved for more enduring, persistent organizations of predispositions. It is not possible to pin down more precisely the difference between temporary and enduring predispositions except to say that a minimum requirement might be testretest consistency or reliability of measurement. One rarely asks about the reliability of an experimentally induced set, but one always asks about the reliability of an attitude questionnaire. “Attitudes are particularly enduring sets formed by past experiences” (Asch 1952, p. 585).

While there may well be a possible hereditary basis for attitudes, as Allport (1950) suggests, all writers are agreed that attitudes are acquired through the principles of learning, whatever these are or may turn out to be. Along with Sherif and Cantril (1945-1946), and Chein (1948), the issue of what attitudes are is seen here to be altogether independent of how they are learned.

An organization of beliefs. Virtually all theorists agree that an attitude is not a basic, irreducible element within the personality but represents a cluster or syndrome of two or more interrelated elements. In the above definition, the elements are beliefs (or cognitions, or expectancies, or hypotheses).

Definition of belief. A belief is any simple proposition, conscious or unconscious, inferred from what a person says or does, capable of being preceded by the phrase “I believe that….” The content of a belief may describe an object or situation as true or false; evaluate it as good or bad; or advocate a certain course of action as desirable or undesirable. Whether or not the content of a belief is to describe, evaluate, or advocate action, or to do all three, all beliefs are predispositions to action; and an attitude is thus a set of interrelated predispositions to action organized around an object or situation.

Each belief within an attitude organization is conceived to have three components:

(1) A cognitive component, because it represents a person’s knowledge, held with varying degrees of certitude, about what is true or false, good or bad, desirable or undesirable.

(2) An affective component, because under suitable conditions the belief is capable of arousing affect of varying intensity centering (a) around the object of the belief, or (b) around other objects (individuals or groups) taking a positive or negative position with respect to the object of belief, or (c) around the belief itself, when its validity is seriously questioned, as in an argument.

(3) A behavioral component, because the belief, being a response predisposition of varying threshold, must lead to some action when it is suitably activated. The kind of action it leads to is dictated strictly by the content of the belief. Thus, even a belief that merely describes is a predisposition to action under appropriate conditions. Consider, for example, my belief that Columbus discovered America in 1492. The behavioral component of this predisposition may remain unactivated until the day I leaf through two history books to decide which one to buy for my young son. One gives the date as 1492 and the other as 1482. My belief will predispose me, other things being equal, to choose the one giving the 1492 date. I am pro the 1492 book, and con the 1482 book.

Harding et al. (1954) have pointed out that the relationship between these three components is so close that it makes little difference which ones are used to rank individuals with respect to their attitudes toward specific ethnic groups. In experimental research, one component of a belief is difficult, if not impossible, to isolate and to manipulate independently of a second component. Rosenberg (1960), for example, has tried to alter experimentally the affective component of a belief under hypnosis in order to determine its effect on the cognitive component. Such an approach assumes that the independent variable can be manipulated without manipulating the dependent variable at the same time. It is equally likely, however, that the effect on the dependent variable is not a consequence but a concomitant of the experimental manipulation of the independent variable.

Rosenberg’s research is only one of many carried out in recent years in which such concepts as balance, harmony, symmetry, congruity, and dissonance play an important theoretical role. All such notions share the common assumption that man strives to maintain consistency between the cognitive, affective, and behavioral components within a single belief, between two or more related beliefs, between all the beliefs entering into an attitude organization, and between all the beliefs and attitudes entering into a total system of beliefs.

Beliefs and attitudes. The conception of an attitude as an organization of beliefs is consistent with Krech and Crutchfield’s view that all attitudes incorporate beliefs but not all beliefs are necessarily a part of attitudes. But the definition does not promulgate one widely held distinction between belief and attitude, namely that beliefs have only a cognitive component while attitudes have both cognitive and affective components, a distinction made by Krech and Crutchfield (1948, p. 153).

There are several grounds for objecting to such a conceptual distinction between belief and attitude. First, Osgood, Suci, and Tannenbaum (1957), as well as many others, have shown that virtually any concept is factorially loaded on an evaluative dimension, the dimension that, as Katz and Stotland state, operationally differentiates the concept of attitude from that of belief (1959, p. 428). In this connection, it is interesting to note that the distinction Krech and Crutchfield drew between belief and attitude in 1948 no longer appears in their more recent work (Krech, Crutchfield, & Ballachey 1962); and in discussing the cognitive component of attitudes, they emphasize mainly the “evaluative beliefs.”

Second, any belief considered singly, representing as it does a predisposition to respond in a preferential way with respect to the object of the belief, can thus be said to have an affective, as well as a cognitive, component. This affective component will not become manifest under all conditions (every single time a prejudiced white Southerner sees a Negro) but only when the belief is somehow challenged by the attitude object or by someone else (a Negro asks to be served in a segregated restaurant) or when the preferential action toward which one is predisposed is somehow blocked (a travel agent violates a belief by routing a passenger from New York to Chicago via London). The reason we do not speak of pro or con in the case of many beliefs (e.g., the shape of the earth) is that such beliefs, enjoying universal consensus, do not come up in a controversial way, with everyone preferring the same “pro-round” response. Thus, the affective component of such predispositions is typically not activated. But the affective component must be assumed to be there, and if and when such a belief becomes a matter of controversy, it will become activated. Thus, there was a time centuries ago when most people believed the earth was flat. When this “pro-flat” belief was challenged by the “pro-rounds” the response was undoubtedly far from affectively neutral. Any taken-for-granted belief, however impersonal, has the property of generating affective reactions when its validity is challenged, if for no other reason than that it raises questions about the person’s ability to appraise reality correctly. We care about the correctness of our beliefs; truth is good and falsity is bad.

Third, it is not necessary to assume that the positive or negative affect associated with a belief or attitude is necessarily directed toward the object of the belief or attitude. As already noted, the affect may also be directed toward other objects— individuals or groups who agree with us or oppose us with respect to the object—or it may arise from our efforts to preserve the validity of the belief itself.

On the basis of the preceding considerations, an attitude is defined simply as an organization of interrelated beliefs around a common focus. The attitude has cognitive and affective properties by virtue of the fact that the several beliefs constituting it have cognitive and affective properties that interact and reinforce one another.

The concept of organization. There are a number of structural dimensions frequently employed to describe the organization of several parts within a whole. These dimensions can, with more or less equal ease, be employed to describe the organization of the several beliefs contained within an attitude, of several attitudes within a more inclusive attitude system, or to describe the organization of all of man’s beliefs, attitudes, and values within his total cognitive system.

Differentiation refers to the degree of articulation of the various parts within a whole, and the greater the number of parts the greater the degree of differentiation. A concept used more or less synonymously with differentiation is complexity, or multiplexity. Degree of differentiation is an index of the total amount of correct and incorrect information or knowledge possessed about the focus of the attitude. In a paranoid system, an attitude may be highly differentiated but is not necessarily correct. Smith, Bruner, and White (1956), therefore, distinguish between degree of differentiation, a phenomenological concept, and its objective counterpart, degree of informational support.

Cognitive organization also implies a cognitive integration of whatever parts are differentiated; there is an appreciation of similarities as well as of differences between parts. We speak of isolation or segregation or compartmentalization of parts within a psychological whole whenever two or more parts within a whole are not functionally integrated, or are not seen to be interrelated with one another, or when their contradictory nature is not perceived. Levinson (Adorno et al. 1950), for example, describes the isolated structure of antiSemitic attitudes: the Jew is believed to be seclusive, but also intrusive; the Jew is believed to be a capitalist, but also a communist.

Another organizational variable is centrality. The parts are conceived to be arranged along a central-peripheral dimension wherein the more central parts are conceived as being more salient or important, more resistant to change, and, if changed, as exerting relatively greater effects on other parts.

Organization in terms of time perspective refers to the extent to which the whole or the part is viewed in terms of the historical past, present, or future and the interrelations between past, present, and future. A time perspective may be broad or narrow. An attitude may have a narrow time perspective in the sense that the beliefs constituting it are oriented primarily in terms of either the historical past, or present, or future.

Specificity or generality refers to the extent to which one can predict one belief from a knowledge of another within an attitude organization (e.g., from a belief about desegregating the Negro in education to a belief about desegregating the Negro in housing) or one attitude from another (from attitude toward the Jew to attitude toward the Negro) or nonverbal behavior from the verbal expression of a belief or attitude. It is assumed that the specificity-generality of behavior is a function of the degree of differentiation, integration, and isolation of one belief from another and of one attitude from another.

Breadth or narrowness of an attitude or a system of beliefs refers not to the number of parts within a whole but to category width or to the total range, or spectrum, of relevant social reality that is actually represented within the whole. An attitude toward Russia, for example, may be broad (e.g., covering many facets of Russian life) but relatively poorly differentiated, or it may be narrow (e.g., covering only political freedom in Russia) and at the same time highly differentiated.

Focus on an object or a situation. In the first case, we refer to an attitude object, which may be concrete or abstract (a person, a group, an institution, an issue). In the second case, we have in mind a specific situation (an ongoing event or activity) around which a person organizes a set of interrelated beliefs about how to behave.

Neglect of “attitudes-toward-situations”. Attitude theorists have generally been more interested in the theory and measurement of attitudes toward objects, across situations, than in the theory and measurement of attitudes toward situations, across objects. We have, for example, scales that measure attitude toward the Negro, the church, labor, and socialism. We do not have scales that measure attitudes toward such situations as managing or eating in a restaurant, being a passenger or driver of a bus, buying or selling real estate. As a result, the study of attitudes-toward-situations has become more or less split off from the study of attitudestoward-objects. And to account for the characteristic ways that people behave with respect to specific social situations, altogether new concepts are introduced, personality psychologists typically preferring trait concepts and social psychologists typically preferring role concepts and such additional concepts as group norm, definition of the situation, and social structure.

The splitting off of attitude-toward-situation from attitude-toward-object has, in the writer’s opinion, severely retarded the growth of attitude theory. For one thing, it has resulted in a failure to appreciate that an attitude object is always encountered within some situation, about which we also have an organized attitude. It has resulted in unsophisticated attempts to predict behavior on the basis of a single attitude-toward-object, ignoring the equally relevant attitude-toward-situation. And it has resulted in unjustified interpretations and conclusions, to the effect that there is often an inconsistency between attitudes and behavior, or a lack of dependence of behavior on attitudes.

A more detailed consideration of the relation between attitudes and behavior is reserved for a later section.

Interrelated predispositions to respond. Not all writers are agreed that attitudes are predispositions (or preparations, or states of readiness) to respond. Horowitz (1944) sees an attitude as “a response rather than a set to respond.” Doob (1947), analyzing an attitude from the standpoint of behavior theory, sees it as an implicit response. Most writers, however, seem to agree that an attitude is a predisposition of some sort, although there seems to be some difference of opinion about what kind of predisposition it is: predisposition to respond; predisposition to evaluate; predisposition toward an evaluative response; or predisposition to experience, to be motivated, and to act. In the present formulation, we prefer simply “predisposition to respond,” with the understanding that a response may be either a verbal expression of an opinion or some form of nonverbal behavior. And, following Campbell (1963), attitudes are acquired behavioral dispositions differing from other behavioral dispositions, such as habit, motive, trace, and cell assembly, in that they also represent a person’s knowledge or view of the world.

The present formulation differs from other dispositional formulations in one important respect. An attitude, representing as it does an organization of beliefs, is not a single predisposition but a set of interrelated predispositions focused on an attitude object or situation. Not all of these predispositions need necessarily become activated by an attitude object or situation. Which ones are activated depends on the particular situation within which a particular attitude object is encountered. For example, a prejudiced white person’s encountering a Negro on a bus in a city with a history of segregation will not necessarily activate the same predispositions as his encountering a Negro on a bus in Paris and consequently will not necessarily lead to the same response toward the attitude object.

Another way in which the present formulation differs from other formulations is that all attitudes are here assumed to be “agendas for action” or to have a behavioral component because all the beliefs constituting them, regardless of whether they describe, evaluate, or advocate, represent predispositions which, when activated, will lead to a response. This formulation differs from that of Chein (1948), Smith, Bruner, and White (1956), and Katz and Stotland (1959), who all hold that an attitude may or may not have a behavioral component. “For example,” Katz and Stotland write, “one may regard impressionistic art as desirable but not go to a museum of modern art, read about impressionism, or acquire prints of impressionistic paintings. An individual who has an attitude with a behavioral component, on the other hand, has some degree of impulsion to do something to or about the object” (p. 429).

This writer would suggest that such an attitude toward art must also have a behavioral component, because the individual holding it must have made some response from which this attitude was inferred. Perhaps he had said something about it in a particular situation; perhaps he had looked admiringly at an impressionistic painting when visiting a friend; perhaps he was impelled to argue about it. If he had said or done absolutely nothing about it, it is difficult to see how anyone could have inferred that he possessed this attitude. A predisposition that does not lead to some response cannot be detected.

Leads to a preferential response. While everyone agrees that an attitude leads to a preferential (or discriminatory) response, the basis for the preferential response is not clear. Is a positive or negative preference due to the fact that the attitude object or situation is affectively liked or disliked, or because it is cognitively evaluated as good or bad? In most discussions on attitude, it is assumed that the two dimensions—affection and evaluation—are more or less synonymous. Katz and Stotland (1959), for example, define attitude as a “predisposition to evaluate,” include the cognitive and affective elements under evaluation, and operationally define evaluation in terms of verbal statements of goodness-badness. Osgood, Suci, and Tannenbaum (1957) define attitude as synonymous with the evaluation dimension of the semantic space. Krech, Crutchfield, and Ballachey (1962), while they distinguish the affective component from evaluative beliefs (which are included under the cognitive component), seem to assume implicitly that affection and evaluation generally go together to produce a favorable or unfavorable attitude.

Affective and evaluative components. The conceptual difficulty arises from the fact that the two dimensions of like-dislike and goodness-badness do not necessarily go together. When speaking of the pro-con dimension, often said to be the defining characteristic of attitude, we do not know whether the preferential response of approach or avoidance is due to the fact that it is liked or disliked, or because it is seen to be good or bad. It is possible to like something bad and to dislike something good. A person may believe, for example, that T. S. Eliot’s poetry is good but still not like it; that a particular medicine is good but dislike the way it tastes. Conversely, a person may believe cigarette smoking is bad but enjoy it. Clearly, there is no necessary one-to-one relation between affect and evaluation. Whether or not the preferential response will be positive or negative will therefore depend on the relative strength of one’s evaluative beliefs and of one’s positive or negative feelings. A person will make a pro response to an object toward which he harbors negative feelings if he believes the object to be sufficiently good for him.

The definition, therefore, emphasizes that an attitude predisposes one to make a preferential response and avoids the implication that the response itself is either affective or evaluative. It may, and usually does, involve both positive and negative; or it may be a resolution of opposing forces between affection and evaluation. Accurate prediction of the preferential response therefore requires a separate assessment of affective and evaluative predispositions underlying the response.

Objects of preferential response. Toward what may the preferential response be directed? As already mentioned, an attitude predisposes one to respond preferentially not only to the attitude object or situation but also to other objects—individuals and groups who agree with, or oppose, us with respect to the attitude. A favorable or unfavorable attitude toward a presidential candidate, for example, not only predisposes us to respond preferentially to such a candidate on Election Day but also toward all others who take an attitudinal position with respect to such a candidate. Finally, the preferential response may be directed toward the maintenance or preservation of the attitude itself. A person with a particular attitude is predisposed to selectively perceive, recognize, judge, interpret, learn, forget, recall, and think in ways congruent with his attitude; and such selective responses, while mediated by an attitude, are not necessarily responses directed toward the attitude object or situation itself.

A final point is that all three types of responses —toward attitude objects, toward other objects, and toward the maintenance of the attitude itself —may be expected to be positively intercorrelated because they are all mediated by the same attitude.

Attitude differentiated from other concepts

A major source of conceptual confusion arises from the fact that there is considerable disagreement over how the concept of attitude should be distinguished from closely related concepts. Allport (1935) points out that attitudes have a wide range of usage. This writer ventures to suggest that this broad usage can and must be remedied. What follows is an attempt to differentiate among various concepts that come up in discussions of attitude, in the hope of giving each of them a more precise meaning.

Belief system. A belief system represents the total universe of a person’s beliefs about the physical world, the social world, and the self. It is conceived as being organized along several dimensions (Rokeach 1960), and additional dimensions can be added as required by further analysis or empirical research. A belief system can further be analyzed in terms of subsystems of varying breadth or narrowness. An attitude is one type of subsystem of beliefs, organized around an object or situation that is, in turn, embedded within a larger subsystem, etc.

Ideology. The concept of belief system is broader than ideology, containing preideological, as well as ideological, beliefs. An ideology is an organization of beliefs and attitudes—religious, political, or philosophical in nature—that is more or less institutionalized or shared with others, deriving from external authority.

Value. The concept of value has at least three distinct meanings. To Thomas and Znaniecki value is a sociological concept, a natural object that has, in fact, acquired social meaning and, consequently, “is or may be an object of activity” (1918, p. 21). To Campbell (1963) and many others, a value is synonymous with attitude because the attitude object has valence. To yet many others, a value is seen to be more basic than an attitude, often underlying it.

In this writer’s conception, a value is a type of belief, centrally located within one’s total belief system, about how one ought, or ought not, to behave, or about some end state of existence worth, or not worth, attaining. Values are thus abstract ideals, positive or negative, not tied to any specific attitude object or situation, representing a person’s beliefs about ideal modes of conduct and ideal terminal goals—what Lovejoy (1950) calls generalized adjectival and terminal values. Some examples of ideal modes of conduct are to seek truth and beauty, to be clean and orderly, to behave with sincerity, justice, reason, compassion, humility, respect, honor, and loyalty. Some examples of ideal goals or end states are security, happiness, freedom, equality, ecstasy, fame, power, and states of grace and salvation. A person’s values, like all beliefs, may be consciously conceived or unconsciously held, and must be inferred from what a person says or does.

A grown person probably has tens of thousands of beliefs, hundreds of attitudes, but only dozens of values. A value system is a hierarchical organization—a rank ordering—of ideals or values in terms of importance. To one person, truth, beauty, and freedom may be at the top of the list, and thrift, order, and cleanliness at the bottom; to another person, the order may be reversed. The Allport-Vernon-Lindzey Scale of Values (1931) enables one to measure the relative order of importance of six classes of values: theoretical, social, political, religious, aesthetic, and economic.

The relation between attitudes and values will be considered further in the section “Functions of an attitude.”

Opinion. An opinion is defined here as a verbal expression of some belief, attitude, or value. Which underlying belief, attitude, or value the opinion reflects is a matter of inference. There are all kinds of reasons why a particular verbal expression cannot necessarily be taken at face value. A person may be unable or unwilling to reveal to himself or to others his real beliefs, attitudes, or values. He may need to conceal from himself, for example, his idealization of power and transform it, by a process of rationalization, into ideals of charity and responsibility. In the literature, a distinction is often made between public and private attitudes, and similar distinctions could also be made between public and private beliefs and values. An opinion typically represents a public belief, attitude, or value, but it may come closer to private ones when verbally expressed under increasing conditions of privacy.

Faith, delusion, and stereotype. Faith refers to one or more beliefs a person accepts as true, good, or desirable, regardless of social consensus or objective evidence, which are perceived as irrelevant. A delusion is a belief held on faith judged by an external observer to have no objective basis and which is, in fact, wrong. A stereotype is a socially shared belief that describes and/or evaluates an attitude object in an oversimplified or undifferentiated manner. In contrast to a delusion, a person’s stereotype is judged by an external observer to contain an element of truth in it, but it is not qualified by other beliefs about the attitude object.

Sentiment. The concept of sentiment, which has had a long history, seems to have fallen into general disuse in the past decade or two. Most writers (e.g., Murray & Morgan 1945) agree that sentiment is more or less synonymous with attitude. Asch (1952), however, seems to talk of sentiments as if they are closer to what we have here called values. Insofar as operational definition and measurement are concerned, sentiment and attitude seem indistinguishable.

Attitudes and behavior

A preferential response toward an attitude object cannot occur in a vacuum. It must necessarily be elicited within the context of some social situation, about which, as already noted, we also have attitudes. It is perhaps helpful to conceive of any particular attitude object as the figure and the situation in which it is encountered as the ground. How a person will behave with respect to an object within a situation will therefore depend, on the one hand, on the particular beliefs or predispositions activated by the attitude object and, on the other hand, by the beliefs or predispositions activated by the situation. We thus postulate that a person’s social behavior must always be mediated by at least two types of attitudes—one activated by the object, the other activated by the situation.

If one focuses only on attitude-toward-object one is bound to observe some inconsistency between attitude and behavior, or, at least, a lack of dependence of behavior on attitude. Most frequently mentioned as evidence in this connection are such studies as those by La Piere (1934) and by Kutner et al. (1952), in which there were found to be marked discrepancies among restaurant and hotel owners between their verbal expressions of discrimination toward Chinese and Negroes via letter or phone and their nondiscriminatory faceto-face behavior. One possible explanation of such apparent inconsistency is suggested by the present analysis: the investigators did not obtain all the relevant attitudinal information needed to make accurate predictions. The subjects not only had attitudes toward Chinese and Negroes but, being managers of an ongoing business, also had attitudes about how to conduct such a business properly. The investigator’s methods, however, are typically focused on obtaining data relevant to attitude-toward-object and are generally insensitive toward attitude-toward-situation.

One may thus readily agree with Krech, Crutchfield, and Ballachey when they say that behavior is determined by a number of attitudes, wants, and situational conditions rather than by a single attitude (1962). Their additional statement that “attitude test scores alone are usually not enough to predict behavior” (p. 163) does not necessarily follow from the preceding. As already suggested, a “situational condition” can psychologically be reformulated as “attitude-toward-situation” and assessed by methods similar to those employed in assessing attitude-toward-object. Unfortunately, however, only the latter kind of attitude has thus far been the focus of operational definition and measurement, even though attitudes have typically been more broadly defined as predispositions toward situations as well as toward objects.

However, it is not enough merely to assess in advance the two kinds of attitudes discussed. It is also necessary to recognize that attitude-toward-object and attitude-toward-situation will cognitively interact with one another and will have differing degrees of importance with respect to one another, thereby resulting in behavior that will be differentially influenced by the two sets of attitudes. In one case, an attitude object may activate relatively more powerful beliefs than those activated by the situation, thereby accounting for the generality of behavior with respect to an attitude object; or, the situation may activate the more powerful beliefs, thereby accounting for the specificity of behavior with respect to an attitude object. Campbell (1963) has shown that the threshold of discrimination toward Chinese seeking reservations for overnight lodging and restaurants is without exception lower —there is more discrimination—in non-face-to-face situations. He has similarly shown that the threshold of discrimination toward Negro miners by white miners is always lower in town than in the mines (Minard 1952). In pointing to “different situational thresholds,” Campbell is not only explaining away the apparent inconsistency between attitude and behavior, or between one behavior and another, but he is also suggesting that certain situations consistently activate discriminatory behavior with respect to a specific attitude object more than do other situations.

In the context of this discussion, one may fruitfully raise again Blumer’s criticism (1955). The state of present attitude theory is such that there are no rigorous criteria available for ascertaining when we are dealing with one attitude or with more than one attitude. We speak, for example, of an attitude toward the Negro, but also of an attitude toward desegregation of the Negro in education. In line with the present analysis, we would prefer to say that the way we feel toward desegregation of the Negro in the school involves the activation of at least two attitudes, one concerning the Negro, the other concerning a particular educational situation.

Functions of an attitude

Does an attitude possess drive-producing properties, or do motives come from sources other than the attitude itself? This issue has provoked much debate in the literature and for lack of space will not be discussed here except to say that the controversy does not seem to have led to any empirical research. It is at present a moot point, as Chein (1948) points out.

In the past few decades, there has, nevertheless, been a slow but steady advance toward increasingly more comprehensive formulations regarding the functions of an attitude. Beginning with Freud (1930), and followed by such thinkers as Lasswell (1930), Fromm (1941), Maslow (1943), and culminating in The Authoritarian Personality (Adorno et al. 1950), the proposition that attitudes serve mainly irrational, ego-defensive functions became widely accepted. Students of personality and culture and of sociology further emphasized the adjustive function of attitudes—the adjustment of primitive and modern man to their specific cultures and subcultures. And influenced by these ideas, as well as by gestalt psychology and by more recent developments in psychoanalytic ego psychology (which stressed the autonomous nature of an ego freed from the service of id and superego), Sarnoff and Katz (1954) and Smith, Bruner, and White (1956) were among the first to explicitly recognize the positive functions that attitudes also serve. This was shortly followed by several additional refinements, leading to Katz’s most recent formulation (1960, p. 170) of four functions of attitudes: (1) instrumental, adjustive, or utilitarian; (2) ego-defensive; (3) value-expression; and (4) provision of knowledge based upon the individual’s need to give adequate structure to his universe.

These four functions are not regarded as operating in isolation from one another. A particular attitude may simultaneously serve several or all of these functions. This writer, in describing the function of belief systems, speaks of the need to “understand the world insofar as possible, and to defend against it insofar as necessary” (1960, p. 400). Maslow (1963) speaks of two simultaneous functions—the need to know and fear of knowing.

There is no reason to assume, however, that Katz’s four functions are unique to attitudes. These are also the functions of single beliefs (e.g., belief in the existence of a Creator) and of organizations of beliefs broader than attitudes—variously referred to by such terms as ideology, belief system, Weltanschauung, philosophy of life, etc.

While the conceptual isolation of these four functions is a distinct step forward, we have not yet advanced sufficiently in our theories and methods to determine by objective procedures precisely which functions a particular attitude serves for a particular person and to what degree. The objective assessment of function becomes even more formidable when it is recognized that a particular function may be judged present when viewed from an inside, phenomenological standpoint but absent when viewed from an outside, objective standpoint. In this writer’s research with three chronic paranoid schizophrenics (1964), it was found that various delusional beliefs served not only lastditch, ego-defensive functions but also knowledge functions. Delusions represent a search for meaning, giving the person holding them the illusion of understanding even though they are grotesque, ego-defensive distortions of reality.

An attitude can be likened to a miniature theory in science, having similar functions and similar virtues and vices. An attitude, like a theory, is a frame of reference, saves time, organizes knowledge, has implications for the real world, and changes in the face of new evidence. A theory, like an attitude, is a prejudgment, may be selective and biased, may support the status quo, may arouse affect when challenged, and may resist change in the face of new evidence. An attitude, in short, may act, in varying degrees, like a good theory or a bad theory, and depending on what kind of a theory an attitude acts like, may serve one function better than another.

Value-expressive function as superordinate. A final point concerns the relation between the value-expressive function and the remaining three functions. Does not the knowledge function also refer to a person’s central values concerning truth, understanding, and the search for meaning; and does it not also serve self-expression, self-development, and self-realization? In the same way, the adjustive function can be said to involve such values as security, achievement, competence, success, and loyalty to in-group. And the ego-defensive function may be reflected in the excessive glorification of such phenomenologically perceived positive values as neatness and cleanliness, thrift, honor, chivalry, and sexual and racial purity, or may be reflected in the excessive condemnation of such negative values as lust, intemperance, subversion, waste and extravagance, and racial mongrelization.

It is thus possible to conceive of the value-expressive function as superordinate to all other functions and to suggest that all of a person’s beliefs and attitudes may be in the service of, or instrumental to, the satisfaction of one and another pre-existing, often conflicting, values: adjustive values, ego-defensive values, and knowledge and other self-realizing values.

And the function that seems to be served by all the values within one’s value system is the enhancement of what McDougall (1908) has aptly called the master of all sentiment, the sentiment of self-regard.


To summarize this article, the following more extended definition of attitude is offered: An attitude is a relatively enduring organization of interrelated beliefs that describe, evaluate, and advocate action with respect to an object or situation, with each belief having cognitive, affective, and behavioral components. Each one of these beliefs is a predisposition that when suitably activated results in some preferential response toward the attitude object or situation, or toward others who take a position with respect to the attitude object or situation, or toward the maintenance or preservation of the attitude itself. Since an attitude object must always be encountered within some situation about which we also have an attitude, a minimum condition for social behavior is the activation of at least two interacting attitudes, one concerning the attitude object and the other concerning the situation.

Milton Rokeach

[Directly related are the entriesPublic opinion; values. Other relevant material may be found incognitive theory; Concept formation; Gestalt theory; Systems analysis, article onpsychological systems.]


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Interpreted broadly, the topic of attitude change is not only a focal preoccupation of theory and research in social psychology; it embraces phenomena and problems that equally concern students of personality, of culture, of political affairs, and of consumer preferences. The molding of public opinion by propaganda and through processes of persuasion is a matter of attitude change, but so also are the development or reduction of prejudice and the socialization of the child to adhere to the sentiments and values of his culture. Even the modification of interpersonal feelings and expectations during the course of personal acquaintance or in psychotherapy is a matter of attitude change.

Scope and brief history

The concept of attitude, although variously defined, is most commonly employed to designate inferred dispositions, attributed to an individual, according to which his thoughts, feelings, and perhaps action tendencies are organized with respect to a psychological object. The topic of attitude change thus embraces the conditions under which such dispositions are initially formed and subsequently modified in the course of a person’s transactions with his physical, social, and informational environment. It includes changes both in relatively superficial and specific matters of “opinion” and in deep-seated sentiments or “cathexes” that are properly regarded as constitutive of personality, changes that occur in the natural course of maturation and experience as well as those that result from exposure to deliberate persuasion or propaganda.

Although the scope of the topic is thus embarrassingly broad, substantial research has been brought to bear upon it only along a much narrower front. When attitudes became the central focus of social psychology in the 1920s and 1930s (Allport 1935; Murphy et al. 1937) and techniques had been worked out for their measurement by pencil-and-paper tests, social psychologists came to investigate under this rubric favorable or unfavorable orientations toward consensually defined social objects and issues (war, the church, ethnic groups, etc.), leaving to specialists in personality research the conceptualization and study of man’s deeper and more idiosyncratic attachments. The approach characteristic of this early period was mainly descriptive and correlational, with little sustained attention to the conditions under which attitudes are formed and modified and little effort toward linking the psychology of attitudes with more general explanatory principles.

Four developments in the 1930s and 1940s radically changed the complexion of the field, making problems of attitude change salient and for the first time justifying the claim that in attitudes—previously a matter of academic but quite untheoretical preoccupation—social psychology finds one of its most important and fertile topics.

Sample surveys and polling. A major influence on social psychology has been the development of the technology of sample surveys and survey analysis—public opinion polling. The new survey research institutes, equipped to conduct and analyze door-to-door interviews with the general public, escaped the restricted world of the earlier questionnaire studies carried out with readily accessible college student respondents. When repeated surveys asked the same questions, trend data on opinion change brought to the fore the problem of how events and exposure to mass communications influence opinions. With the invention of the “panel” technique of survey design and analysis, involving repeated interviews with the same respondents, the persuasive impact of mass communications on ordinary publics became the subject of fruitful research. The study of voting behavior, in particular, by these methods produced findings relevant to attitude change.

Small-group research. A second important trend brought social realities under experimental scrutiny, in the tradition of research on small-group dynamics begun by Kurt Lewin and his students (Lewin 1939-1947; Festinger 1950). Conceptual equipment and experimental techniques became available for treating systematically the social influences on attitudes and behavior to which people are exposed by virtue of their memberships and participation in groups. The interrelations between these first two trends—survey research and small-group research—are examined by E. Katz and Lazarsfeld (1955).

Psychoanalytic formulations. Meanwhile psychoanalytic conceptions were gaining favor among American psychologists, revolutionizing their approach to personality research. Following pathways suggested earlier by Harold Lasswell, the authors of The Authoritarian Personality (Adorno et al. 1950) illustrated in depth, for the special case of anti-Semitism as well as general ethnic prejudice, how attitudes may be an integral part of the defensive postures that people assume against the consequences of deep-seated inner conflict. From this perspective, the psychology of attitude formation and change became an integral part of the study of personality dynamics.

Experimental studies of communication. The fourth formative development was the concerted deployment of experimental method in the study of conditions governing the effects of persuasive communication begun during World War II and continued in the postwar years by Carl Hovland and his associates (Hovland, Lumsdaine, & Sheffield 1949; Hovland, Janis, & Kelley 1953). Planning their experiments within a broadly mapped conception of the process of communication, which accommodated hypotheses arising from a variety of theoretical contexts, these investigators demonstrated the power of carefully designed experimentation to identify the main and interactive effects on attitudes of numerous characteristics of the source and content of communications and of audiences.

By mid-century, the effect of these developments was to make attitude change not only a field of active investigation, via both controlled experimentation and the correlational methods of the sampling survey and panel, but also an arena in which theoretical approaches of general and social psychology were being elaborated and applied. The focus on predictive hypotheses concerning change now made such theories relevant, as they had not been in the earlier, descriptive phase of attitude research.

Before we turn to examine the major theoretical treatments of attitude change, the ensuing section reviews current conceptualizations of the origin and development of attitudes.

Formation and development of attitudes

In an influential early formulation, Allport (1935, pp. 810–812) listed four conditions for the formation of attitudes: the integration of numerous specific responses within an organized structure; the differentiation of more specific action patterns and conceptual systems from primordial, nonspecific attitudes of approach and withdrawal; trauma, involving “a compulsive organization of the mental field following a single intense emotional experience”; and the adoption of attitudes by imitation of parents, teachers, or peers. These categories can readily be applied to describing the development of particular attitudes, but it is clear that they are descriptive rather than explanatory and are neither logically coordinate nor mutually exclusive. They variously emphasize different aspects of attitudinal learning, such as its gradualness or suddenness, the emotional intensity of the learning experience, and the informational basis on which attitudes are acquired.

Regarding attitudes as a special case of the more general category acquired behavioral dispositions, Campbell (1963, pp. 107–111) focuses on the problem of informational basis and proposes six different ways of acquiring the information upon which such dispositions are based: blind trial-and-error, general perception, perception of others’ responses, perception of the outcomes of others’ explorations, verbal instructions relevant to behavior, and verbal instructions about objects’ characteristics. Although these represent varying degrees of efficiency, Campbell argues that dispositions acquired by these different modes are psychologically equivalent and that the several modes combine additively to result in stronger dispositions. However, solid evidence for the equivalence of the several modes is lacking.

Theorizing about the modes and processes by which attitudes are acquired should rest upon an extensive “natural history” of the development of attitudes, based on longitudinal and cross-sectional research that would sample a variety of content domains. The research needed for such a natural history largely remains to be done. There have been no long-term longitudinal investigations tracing the development and change of attitudes in the same individuals over substantial segments of the life cycle. Newcomb has contributed two classic short-term longitudinal studies: one (1943) following changes in students’ liberalism—conservatism over their college years and another (1961) investigating the development and change of interpersonal attitudes among members of a specially assembled college living group. Cross-sectional research comparing the attitudes of different age groups has focused heavily on the single domain of ethnic prejudice (see Allport 1954; Harding et al. 1954), with some attention also to the development of political attitudes (Hyman 1959).

In both these domains, there is evidence supporting Allport’s conception of differentiation as characterizing the early stages of attitude development in childhood. The evident manifestations of prejudice in childhood involve diffuse rejection of the out-group and its symbols; only later is the culturally prescribed content of prejudice elaborated. Similarly, American children learn early to identify with their family’s political affiliation; more specific attitudes on political issues come only later. Scattered evidence suggests that with increasing maturity, attitudes may become more highly integrated in the sense of showing more internal consistency. But age trends in the organization of attitudes urgently require study, across different topics and different social and cultural groups.

Theoretical approaches to attitude change

Although the natural history of attitude development remains largely to be written, the processes underlying attitude change have nonetheless become the subject of active experimental inquiry. In part, inquiry has been directed toward formulating and refining empirical generalizations about factors that influence attitudes. (Representative findings are reviewed by Janis & Smith 1965.) To a major extent, however, inquiry has been guided by theoretical orientations imported from other areas of psychology.

Although the possibility that attitudes have innate components cannot be excluded (see, for instance, Hebb & Thompson 1954, p. 549 on innate fear of the strange), the primary contribution of learning to the formation and development of attitudes is beyond question. Theories of learning are thus exploited for their bearing on the conditions of attitude change. Attitudes also embody the results of information processing and in turn affect the way that a person conceives and judges aspects of his world. Theories of the cognitive processes are therefore a second source of hypotheses about attitude change. As organized dispositions toward psychological objects, moreover, attitudes are important components of personality. To the extent that the personality has properties of a dynamic system, a person’s attitudes should develop and change under the influence of the roles that they play in personality adjustments and transactions. A third group of theoretical orientations to attitude change thus have their roots in personality theory.

Since the major types of theoretical orientation to the study of attitude change are addressed to different questions and concerned with different variables, they cannot be regarded as mutually exclusive or even as seriously competitive. A comprehensive view of attitude change might require an integration drawn from all of them. Such an integration has not been forthcoming, however, and the Zeitgeist of recent theoretically oriented research has tended to seek progress in increasingly precise and formalized models of component processes.

Learning theories. Although the study of attitude change has not been a major proving ground for the learning theories that flourished in recent American psychology, each of the major variants of learning theory has been applied to it. Thus for Skinner (1957) and his followers, who dissolve the dispositional concept of attitude into overt verbal behaviors, attitude change becomes a matter of the shaping of verbal behavior under the control of schedules of reinforcement. Clark Hull’s learning theory has been applied to the psychology of attitudes by Doob (1947). Empirical evidence is available (e.g., Scott 1957) supporting the prediction from reinforcement theory that people tend to adopt, as their own, attitudinal positions that they have been asked to espouse publicly in experiments, when their performance has been accompanied by reward. Establishment of attitudes by the procedures of classical Pavlovian conditioning has also been demonstrated (Staats & Staats 1958).

But the mere demonstration that attitudes can be established and modified according to learning principles does not lead very far in research. The more important contribution of learning theory to the understanding of attitude change has come from investigators who have taken its relevance for granted and applied its categories of stimulus-response analysis, reinforcement, generalization, and conflict to empirically derived problems of persuasive communication and attitude change. Such an approach was characteristic of the Yale studies under the leadership of Carl Hovland, which also drew with catholicity on other theoretical traditions. Thus, in one study of the effects of fear-arousing appeals in persuasive communication, the lesser effectiveness of strongly threatening appeals is interpreted in terms of the learning of interfering responses (incompatible with acceptance of the communicator’s recommendations) to reduce the induced state of anxiety (Hovland, Janis, & Kelley 1953, pp. 77–89). No test of a specific deduction from learning theory is involved; rather, the categories of learning theory serve heuristically to set the terms of the empirical problem and to suggest lines of interpretation that give direction to subsequent investigation.

Cognitive approaches. The theoretical controversies of the generation of American psychology between 1930 and 1950 pitted the cognitive orientation derived from gestalt psychology against the predominant stimulus-response learning theories of American behaviorism. These controversies carried over into the social psychology of attitude change, particularly with respect to interpretation of the processes of social influence involved in the traditional topic of prestige suggestion. People tend to evaluate objects, such as slogans or literary passages, more highly when they are attributed to a highly valued, prestigious source than when they are attributed to a source toward which their existing attitudes are less favorable. Is this influence of the source to be interpreted in essentially associative terms, in which the positive or negative affect aroused by the source adheres to the message on the model of classical conditioning? Or, as Asch (1952, pp. 387–417) argued eloquently from a gestalt orientation, does attribution serve rather to provide a new context of meaning that induces changes in the cognitive object, about which changed evaluative judgments and accompanying affect are then appropriate? [seeCognitive theory; Gestalt theory.]

At least two issues appear to have been confounded in the controversy. One has to do with the priority of cognitive as compared with affective factors in attitude change. Do people change their feelings about an object because they have come to see it differently, or do they change their beliefs about it to fit prior alterations in their feelings? The evidence now seems clear that both sorts of processes occur; what may be primary is a tendency to bring beliefs and feelings into congruence (Rosenberg 1960). The second issue also seems rather dated from present perspectives: Are the processes of influence to be interpreted in associative or meaningful terms? Recent elaborations of associative theory, in their emphasis on central mediational processes intervening between stimulus and response, tend to converge with the older cognitive theories. Heat has dissipated from controversy as theorists socialized to feel at home with stimulus-response or with cognitive terminologies come to see their differences as more a matter of linguistic preferences and conceptual strategy and less a question of truth versus falsity (see Campbell 1963, pp. 112–135).

Contemporary cognitive approaches to attitude change have therefore lost the polemical cast that used to characterize cognitive theory when it was a minority systematic position in opposition to behavioristic psychology. Concern has shifted from system building to the clarification of particular aspects of attitude change. Here a minor theme draws upon the psychology of judgment; a major one postulates trends toward cognitive consistency or balance as underlying attitude change.

Judgmental processes and attitude change. As inferred dispositions, attitudes are customarily measured by eliciting acts of judgment: agreement or disagreement with standard statements of opinion. Much of the behavior to which attitudes give rise is mediated by further acts of judgment that involve the placement of the issue or object in an evaluative framework and its asignment to a category. Concepts and principles drawn from the general psychology of judgment should therefore throw light on the processes of attitude change. Sherif and Hovland (1961) and Sherif et al. (1965) have made promising beginnings toward bringing about this rapprochement.

As applied to the context of persuasive communication, their thinking may be simplified as follows: A person’s attitude on a controversial issue may be coordinated to the range of discriminable opinion positions that he finds acceptable. The person’s latitude of acceptance will typically be narrower than the accompanying latitude of rejection when he is highly ego-involved with the issue or when his position is extreme. In responding to a persuasive communication that advocates some position on the issue, he places it on a subjective pro-con scale of favorability with respect to the issue. The effects of the communication on the recipient will depend heavily on the distance between the recipient’s stand and the position advocated by the communication as he locates it in his scale of judgment. The same objective differences in the positions of two communications may be perceived very differently by different individuals, depending on the nature of their judgment scales, which in turn are determined by such factors as their familiarity with the issue and the extremity of their own positions. Maximal persuasive effects are to be expected when the position advocated in the communication falls near the boundary of the recipient’s latitude of acceptance; under these conditions the recipient is likely to minimize its judged distance from his own position (assimilation effect) and to be open to its influence. When the position of the communication falls within his latitude of rejection, he is likely to exaggerate its judged distance from his own stand (contrast effect) and to resist influence. On issues characterized by low ego-involvement, where latitudes of acceptance are correspondingly great, the persuasive effect may be a positive function of the distance between the recipient’s stand and the position advocated, within relatively broad limits.

This schematic summary may suggest the promise of reconceptualizing attitudinal processes in terms of the psychology of judgment. At present, the promise has yet to be realized. Major areas of theoretical ambiguity remain to be clarified, and the data that have thus far been brought to bear are not fully consistent.

Helson’s theory of adaptation level—a zone of neutrality on the stimulus continuum that is established as a weighted mean of focal and background stimuli and of the residues of previous stimulation —represents an alternative conceptualization of judgmental processes that is founded in extensive psychophysical research. In principle, it should be applicable to the analysis of attitude change. In the hands of Helson and his co-workers (Kelson 1964, pp. 609–630), however, its application has thus far been so broadly analogical that it has contributed little to bringing attitude change in conceptual contact with fundamental processes of judgment. What emerges is the assertion that expressions of attitude are a joint function of the presenting stimulus, of the social context and its pressures (“background factors”), and of personality (“residual factors”)—hardly a novel formulation.

Consistency or balance theories. Since the mid-1950s, the most active front in the study of attitude change has centered on a group of related theories that seek to come to grips with the dynamics of attitude change via formulations of the interplay between the person’s postulated tendency toward consistency in specified aspects of his beliefs and attitudes and the incoming information with which he is confronted. The idea of a trend toward psychological consistency is an old one. What is new in the recent attention that it has received is the combination of theoretical formalization and experimental ingenuity to test inferences that go beyond the earlier common sense. The theories to be considered vary greatly in scope and ambition, but none of them purports to offer a general account of attitude change.

Heider’s theory of balance. The phenomenologically oriented theorist Heider (1946; 1958, pp. 200–209) initiated the recent emphasis on trends toward consistency with a treatment of the seemingly very narrow problem involved in identifying states of balance and “imbalance” in the cognitive field of an experiencing person p, as he entertains specified relationships with another person o, and with some attitudinal object x. Relations of two kinds are considered: the sentiment (or attitude) relation of liking or disliking and the unit relation involved in perceiving persons or objects as belonging together in a specially close way. Both types of relations when they exist may be positive or negative (degrees of relationship are not considered). The relations in a p-o-x triad are balanced when all three relations are positive or when two of the relations are negative and one is positive. Imbalance occurs when two of the relations are positive and one is negative.

Heider gives as an example of imbalance the following triad: p worships o (liking, positive); o tells a lie (positive unit relation between o and x); p disapproves of lying (negative relation of dislike between p and x). Were p to come to dislike o, the triad would come into balance. Other routes by which p could re-establish balance would be to sever the unit relation between p and x (“it isn’t typical of o to lie”) or to dissolve the experienced unity of o by introducing a cognitive differentiation that segregates the aspect of o as liar (disliked) from the rest of o (liked)—both differentiated aspects now entering into balanced triads. According to the theory, balanced states are stable; unbalanced states are unstable. Heider postulates a general trend to re-establish balance when it is disturbed by the registration of new information; but his formulation is intuitive and qualitative, containing no basis for predicting the route by which balance will be attained.

Newcomb’s theory. The relations with which Heider is concerned obtain within the cognitive field of an experiencing subject p. Newcomb (1961), who like Heider has been interested in the relationships between attitudes and interpersonal attraction, offers a slightly modified version of the conditions under which p-o-x relations are subjectively balanced or imbalanced. (He also uses a different notation.) On the additional assumptions that reciprocated attractions between persons are more rewarding than nonreciprocated ones and that accurate perceptions of the attitudes of o’s toward x’s will in the long run be more rewarding to each p than inaccurate ones, Newcomb goes on to derive the prediction that as interpersonal relations stabilize in established social groups they will approximate conditions of objective balance in which, for example, people who share agreement on important issues and feel the same way about other people also come to like each other. His study of The Acquaintance Process in specially convened student living groups provides evidence of strong trends toward subjective balance from the beginning, with increasing trends toward objective balance developing over time. Newcomb thus extends Heider’s principle of balance from the private worlds of phenomenology to the objective world of interpersonal relations.

Theory of cognitive consistency. In a provocative recent venture, Rosenberg and Abelson (1960) introduced a degree of formalization and extended the principle of balance from the restricted scope of p-o-x relations to encompass more general conditions of consistency within and between cognitions about an emotionally significant issue.

Rosenberg and Abelson posit a hierarchy of responses to imbalance in a cognitive structure, such that imbalance is resolved by that route that involves the minimal number of changes in the relations and signs of cognitive elements. But the tendency to reduce imbalance is not the only factor that determines how persons go about the resolution of cognitive discrepancies: there is also a tendency, independent of the striving for consistency, for the individual to prefer solutions that maximize his potential hedonic gain.

This model has yet to undergo much testing in research and will undoubtedly have only a short life in its present form. It is nevertheless worth consideration as exemplifying one of the directions in which trends toward consistency are currently being explored in accounting for attitude change. Its virtues of flexibility and generality are in contrast to those of specificity and quantification presented by Osgood and Tannenbaum’s congruity model (1955), which generates precise predictions of shifts in the evaluation of both subject (e.g., “Eisenhower”) and object (e.g., “communism”) when assertions join them in positive (e.g., “praises”) or negative (e.g., “condemns”) associative linkage.

Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory. Of all the versions in which the consistency principle has appeared, Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance has attracted the most active investigation in the late 1950s and early 1960s (Festinger 1957; Brehm & Cohen 1962). Any two cognitive elements— beliefs or bits of knowledge—may be consonant, dissonant, or irrelevant to one another. Dissonance occurs when one element follows psychologically from the contrary of the other. The total amount of dissonance that a person experiences is a function of the importance of the elements in a dissonant relationship and of the proportion of relevant relations that are dissonant. There is a tendency for the person to attempt to reduce dissonance when it arises: states of dissonance have motivational properties. Dissonance may be reduced in three major ways: by changing one or more of the elements involved in dissonant relations, by adding new cognitive elements that are consonant with already existing cognitions, and by decreasing the importance of the dissonant elements. A general tendency for cognitions to be brought into correspondence with impinging reality is assumed.

Although this capsule statement sounds like a very general consistency theory, the ingenious program of experimentation that Festinger and his followers have carried out has been primarily concerned with a much more restricted sphere of consistency or inconsistency—that between a person’s cognitions of what he has done and his awareness of grounds for not having done it. Typical cases arise after a person makes a decision or when he has been induced to comply with a distasteful request. In the first instance, decisions are supposed to be followed by residual dissonance between awareness of the decision and awareness of the reasons supporting the alternative course of action that was rejected. The attempt to reduce such dissonance may lead the person to seek out informational or social support for the decision that he has taken.

The second case, that of “forced compliance,” involves dissonance between the person’s awareness of the compliant act to which he has irrevocably committed himself and his cognition of the grounds for not having wanted to do it. One way of reducing the dissonance is to change his private attitude or preference in the direction of consonance with the compliant behavior. Here is the basis for some of the “nonobvious” predictions from the confirmation of which Festinger claims strong support for his theory. Thus, when a person is induced by bribe or threat to voice opinions contrary to those that he privately holds, the weaker the inducement, the more likely he is to change his private views in a direction that brings them into accord with the ones that he has been induced to express. So long as the positive or negative inducement is sufficient to bring about compliance, the greater the inducement, the more disproportional the grounds for compliance, and therefore the less the dissonance and the less the motivation for attitude change to reduce it.

Clearly there is a wide discrepancy between the apparent generality of the theory and the rather special character of the experiments that have tested it. Brehm and Cohen (1962, pp. 299–300), in their comprehensive review of the evidence bearing on dissonance theory, seek to plug the gap in part by pointing out that where the antecedents of behavior have been a major concern of other theories, dissonance theory is concerned, at least in part, with the consequences of behavior. They go on to suggest that commitment may be necessary before the psychologically consonant or dissonant status of particular cognitive elements can be determined. They reformulate the core assertion of the theory to state that “a person will try to justify a commitment to the extent that there is information discrepant with that commitment” (Brehm & Cohen 1962, p. 300)—a significant and important statement, but one much narrower in scope than Festinger’s original propositions.

In spite of the large amount of research recently stimulated by Festinger’s theory, most of which purports to confirm it, the status of the theory is still far from clear. The experiments tend to be open to alternative interpretations. The experimental manipulations by which commitment is brought about as a precondition for the arousal of dissonance have not been critically scrutinized and may be important. To a considerable extent, experimental ingenuity has substituted for theoretical explicitness: experimentally, for example, alternative routes for the reduction of dissonance have been eliminated to leave attitude change as the predicted outcome, but the theory has little to say about which of the possible ways of reducing dissonance a person will employ. Where predictions from learning theories of reinforcement and conflict are pitted against predictions based on dissonance theory, as in some recent studies, the outcomes do not consistently support dissonance theory. The conjecture may be ventured that, in the long run, dissonance theory will turn out to have made sense of certain paradoxical feed-back effects of a person’s behavior upon his attitudes but to have said little that is important about the main themes governing the formation of attitudes and the direction of behavior. Or it may become incorporated in a more comprehensive theory that deals with these themes. The lure of the paradoxical “non-obvious prediction” can deflect attention from the main story, which may be “obvious” but needs to be formulated and specified.

Approaches based on theories of personality. Learning theories have their sources in rigorous experimentation with lower species and college sophomores; judgmental theories still bear the marks of the psychophysical laboratory; other cognitive theories find their models in rigorous research on perceptual processes; but personality theories trace their origin to the clinic and consulting room. The atmosphere is entirely different. Rigor and precision are likely to be sacrificed in favor of relevance to human experience and problems. Whether the gain justifies the loss is a major issue that divides modern psychology.

Psychoanalysis. Among personality theories, psychoanalysis shows most strongly the characteristic virtues and vices of clinical origins. A generally psychoanalytic, but not doctrinaire, perspective was brought to bear upon the sources of prejudiced attitudes in The Authoritarian Personality (Adorno et al. 1950). This suggestively rich, influential, but technically vulnerable study portrayed the prejudiced person as using his attitudes to maintain a rigid and precarious defensive posture, bolstering his self-esteem by identifying with the strong and rejecting the weak, resolving his own uncertainties and keeping his unacceptable impulses in check (while giving them covert expression) by cleaving moralistically to a world of clear-cut alternatives, a world in which the safe areas of conventional respectability seem bounded by unknown dangers and conspiracies. This study did not deal directly with attitude change, but the implications were clear: to the extent that prejudiced attitudes are so grounded, there is little to be hoped from rational persuasion. The expression of prejudice can be controlled by firm authority; its dynamic roots perhaps excised by psychotherapy; and its occasion avoided by wiser child rearing. In present perspective this is a one-sided picture, even for this least rational of attitudes.

Like learning theory, psychoanalytic theory has suggested concepts, categories, and hypotheses to investigators of attitude change whose principal research directives have arisen from the phenomena being studied. Such influence is particularly apparent in the work of Janis (e.g., 1959), whose treatment of decisional conflicts represents an important alternative to Festinger’s.

Self theories. Approaches to personality that emphasize self, self-image, and identity have not given rise to formal theories of attitude change. That such theories might well be developed is suggested by the widespread and loose evocation of the term “ego-involvement” (Sherif & Cantril 1947) as a determinant of resistance to change in attitudes. Also suggestive is Rokeach’s (1960) treatment of belief systems, in which he contrasts a central region of primitive beliefs about self and world with a peripheral region comprising the variety of beliefs that a person receives on authority. More directly relevant are the accounts of attitude change under the conditions of extreme coercive persuasion that characterized the so-called brainwashing or thought reform conducted by the Chinese Communists (Lifton 1961; Schein et al. 1961). In cases where deep-seated convictions were substantially shaken and relatively profound changes of attitude brought about, we hear of references to “death and rebirth” being employed. To unfreeze attitudes that have become central constituents of the self, the sense of identity itself is attacked; guilt is evoked, confessed, and expiated. Somewhat similar processes have been described for the transformation of a young layman into a monk (Erikson 1958) or of a recruit into an officer (Smith 1949). The seeming significance and human cogency of the phenomena touched upon in these descriptions raise doubts about the extent to which the theory of attitude change may have been impoverished by too close confinement to the pallid topics and mild pressures of the laboratory. There are striking similarities between the processes of attitude change in self-involving life settings and in psychotherapy (Frank 1961).

Functional approaches to attitude change. Not tied to any single theory of personality, a group of recent approaches to the development and change of attitudes is nevertheless oriented to the personality as an empirical system. These functional approaches attempt a relatively comprehensive account of the functions that a person’s opinions and attitudes serve in the ongoing economy of personality, on the assumption that knowledge of the motivational basis of attitudes should point to the conditions under which change can be expected. From the functional standpoint, the vigorous resistance with which persuasive efforts are commonly met suggests that people have a strong interest in maintaining their attitudes with as little change as possible.

Smith, Bruner, and White (1956), on the basis of an intensive clinical study, offer a classification in terms of three broad functions served by opinions and attitudes: (1) object appraisal, (2) social adjustment, and (3) externalization. Any persistent attitude is likely to serve all three functions to some extent, but there is considerable variation from issue to issue and from person to person with respect to the function that predominates.

Object appraisal. The first function involves scanning and appraising the input of information from the external world for its relevance to the person’s motives, goals, values, and interests, thus giving rise to selective self-exposure and attention to information. A person’s stock of existing beliefs and opinions simplifies his task of scanning by providing him with already evaluated categories to which incoming information can be fitted. When object appraisal predominates, attitudes should be malleable, in response to rational presentations of information that lead the person to reappraise the bearing of reality factors on his interests and enterprises. Even in this case some resistance may be expected, since relatively stable categories are an advantage to a person in coordinating an effective way of coping with the too unstable world.

Social adjustment. The part played by a person’s opinions in facilitating, disrupting, or simply maintaining his relations with significant others is termed social adjustment. Since attitudes may be organized in response to motivated nonconformity, as well as to conformist motives, a better term for this function might be the mediation of self-other relations. In contrast with object appraisal, in which informational input about the object of the attitude is the crucial formant and source of change, here the strategic information pertains to how other people regard the object. This information engages his motives to affiliate and identify himself with them or to detach himself and oppose them. The influence of reference groups on a person’s attitudes is classified here.

Externalization. The final class of functions, more broadly phrased as externalization and ego defense, involves response to an external object or event in a way that is colored by a person’s unresolved inner problems. The attitude taken toward external facts is an overt symbolic substitute for covert attitudes taken in the inner struggle. This function has been emphasized by psychoanalysis to the exclusion of the others, and, of course, it is the function that is one-sidedly stressed in The Authoritarian Personality (Adorno et al. 1950). Attitudes so motivated are unlikely to be influenced by rationally presented information, but they may respond to authoritative reassurances that allay anxiety, to changes brought about in self-insight, or to the uncovering processes that go on in psychoanalytic therapy.

A closely related classification of four functions is provided by Katz (1960; see also Katz & Stotland 1959), who develops the implications of each for conditions of attitude change.

Such functional classifications must be regarded as devices of heuristic convenience, not as theories that are true or false. But the hypotheses about attitude change for which they provide a framework are being tested in empirical research. Here difficulties in assessing motivation combine with those inherent in the study of attitudes to make clear-cut results difficult to obtain.

Some concluding remarks

This essay has focused on theoretical approaches to the study of attitude change; but the research on which this spate of theories, models, and approaches is grounded is not entirely in good order, and a few cautionary remarks are appropriate in conclusion.

The recent rapid flow of research has not represented, in a way that is adequate for the healthy development of theory, the full range of phenomena implied by the customary definitions of attitude. We have noted the relative dearth of naturalistic descriptive studies. When the relevant variables and relationships are yet to be discerned, premature leaping into rigidly designed experimentation may be costly. The too frequent failure of apparently well-designed studies to stand up to replication should be a warning. Reasons of efficiency have also led to the restriction of experimental studies of change to relatively superficial attitudes and beliefs in regard to which exposure to brief communications might be expected to have measurable effects. Similar reasons have led to a concentration on short-term effects instead of the more important long-term ones.

The integration of attitude research with the study of personality structure and processes is largely still incomplete. By and large, the investigators who study personality change, as in psychotherapy, are different from those who are interested in attitude change; they conceive of their problems within different frameworks and theorize about them in different terms.

More strictly technical aspects of research on attitude change should also cause concern. The care expended by psychometricians on the refinement of sophisticated scaling models for the measurement of attitudes has largely been lost to the experimentalist, who is fastidious about experimental design but slipshod in his techniques of measurement. Although perhaps more serious from the perspective of fostering the specification and development of theory, investigators and theorists alike have been entirely too cavalier in referring to attitude change without specifying the aspect of attitude—belief, feeling, or action tendency—in which change is predicted and measured. It often seems as though any stray feature of opinion in which change can readily be produced will do for experimentation. Moreover, researchers would do well to return to the safeguards employed by Hovland, Lumsdaine, and Sheffield (1949) against the contamination of results by the expectations of guinea pig subjects who know that they are under study.

For all these strictures, research on attitude change has made immense strides in recent decades. Knowledge in this field should be advanced and consolidated if current trends in research toward theoretical and experimental virtuosity are balanced by equal concern with representativeness and fidelity to the phenomena.

M. Brewster Smith

[Directly related are the entriesBrainwashing; Education; Persuasion; Propaganda. Other relevant material may be found inCognitive theory; Communication; Gestalt theory; Learning theory; Mental disorders, Treatment of; Prejudice; Psychoanalysis; Self concept; Socialization.]


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Allport, Gordon W. 1954 The Nature of Prejudice. Cambridge, Mass.: Addison-Wesley. → An abridged paperback edition was published in 1958 by Doubleday.

Asch, Solomon E. (1952) 1959 Social Psychology. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Brehm, Jack W.; and Cohen, Arthur R. 1962 Explorations in Cognitive Dissonance. New York: Wiley.

Campbell, Donald T. 1963 Social Attitudes and Other Acquired Behavioral Dispositions. Pages 94–172 in Sigmund Koch (editor), Psychology: A Study of a Science. Volume 6: Investigations of Man as Socius: Their Place in Psychology and the Social Sciences. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Cohen, Arthur R. 1964 Attitude Change and Social Influence. New York and London: Basic Books.

Doob, Leonard 1947 The Behavior of Attitudes. Psychological Review 54:135–156.

Erikson, Erik H. (1958) 1962 Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History. Austin Riggs Monograph No. 4. New York: Norton.

Festinger, Leon 1950 Informal Social Communication. Psychological Review 57:271–282.

Festinger, Leon 1957 A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Evanston, 111.: Row, Peterson.

Frank, Jerome D. 1961 Persuasion and Healing: A Comparative Study of Psychotherapy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

Harding, John S. et al. 1954 Prejudice and Ethnic Relations. Volume 2, pages 1021–1061 in Gardner Lindzey (editor), Handbook of Social Psychology. Cambridge, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.

Hebb, D. O.; and Thompson, W. R. 1954 The Social Significance of Animal Studies. Volume 1, pages 532–561 in Gardner Lindzey (editor), Handbook of Social Psychology. Cambridge, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.

Heider, Fritz 1946 Attitudes and Cognitive Organization. Journal of Psychology 21:107–112.

Heider, Fritz 1958 The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations. New York: Wiley.

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Hovland, Carl I.; Janis, Irving L.; and Kelley, Harold H. 1953 Communication and Persuasion: Psychological Studies of Opinion Change. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.

Hovland, Carl I.; Lumsdaine, Arthur A.; and Sheffield, Frederick D. 1949 Experiments on Mass Communication. Studies in Social Psychology in World War II, Vol. 3. Princeton Univ. Press; Oxford Univ. Press.

Hyman, Herbert H. 1959 Political Socialization: A Study in the Psychology of Political Behavior. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.

Janis, Irving L. 1959 Motivational Factors in the Resolution of Decisional Conflicts. Volume 7, pages 198–231 in Marshall R. Jones (editor), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press.

Janis, Irving L.; and Smith, M. Brewster 1965 Effects of Education and Persuasion on National and International Images. Pages 190–235 in Herbert C. Kelman (editor), International Behavior: A Social-psychological Analysis. New York: Holt.

Katz, Daniel 1960 The Functional Approach to the Study of Attitudes. Public Opinion Quarterly 24:163–204.

Katz, Daniel; and Stotland, Ezra 1959 A Preliminary Statement to a Theory of Attitude Structure and Change. Pages 423–475 in Sigmund Koch (editor), Psychology: A Study of a Science. Volume 3: Formulations of the Person and the Social Context. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Katz, Elihu; and Lazarsfeld, Paul F. 1955 Personal Influence: The Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communications. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.

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Lifton, Robert J. 1961 Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of “Brainwashing” in China. New York: Norton.

Murphy, Gardner; Murphy, L. B.; and Newcomb, T. M. 1937 Experimental Social Psychology. Rev. ed. New York: Harper. → See especially pages 889–1046 on “Social Attitudes and Their Measurement.” G. Murphy and L. B. Murphy were the authors of the first edition published in 1931.

Newcomb, Theodore M. (1943) 1957 Personality and Social Change: Attitude Formation in a Student Community. New York: Dryden.

Newcomb, Theodore M. 1961 The Acquaintance Process. New York: Holt.

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Schein, Edgar H.; Schneier, I.; and Barker, C. H. 1961 Coercive Persuasion: A Socio-psychological Analysis of “Brainwashing” of American Civilian Prisoners by the Chinese Communists. New York: Norton.

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Sherif, Muzafer; and Cantril, Hadley 1947 The Psychology of Ego-involvements, Social Attitudes and Identifications. New York: Wiley; London: Chapman & Hall.

Sherif, Muzafer; and Hovland, CARL I. 1961 Social Judgment: Assimilation and Contrast Effects in Communication and Attitude Change. Yale Studies in Attitude and Communication, Vol. 4. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.

Skinner, Burrhus F. 1957 Verbal Behavior. New York: Appleton.

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Staats, Arthur W.; and Staats, Carolyn K. 1958 Attitudes Established by Classical Conditioning. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 57:37–40.


views updated May 18 2018


Attitude "is probably the most distinctive and indispensable concept in contemporary American social psychology" (Allport 1985, p. 35). Hundreds of books and thousands of articles have been published on the topic. A review of this literature may be found in Eagly and Chaiken (1998). Despite this popularity, there is considerable disagreement about such basics as terminology. Several terms are frequently used as synonyms for attitude, including opinion and belief. Contemporary writers often distinguish attitudes from cognitions, which is broader and includes attitudes as well as perceptions of one's environment. Most analysts distinguish attitude from value, the latter referring to a person's ultimate concerns or preferred modes of conduct.

An attitude is a learned predisposition to respond to a particular object in a generally favorable or unfavorable way. Every attitude is about an object, and the object may be a person, product, idea, or event. Each attitude has three components: (1) a belief, (2) a favorable or unfavorable evaluation, and (3) a behavioral disposition. This definition is used by most contemporary writers. However, a small minority define attitude as consisting only of the positive or negative evaluation of an object.

A stereotype is one type of attitude. Originally, the term referred to a rigid and simplistic "picture in the head." In current usage, a stereotype is a belief about the characteristics of members of some specified social group. A stereotype may be positive (Asian Americans are good at math) or negative (women are bad at math). Most stereotypes are resistant to change.

Attitudes link the person to other individuals, groups, and social organizations and institutions. Each person has literally hundreds of attitudes, one for each significant object in the person's physical and social environment. By implication, the individual's attitudes should reflect his or her location in society. Thus, attitudes are influenced by gender, race, religion, education, and social class. Considerable research on the relationship between social position and attitudes has been carried out; this literature is reviewed by Kiecolt (1988).


Many attitudes are learned through direct experience with the object. Attitudes toward one's school, job, church, and the groups to which one belongs are examples. Attitudes toward the significant persons in one's life are also learned in this way. More often, attitudes are learned through interactions with others. Socialization by parents, explicit teaching in educational and religious settings, and interactions with friends are important sources of attitudes. Research shows that children's attitudes toward a variety of objects, including gender roles and political issues, are similar to those held by their parents.

Another source of attitudes is the person's observations of the world. A topic of continuing interest is the impact of mass media on the attitudes (and behavior) of users. A thorough review of the literature on this topic (Roberts and Maccoby 1985) concludes that television viewing affects both children's and adolescents' attitudes about gender roles. Further, the viewing of programs intentionally designed to teach positive attitudes toward racial or ethnic minorities does increase children's acceptance of such persons. With regard to adults, evidence supports the "agenda setting" hypothesis; the amount and quality of coverage by the media (press, radio, and television) of an issue influences the public's perception of the importance of that issue. The effects of mass media exposure on aggression are discussed by Felson (1996) and Geen (1998).

Stereotypes are also learned. A stereotype may arise out of direct experience with a member of the stereotyped group, for example, a person who encounters a musically talented black person may create a stereotype by overgeneralizing, inferring that all African Americans are gifted musically. More often, however, stereotypes are learned from those with whom we interact such as parents. Other stereotypes may be acquired from books, television, or film. Research indicates that television programming portrays women, the elderly, and members of some ethnic minorities in negative ways and that these portrayals create (or reinforce) misperceptions and negative stereotypes in viewers (McGuire 1985).

Social institutions influence the attitudes one learns in several ways. Adults' ties to particular ethnic, religious, and other institutions influence the attitudes they teach their children. The instruction given in schools reflects the perspectives of the dominant political and economic institutions in society. The amount and quality of media coverage of people and events reflects the interests of particular groups in society. Through these mechanisms, the individual's attitudes reflect the society, institutions, and groups of which she or he is a member.

Each attitude fulfills one or more of four functions for the individual. First, some attitudes serve an instrumental function: An individual develops favorable attitudes toward objects that aid or reward the individual and unfavorable attitudes toward objects that thwart or punish the individual. For example, a person who earns a large salary will have a positive attitude toward the job. Second, attitudes often serve a knowledge function. They provide the person with a meaningful and structured environment. Third, some attitudes express the individual's basic values and reinforce self-image. Whites' attitudes toward black Americans reflect the importance that whites place on the values of freedom and equality. Fourth, some attitudes protect the person from recognizing certain thoughts or feelings that threaten his or her self-image or adjustment.

Stereotypes also serve several functions. The act of classifying oneself as a member of a group (males, Republicans, whites) elicits the image of a contrasting group (females, Democrats, Latinos). Thus, stereotypes contribute to social identity. They also reduce the demands on the perceiver to process information about individual members of a stereotyped group; instead, one can rely on a stereotype. Finally, stereotypes may be used to justify the political and economic status quo.


Because attitudes are mental states, they cannot be directly observed. Social scientists have developed a variety of methods for measuring attitudes, some direct and some indirect.

Direct Methods. These methods involve asking the person questions and recording the answers. Direct methods include various rating scales and several sophisticated scaling techniques.

The three most frequently used rating scales are single item, Likert scales, and the semantic differential. The single-item scale usually consists of a direct positive or negative statement about the object, and the respondent indicates whether he or she agrees, disagrees, or is unsure. Such a measure is easy to score, but is not precise. A Likert scale typically involves several statements, and the respondent is asked to indicate the degree to which she or he agrees or disagrees with each. By analyzing differences in the pattern of responses across respondents, the investigator can order individuals from greatest agreement to greatest disagreement. Whereas Likert scales assess the denotative (literal) meaning of an object to a respondent, the semantic differential technique assesses the connotative (personal) meaning of the object. Here, an investigator presents the respondent with a series of bipolar adjective scales. Each of these is a scale whose poles are two adjectives having opposite meanings, for example, good–bad, exciting–boring. The respondent rates the attitude object, such as "my job," on each scale. After the data are collected, the researcher can analyze them by various statistical techniques.

A variety of more sophisticated scaling techniques have been developed. These typically involve asking a series of questions about a class of objects, for example, occupations, crimes, or political figures, and then applying various statistical techniques to arrive at a summary measure. These include magnitude techniques (e.g., the Thurstone scale), interlocking techniques (e.g., the Guttman scale), proximity techniques (e.g., smallest space analysis), and the unfolding technique developed by Coombs. None of these has been widely used.

Indirect Methods. Direct methods assume that people will report honestly their attitudes toward the object of interest. But when questions deal with sensitive issues, such as attitudes toward members of minority groups or abortion, respondents may not report accurately. In an attempt to avoid such reactivity, investigators have developed various indirect methods.

Some methods involve keeping respondents unaware of what is being measured. The "lost letter" technique involves dropping letters in public areas and observing the behavior of the person who finds it. The researcher can measure attitudes toward abortion by addressing one-half of the letters to a prochoice group and the other half to a prolife group. If a greater percentage of letters to the latter group are returned, it suggests people have prolife attitudes. Another indirect measure of attitude is pupil dilation, which increases when the person observes an object she or he likes and decreases when the object is disliked.

Some indirect measures involve deceiving respondents. A person may be asked to sort a large number of statements into groups, and the individual's attitude may be inferred from the number or type of categories used. Similarly, a respondent may be asked to write statements characterizing other people's beliefs on an issue, and the content and extremity of the respondent's statements are used to measure his or her own attitude. A third technique is the "bogus pipeline." This involves attaching the person with electrodes to a device and telling the person that the device measures his or her true attitudes. The respondent is told that some signal, such as a blinking light, pointer, or buzzer, will indicate the person's real attitude, then the person is asked direct questions.

While these techniques may reduce inaccurate reporting, some of them yield measures whose meaning is not obvious or is of questionable validity. Does mailing a letter reflect one's attitude toward the addressee or the desire to help? There is also evidence that measures based on these techniques are not reliable. Finally, some researchers believe it is unethical to use techniques that involve deception. Because of the importance of obtaining reliable and valid measures, research has been carried out on how to ask questions. This research is reviewed by Schuman and Presser (1996).

For a comprehensive discussion of attitude measurement techniques and issues, see Dawes and Smith (1985).


An individual's attitude toward some object usually is not an isolated psychological unit. It is embedded in a cognitive structure and linked with a variety of other attitudes. Several theories of attitude organization are based on the assumption that individuals prefer consistency among the elements of cognitive structure, that is, among attitudes and perceptions. Two of these are balance theory and dissonance theory.

Balance Theory. Balance theory, developed by Heider, is concerned with cognitive systems composed of two or three elements. The elements can be either persons or objects. Consider the statement "I will vote for Mary Sweeney; she supports parental leave legislation." This system contains three elements—the speaker, P; another person (candidate Mary Sweeney), O; and an impersonal object (parental leave legislation), X. According to balance theory, two types of relationships may exist between elements. Sentiment relations refer to sentiments or evaluations directed toward objects and people; a sentiment may be either positive (liking, endorsing) or negative (disliking, opposing). Unit relations refer to the extent of perceived association between elements. For example, a positive unit relation may result from ownership, a relationship (such as friendship or marriage), or causality. A negative relation indicates dissociation, like that between ex-spouses or members of groups with opposing interests. A null relation exists when there is no association between elements.

Balance theory is concerned with the elements and their interrelations from P's viewpoint. In the example, the speaker favors parental leave legislation, perceives Mary Sweeney as favoring it, and intends to vote for her. This system is balanced. By definition, a balanced state is one in which all three relations are positive or in which one is positive and the other two are negative. An imbalanced state is one in which two of the relationships between elements are positive and one is negative or in which all three are negative. For example, "I love (+) Jane; Jane loves (+) opera; I hate (-) opera" is imbalanced.

The theory assumes that an imbalanced state is unpleasant and that when one occurs, the person will try to restore balance. There is considerable empirical evidence that people do prefer balanced states and that attitude change often occurs in response to imbalance. Furthermore, people maintain consistency by responding selectively to new information. There is evidence that people accept information consistent with their existing attitudes and reject information inconsistent with their cognitions. This is the major mechanism by which stereotypes are maintained.

Dissonance Theory. Dissonance theory assumes that there are three possible relationships between any two cognitions. Cognitions are consistent, or consonant, if one naturally or logically follows from the other; they are dissonant when one implies the opposite of the other. The logic involved is psycho logic—logic as it appears to the individual, not logic in a formal sense. Two cognitive elements may also be irrelevant; one may have nothing to do with the other.

Cognitive dissonance is a state of psychological tension induced by dissonant relationships between cognitive elements. There are three situations in which dissonance commonly occurs. First, dissonance occurs following a decision whenever the decision is dissonant with some cognitive elements. Thus, choice between two (or more) attractive alternatives creates dissonance because knowledge that one chose A is dissonant with the positive features of B. The magnitude of the dissonance experienced is a function of the proportion of elements consonant and dissonant with the choice. Second, if a person engages in a behavior that is dissonant with his or her attitudes, dissonance will be created. Third, when events disconfirm an important belief, dissonance will be created if the person had taken action based on that belief. For example, a person who buys an expensive car in anticipation of a large salary increase will experience dissonance if she or he does not receive the expected raise.

Since dissonance is an unpleasant state, the theory predicts that the person will attempt to reduce it. Usually, dissonance reduction involves changes in the person's attitudes. Thus, following a decision, the person may evaluate the chosen alternative more favorably and the unchosen one more negatively. Following behavior that is dissonant with his or her prior attitude, the person's attitude toward the behavior may become more positive. An alternative mode of dissonance reduction is to change the importance one places on one or more of the attitudes. Following a decision, the person may reduce the importance of the cognitions that are dissonant with the choice; this is the well-known "sour grapes" phenomenon. Following disconfirmation of a belief, one may increase the importance attached to the disconfirmed belief. A third way to reduce dissonance is to change behavior. If the dissonance following a choice is great, the person may decide to choose B instead of A. Following disconfirmation, the person may change behaviors that were based on the belief.

Numerous books and hundreds of articles about dissonance theory have been published since it was introduced by Festinger in 1957. There is a substantial body of research evidence that supports various predictions from and elaborations of the theory. Taken together, this literature has produced a detailed taxonomy of situations that produce dissonance and of preferred modes of dissonance reduction in various types of situations.


Both balance and dissonance theories identify the desire for consistency as a major source of stability and change in attitudes. The desire to maintain consistency leads the individual either to interpret new information as congruent with his or her existing cognitions (assimilation) or to reject it if it would challenge existing attitudes (contrast). This process is very important in preserving stability in one's attitudes. At the same time, the desire for consistency will lead to attitude change when imbalance or dissonance occurs. Dissonance theory explicitly considers the link between behavior and attitudes. It predicts that engaging in counterattitudinal behavior may indirectly affect attitudes. This is one mechanism by which social influences on behavior may indirectly affect attitudes. This mechanism comes into play when the person experiences changes in roles and the requirements of the new role are inconsistent with his or her prior attitudes.

The classic perspective in the study of attitude change is the communication–persuasion paradigm, which grew out of the work by Hovland and his colleagues at Yale University. Persuasion is defined as changing the beliefs or attitudes of a person through the use of information or argument. Attempts at persuasion are widespread in everyday interaction, and the livelihood of advertisers and political consultants. According to the paradigm, each attempt involves source, message, target, and context. Thousands of empirical studies, many of them experiments done in laboratory settings, have investigated the influence of variations in these four components on the outcome of an attempt. In general, if the source is perceived as an expert, trustworthy, or physically attractive, the message is more likely to produce attitude change. Thus, it is no accident that magazine and television commercials feature young, attractive models. Message variables include the extent of discrepancy from the target's attitude, whether it arouses fear, and whether it presents one or both sides. Under certain conditions, highly discrepant, fear-arousing, and one-sided messages are more effective. Target factors include intelligence, self-esteem, and prior experience and knowledge. The most researched contextual factor is mood. For a review of this research, see Perloff (1993).

In the 1990s considerable work built upon the elaboration–likelihood model proposed by Petty and Cacioppo (1986). This model identifies two basic routes through which a message may change a target's attitudes: the central and the peripheral. Persuasion via the central route occurs when a target scrutinizes the arguments contained in the message, interprets and evaluates them, and integrates them into a coherent position. This process is termed elaboration. In elaboration, attitude change occurs when the arguments are strong, internally coherent, and consistent with known facts. Persuasion via the peripheral route occurs when, instead of elaborating the message, the target pays attention primarily to extraneous cues linked to the message. Among these cues are characteristics of the source (expertise, trustworthiness, attractiveness), superficial characteristics of the message such as length, or characteristics of the context such as response of other audience members. Several factors influence whether elaboration occurs. One is the target's involvement with the issue; if the target is highly involved with and cares about the issue addressed by the message, he or she is more likely to elaborate the message. Other factors include whether the target is distracted by noise or some other aspect of the situation, and whether the target is tired. Which route a message elicits in attitude change is important. Attitudes established by the central route tend to be more strongly held and more resistant to change because the target has thought through the issue in more detail.

The literature on attitude change flourished in the 1990s. The effects of many variables have been studied experimentally. A review of the research conducted in 1992 to 1995 concluded that any one variable may have multiple effects, depending upon other aspects of the persuasion attempt (Petty, Wegener, and Fabrigar 1997). For example, consider the effect of mood on attitude change. Assuming that happy people are more open to new information, one might predict that persuasive messages would lead to greater attitude change in happy persons than in sad ones. However, research indicates that happy people spend less time processing persuasive messages than persons in neutral moods, and so may be less influenced by them. The hedonic contingency hypothesis states that the effect of mood depends upon the hedonic tone of the message. Happy people want to maintain their happy mood, so they are likely to scrutinize and process happy messages but not sad ones. Sad people often want to change their mood, and most messages will improve it, so their processing is not affected by messages' hedonic tone. The results of two experiments support the hypothesis (Wegener, Petty, and Smith 1995). Thus, the effect of mood on persuasion depends on whether the message is uplifting or depressing.


The attitude–behavior relation has been the focus of considerable research since the early 1970s. This research has identified a number of variables that influence the extent to which one can predict a person's behavior from his or her attitudes.

Some of these variables involve the measurement of the attitude and of the behavior. The correspondence of the two measures is one such variable: one can predict behavior more accurately if the two measures are at the same level of specificity. An opinion poll can predict the outcome of an election because there is high correspondence between the attitude ("Which candidate do you prefer for mayor in next month's election?") and the behavior (voting for a candidate in that election). The length of time between the measure of attitude and the occurrence and measure of the behavior is also an important variable. The shorter the time, the stronger the relationship. The longer the elapsed time, the more likely the person's attitude will change, although some attitudes are stable over long periods, for example, twenty years.

The characteristics of the attitude also influence the degree to which one can predict behavior from it. In order for an attitude to influence behavior, it must be activated, that is, brought from memory into conscious awareness. An attitude is usually activated by a person's exposure to the attitude object. Attitudes vary in accessibility, the ease with which they are activated. The more accessible an attitude is, the more likely it is to guide future behavior (Kraus 1995). Another variable is the source of the attitude. Attitudes based on direct experience with the object are more predictive of behavior. The certainty or confidence with which the person holds the attitude also moderates the attitude–behavior relationship.

The attitude–behavior relation is also influenced by situational constraints—the social norms governing behavior in a situation. An attitude is more likely to be expressed in behavior when the behavior is consistent with these norms.

An important attempt to specify the relationship between attitude and behavior is the theory of reasoned action, developed by Fishbein and Ajzen (1975). According to this theory, behavior is determined by behavioral intention. Behavioral intention is determined by two factors: attitude and subjective norm. Attitude is one's beliefs about the likely consequences of the behavior and one's evaluation—positive or negative—of each of those outcomes. Subjective norm is the person's belief about other important persons' or groups' reactions to the behavior and the person's motivation to comply with the expectations of each. One of the strengths of the theory is this precise specification of the influences on behavioral intention. It is possible to measure quantitatively each of the four components (likely consequences, evaluation, likely reactions, motivation to comply) and use these to make precise predictions of behavior. Many empirical studies report results consistent with such predictions. The theory applies primarily to behavior that is under conscious, volitional control.

On the other hand, researchers have shown that attitudes can affect behavior without being brought into conscious awareness (Bargh 1996). Attitudes toward objects influence our judgments and behavior toward those objects without conscious awareness or intent. Stereotypes of social groups are often activated automatically, as soon as an individual is perceived as a member of the group. Automatic processing is more likely when the individual experiences information overload, time pressures, or is not interested in engaging in effortful processing.


Increasingly, attitudes are employed as indicators. Some researchers use attitude measures as indicators of concepts, while others study changes in attitudes over time as indicators of social change.

Indicators of Concepts. Measures of specific attitudes are frequently used as indicators of more general concepts. For example, agreement with the following statement is interpreted as an indicator of powerlessness: "This world is run by the few people in power, and there is not much the little guy can do about it." Powerlessness is considered to be a general orientation toward the social world and is a sense that one has little or no control over events. Feelings of powerlessness may be related to such varied behaviors as vandalism, not voting in elections, and chronic unemployment.

Attitude measures have been used to assess many other concepts used in the analysis of political attitudes and behavior. These include the liberalism–conservatism dimension, political tolerance (of radical or unpopular groups), trust in or disaffection with national institutions, and relative deprivation. (For a review of this literature, see Kinder and Sears 1985.) Attitude measures are used to assess many other characteristics of persons. In the realm of work these include occupational values, job satisfaction, and leadership style.

A major concern when attitudes are employed as indicators is construct validity, that is, whether the specific items used are valid measures of the underlying concept. In the powerlessness example, the connection between the content of the item and the concept may seem obvious, but even in cases like this it is important to demonstrate validity. A variety of analytic techniques may be used, including interitem correlations, factor analysis, and LISREL.

Indicators of Social Change. Two methodological developments have made it possible to use attitudes to study social change. The first was the development of probability sampling techniques, which allow the investigator to make inferences about the characteristics of a population from the results obtained by surveying a sample of that population. The second is the use of the same attitude measures in surveys of representative samples at two or more points in time.

A major source of such data is the General Social Survey (GSS), an annual survey of a probability sample of adults. The GSS repeats a core set of items on a roughly annual basis, making possible the study of changes over a period of thirty years. Many of these items were drawn directly from earlier surveys, making comparisons over a forty- or fifty-year timespan possible. A published book describes these items and presents the responses obtained each time the item was used (Niemi, Mueller, and Smith 1989). Other sources of such data include the National Election Studies and the Gallup Polls.

This use of attitude items reflects a general concern with social change at the societal level. The investigator uses aggregate measures of attitudes in the population as an index of changes in cultural values and social institutions. Two areas of particular interest are attitudes toward race and gender roles. In both areas, efforts have been made to improve access to educational programs, jobs, and professions, increase wages and salaries, and provide greater opportunity for advancement. The availability of responses to the same attitude items over time allows us to assess the consistency between these social changes and attitudes in the population. Consider the question "Do you think civil rights leaders are trying to push too fast, are going too slowly, or are moving at about the right speed?" This question was asked in surveys of national samples every two years from 1964 to 1976 and in 1980. The percentage of whites replying "too fast" declined from 74 percent in 1964 to 40 percent in 1980 (Bobo 1988), suggesting increased white support for the black movement. In general, research indicates that both racial and gender-role attitudes became more liberal between 1960 and 1990, and this finding is consistent with the social changes in these areas. Other topics that have been studied include attitudes toward abortion, social class identification, and subjective quality of life.

There are several issues involved in this use of attitude items. The first is the problem of "nonattitudes." Respondents may answer survey questions or endorse statements even though they have no attitude toward the object. In fact, when respondents are questioned about fictional objects or organizations, some of them will express an opinion. Schuman and Kalton (1985) discuss this issue in detail and suggest ways to reduce the extent to which nonattitudes are given by respondents.

The second issue involves the interpretation of responses to items. In the example above, the analyst assumes that white respondents who reply "Too fast" feel threatened by the movement. However, there is evidence that small changes in the wording of survey items can produce substantial changes in aggregate response patterns. This evidence and guidelines for writing survey items are discussed in Schuman and Presser (1996).

Finally, there is the problem of equivalence in meaning over time. In order to make meaningful comparisons across time, the items need to be the same or equivalent. Yet over time the meaning of an item may change. Consider the item "Are you in favor of desegregation, strict segregation, or something in between?" This question was asked of national samples in 1964 and every two years from 1968 to 1978. From 1964 to 1970, the percentage of white, college-educated adults endorsing desegregation increased; from 1970 to 1978, the percentage decreased steadily. Until 1970, desegregation efforts were focused on the South; after 1970, desegregation efforts focused on school integration in northern cities. Evidence suggests that endorsement of desegregation changed because the meaning of the question for white adults changed (Schuman, Steeh, and Bobo 1985).


Allport, Gordon W. 1985 "The Historical Background of Social Psychology." In G. Lindzey and E. Aronson, eds., Handbook of Social Psychology, 3rd ed. New York: Random House.

Bargh, John A. 1996 "Automaticity in Social Psychology." In E.T. Higgins and A. Kruglanski, eds., SocialPsychology: Handbook of Basic Principles. New York: The Guilford Press.

Bobo, Lawrence 1988 "Attitudes toward the Black Political Movement: Trends, Meaning, and Effects on Racial Policy Preference." Social Psychology Quarterly 51:287–302.

Dawes, Robyn M., and Tom L. Smith 1985 "Attitude and Opinion Measurement." In G.Lindzey and E. Aronson, eds., Handbook of Social Psychology, 3rd ed. New York: Random House.

Eagly, Alice, and Shelly Chaiken 1998 "Attitude Structure and Function." In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, and G. Lindzey, eds., Handbook of Social Psychology, 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Felson, Richard B. 1996 "Mass Media Effects on Violent Behavior." In J. Hagen and K. Cook, eds., AnnualReview of Sociology, vol. 22. Palo Alto, Calif.: Annual Reviews.

Festinger, Leon 1957 A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

Fishbein, Martin, and Icek Ajzen 1975 Belief, Attitude,Intention, and Behavior. Reading, Mass.: Addision-Wesley.

Geen, Russel 1998 "Aggression and Antisocial Behavior." In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, and G. Lindzey, eds., Handboook of Social Psychology, 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Kiecolt, K. Jill 1988 "Recent Developments in Attitudes and Social Structure." In W. R. Scott and J. Blake. eds., Annual Review of Sociology, vol. 14. Palo Alto, Calif.: Annual Reviews.

Kinder, Donald R., and David O. Sears 1985 "Public Opinion and Political Action." In G. Lindzey and E. Aronson, eds., Handbook of Social Psychology, 3rd ed. New York: Random House.

Kraus, S.J. 1995 "Attitudes and the Prediction of Behavior: A Meta-Analysis of the Emperical Literature." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 18:152–162.

McGuire, William J. 1985 "Attitudes and Attitude Change." In G. Lindzey and E. Aronson, eds., Handbook of Social Psychology, 3rd ed. New York: Random House.

Niemi, Richard G., John Mueller, and Tom W. Smith 1989 Trends in Public Opinion: A Compendium of Survey Data. New York: Greenwood Press.

Perloff, R. M. 1993 The Dynamics of Persuasion. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Petty, Richard, and John Cacioppo 1986 "The Elaboration–Likelihood Model of Persuasion."Advances inExperimental Social Psychology 19:123–205.

Petty, Richard, Duane Wegener, and Leandre Fabrigan 1997 "Attitudes and Attitude Change."Annual Review of Psychology 48:609–647.

Roberts, Donald F., and Nathan Maccoby 1985 "Effects of Mass Communication." In G. Lindzey and E. Aronson, eds., Handbook of Social Psychology, 3rd ed. New York: Random House.

Schuman, Howard 1995 "Attitudes, Beliefs, and Behavior." In K. S. Cook, G. A. Finc, and J. S. House, eds., Sociological Perspectives on Social Psychology. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

——, and Stanley Presser 1996 Questions and Answersin Attitude Surveys. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Schuman, Howard, and Graham Kalton 1985 "Survey Methods." In G. Lindzey and E. Aronson, eds., Handbook of Social Psychology, 3rd ed. New York: Random House.

Schuman, Howard, Charlotte Steeh, and Lawrence Bobo 1985 Racial Attitudes in America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Wegener, Duane T., Richard E. Petty, and Stephen M. Smith 1995 "Positive Mood can Increase or Decrease Message Scrutiny: The Hedonic Contingency View of Mood and Message Processing." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 69:5–15.



views updated May 29 2018

28. Attitudes

See also 41. BEHAVIOR ; 279. MOODS ; 334. PSYCHOLOGY .

a concern or regard for the needs of others, entirely without ulterior motive. altruist, n. altruistic, adj.
the views and principles of a person who engages in an activity for pleasure rather than profit. Cf. professionalism. amateur, n.
an active dislike or energetic hostility that leads to strong opposition.
a contentiousness toward or opposition to others or their ideas; hostility or antipathy. antagonistic, adj.
dislike of or opposition to anything French. anti-Gallican, anti-Gallic, adj.
opposition to the ideas and activities of the Ku Klux Klan.
1. the habit of conduct, thought, and speech expressing total submission to rigid principles and rules.
2. the principles and views of the rule maker. authoritarian, n., adj.
a persons elevation of himself into being his own god.
adherence to a rigidly conventional set of mores and aspirations. The salient characteristics are the drive for business success and the lack of culture. The model for the characterization is George Babbitt, chief protagonist of Sinclair Lewiss novel, Babbitt. Also Babbittry .
attitudes or behavior typical of a beatnik or one who has rejected conventions of society.
the tendency to give excessive attention to matters of dress and etiquette. beauish, adj.
a warlike or hostile attitude. bellicose, adj.
obtuse or narrow-minded intolerance, especially of other races or religions. bigot, n. bigoted, adj.
the conduct and views suitable for a rural, rustic, or pastoral existence. bucolic, bucolical, adj.
adherence to a middle-of-the-road position, neither left nor right, as in politics. centrist, adj., n.
the quality or state of being agreeable, gracious, considerate, etc. complaisant, adj.
the act or practice of conforming, as to social convention, religious orthodoxy, or established political belief, conformist, n., adj.
the use of or reliance on construction or constructive methods. constructionist, n.
the relation to controversy or to a subject of controversy. controversialist, n.
a variety of conduct and thought based solely upon the usages, opinions, and practices of ones own society. conventionalist, n.
the opinions and behavior emerging from the theory that cultural and artistic activities should have neither national nor parochial boundaries. cosmopolitan, n., adj.
the holding or expressing of opinions that reveal disbelief and sometimes disdain for commonly held human values and virtues. Also called cynism . See also 312. PHILOSOPHY . cynic, n. cynical, adj.
excessive concern with matters of dress; foppishness. dandy, n.
1. the acceptance of defeat as a foregone conclusion and the resultant failure to make an effort to succeed.
2. the views underlying acceptance of the frustration or thwarting of a goal, especially by the failure to prevent them. Cf. futilitarianism . defeatist, n., adj.
the views and conduct of one who intends to teach, often in a pedantic or contemptuous manner, both factual and moral material. didact, n. didactic, adj.
the attitudes or behavior of one who stubbornly holds on to something, as an outdated view, untenable position, etc. die-hard, n., adj.
an extreme individualism; thought and behavior based upon the premise that ones individual self is the highest product, if not the totality, of existence. Cf. individualism. egoist, n. egoistic, adj.
the practice of thought, speech, and conduct expressing high self-regard or self-exaltation, usually without skepticism or humility. egotist, n. egotistical, adj.
the attitude that government should be by those who consider themselves superior to others by virtue of intelligence, social status, or greater accomplishment.
an undue influence of feelings upon thought and behavior. emotionalist, n. emotionalistic, adj.
calmness of temperament; even-temperedness. equanimous, adj.
1. the state of being a hermit.
2. an attitude favoring solitude and seclusion. eremite, n. eremitic, adj.
a conscious tendency to moralize.
attention paid to outward or outside matters, especially in religious affairs. externalist, n.
1. the condition or act of taking an extreme view.
2. the taking of extreme action. extremist, n., adj.
an extreme and uncritical zeal or enthusiasm, as in religion or politics. fanatic, n., adj. fanatical, adj.
the viewpoints of believers in the doctrine that all things are determined by the nature of existence and beyond human influence. fatalist, n. fatalistic, adj.
spiritual or intellectual dissatisfaction combined with a desire for power or material advantage. After Johann Faust (c. 1480-c. 1538), German scholar portrayed by Marlowe and Goethe. faustian, adj.
an attitude favoring the movement to eliminate political, social, and professional discrimination against women. feminist, n., adj. feministic, adj.
the belief in final causes. finalist, n.
Rare. a conscious and sometimes affected fastidiousness and undue concern with trifles, especially those affecting elegance.
an undue fastidiousness or overniceness. Also called finicality, finicism. finical, adj.
Rare. finicalness.
fogyism, fogeyism
an adherence to old-fashioned or conservative ideas and intolerance of change, often coupled with dullness or slowness of personality. fogyish, fogeyish, adj.
the basing of behavior and thinking upon existent categories, formulas, or systems of formulas; traditionalism. formulist, n. formulistic, adj.
behavior typical of an earlier time; old-fashioned or stuffy attitudes.
a belief in the uselessness of human endeavor and aspiration. Cf. defeatism. futilitarian, n., adj.
Rare. the habit of narrowmindedness, or philistinism.
the practice of frequently altering ones opinions or principles to follow popular trends.
the theories and standards of connoisseurs in eating and drinking. Also called gourmandism .
the censorship of personal conduct based upon narrow and unintelligent conventionalism. Grundyist, Grundyite, n.
the characteristics of a member of the Spanish lower nobility.
extreme or abnormal sensitivity, as to criticism. hypersensitive, adj.
an attitude of mind in which the imagination dominates. imaginational, adj.
a defeatist attitude; the belief that all things are impossible.
lack of shame or modesty.
the quality of not being clearly established or fixed. indeterminist, n. indeterministic, adj.
the condition of being indifferent or of having no preference. See also 312. PHILOSOPHY ; 349. RELIGION . indifferentist, n.
the practice of independence in thought and action on the premise that the development and expression of an individual character and personality are of the utmost importance. Cf. egoism. individualist, n. individualistic, adj.
lack of care or concern; a lighthearted attitude. insouciant, adj.
the quality or condition of being merry or cheerful. jocund, adj.
Obsolete, a person who leads a merry life.
the beliefs and practices of members of the Ku Klux Klan. Also called Ku Kluxism, Ku Kluxery .
the quality of being indifferent in politics or religion.
tolerance or broadmindedness, especially in matters of religion; the liberal interpretation of beliefs or doctrines. latitudinarian, n., adj.
the quality or condition of being gentle or merciful. lenient, adj.
frivolous or lighthearted behavior or attitude; an unserious approach to life. See also 213. HUMOR .
1. the state or quality of being a maid, a young or unmarried woman.
2. behavior or attitude typical of maidism.
the conviction that the world is evil.
the state or quality of being gentle or mild.
1. masculinity.
2. an attempt to protect masculine traits and qualities against the assaults of militant feminism. Cf. feminism .
Obsolete, generosity of spirit or magnanimity.
1. the state or quality of having a lively, fickle, volatile, or erratic attitude or character.
2. an instance of such behavior. mercurial, adj.
1. the state or condition of being combative or disposed to fight.
2. the active championing of a cause or belief. militant, n., adj.
misandry, misandria
an extreme dislike of males, frequently based upon unhappy experience or upbringing. Cf. misogynism.
a hatred of mankind; pessimistic distrust of human nature expressed in thought and behavior. Cf. philanthropy . misanthrope, misanthropist, n. misanthropic, adj.
misogynism, misogyny
an extreme dislike of females, frequently based upon unhappy experience or upbringing. Cf. misandry .
Rare. a hatred of wisdom. misosophist, n.
the state or quality of being excessively gloomy. morbid, adj.
the quality or state of being sarcastic or caustic. mordant, adj.
the quality or state of being excessively sullen or gloomy. morose, adj.
an attitude that favors appeasement.
the quality of being exceedingly generous; lavish generosity. munificent, adj.
weak or insipid behavior or attitude. namby-pamby, n.
adherence to or advocacy of crude outmoded views, practices, etc. neanderthal, adj.
1. an attitude characterized by an unwillingness to follow suggestions or orders, as in children.
2. a pessimistic approach to life. See also 312. PHILOSOPHY . negativist, n., adj., negativistic, adj.
a new movement in conservatism, usually seen as a move further to the right of the position currently occupied by conservatives in politics or in attitudes. neoconservative, n., adj.
nice-nellyism, nice-Nellyism
an inordinate degree of modesty or prudishness, or the appearance of such characteristics. See also 237. LANGUAGE STYLES . nice-nelly, nice-Nelly, n.
total rejection of established attitudes, practices, and institutions. nihilist, n. nihilistic, adj.
a deliberate and conscious refusal to conform to conventional practices or patterns of behavior. nonconformist, n. nonconformity, n.
the state or condition of being obstinate or hardhearted. obdurate, adj.
views and behavior that are not moved by the emotional content of an event, argument, or problem. Also objectivity .
the desire, willingness, or eagerness to oblige, serve, please, etc.; obsequiousness. obsequent, adj.
1. hatred.
2. the infamy or opprobrium brought on by being hated or by hateful behavior. odious, adj.
an excessive and usually groundless optimism. overoptimist, n. overoptimistic, adj.
narrowness or pettiness of interests, opinions, or information. parochialist, n.
smallness or pettiness of mind.
1. the state or quality of being inactive, of not participating.
2. the doctrine or advocacy of a passive policy, as passive resistance. passivist, n.
the attitude that anything short of perfection is unacceptable. perfectibilist, n.
1. the religious or philosophical aspiration to be perfect in moral character.
2. a personality trait manifested by the rejection of personal achievements falling short of perfection, often leading to distress and self-condemnation. perfectionist, n. perfectionistic, adj.
a depressed and melancholy viewpoint manifested as a disposition to hold the least hopeful opinion of conditions or behavior. See also 312. PHILOSOPHY . pessimist, n. pessimistic, adj.
1. the condition or quality of being irritable, peevish, or impatient.
2. an irritable or peevish statement or action. Also petulancy . petulant, adj.
a deliberate affection for mankind, shown in contributions of money, property, or work for the benefit of others. Cf. misanthropy. philanthropist, n. philanthropic, adj.
the opinions, goals, and conduct of persons deficient in liberal culture. philistine, n., adj.
Obsolete. 1 . one who loves his father.
2. one who loves his country.
a state or quality of full confidence or absolute certainty.
indifference; nonchalance.
blind or excessive optimism, after the character Pollyanna, created by American writer Eleanor Porter (1868-1920).
an insistence upon perfection in language, morals, or ritual. precisionist, n. precisionistic, adj.
the standards, views, and behavior of one who engages in an activity, especially sports or the arts, to make his livelihood. Cf. amateurism. professional, n., adj.
modesty or shyness; embarrassment.
modesty, especially chastity or chastefulness.
1. a belief that human races have distinctive characteristics that determine their respective cultures, usually involving the idea that ones race is superior and has the right to control others.
2. a belief in a policy of enforcing the asserted right of control. racist, n., adj.
ceremonialism. ritualist, n. ritualistic, adj.
a tenacious adherence to rules of behavior or thought; formulism. rubrician, n.
the motivations for exalting country above city living. ruralist, n.
the quality or condition of being ardent, confident, or optimistic. sanguine, adj.
1. Often Disparaging. the style, assumptions, techniques, practices, etc., typifying or regarded as typifying scientists.
2. the belief that the assumptions and methods of the natural sciences are appropriate and essential to all other disciplines, including the humanities and the social sciences.
3. scientific or pseudoscientific language. scientistic, adj.
the practice of discriminating against women in the offering of job opportunities, increases in salary, and other matters now generally considered to belong to women by right.
skepticism, scepticism
a personal disposition toward doubt or incredulity of facts, persons, or institutions. See also 312. PHILOSOPHY. skeptic, n., adj. skeptical, adj.
the double inclination to ape ones superiors, often through vulgar ostentation, and to be proud and insolent with ones inferiors. Also called snobbery . snob, n. snobby, snobbish, adj.
a devotion to the habits and qualities of the ancient Spartans, especially to an indomitable spirit, undaunted hardihood, and stark simplicity. spartan, n., adj.
the state of being spectacular.
an attitude of resistance to change; extreme conservatism.
the views and behavior of one who tends to be affected by the emotional qualities of an event, argument, or problem. Also called subjectivity .
the doctrines and conduct of those who regard life in suburbia superior to life in cities or country.
formal or superficial compliance with a law, requirement, convention, etc., especially in the hiring of members of a minority group.
the tendency to submerge individual opinions or creativity in ideas or methods inherited from the past, distinguished from conventionalism in having reference more to the past than to the present. Also called traditionism . See also 69. CATHOLICISM . traditionalist, n.
concern over things that are common or unimportant. triviality, n. trivial, adj.
1. an outlook or activity suitable to a cave dweller, especially among primitive tribes.
2. the motivation or condition of a modern cave-dwelling recluse, especially one who has rejected normal society.
3. coarse, brutal behavior, thought to resemble that of a primitive cave dweller. troglodyte, n. troglodytic, adj.
1. an extremist point of view or act.
2. extremism. ultraist, n., adj. ultraistic, adj.
the state or condition of being out of sympathy with or against an ideal of American behavior, attitudes, beliefs, etc. un-American, n., adj.
the views and behavior of those who champion urban living as superior to life elsewhere. Cf. ruralism, suburbanism . urbanistic, adj.
selfishness and parochialism said to be characteristic of rural parishioners. Also called vestrydom . vestryish, adj.
behavior or character typical of a vulture, especially in the sense of being rapacious. vulturous, adj.
1. the state or quality of being a yokel or country bumpkin.
2. behavior, language, etc, typical of a yokel.


views updated Jun 11 2018






Attitude, one of the key concepts of social psychology, refers to peoples evaluations of entities in their world. Formally defined, attitude is a psychological tendency that is expressed by evaluating a particular entity with some degree of favor or disfavor. An individuals evaluation is directed to some entity or thing that is its objectsuch as a person (Oprah Winfrey), a city (Chicago), or a theory (Darwinian evolution). The entity that is evaluated, known as an attitude object, can be anything that is dis-criminable or held in mind, sometimes below the level of conscious awareness.

Attitudes are initially formed when an individuals first reaction to an exemplar of an attitude object leaves a mental residue that predisposes the individual to respond with the same degree of evaluation on subsequent encounters with the attitude object. This mental residue is a tendency to respond with some degree of positivity or negativity to an attitude object. Once an attitude is formed, it is expressed through the cognitive, affective, and behavioral responses that the attitude object elicits. The cognitive aspect of attitudes consists of associations that people establish between an attitude object and various attributes that they ascribe to it. The affective aspect of attitudes consists of feelings and emotions and physiological responses that accompany affective experience. The behavioral aspect of attitudinal responding refers to overt actions toward the attitude object as well as to intentions to act. These cognitions, affects, and behaviors all express positive or negative evaluations of attitude objects.

As people form attitudes based on cognitive, affective, or behavioral responding to an attitude object, they form associations between the attitude object and these responses. As evaluative meaning is abstracted from these associations, an overall abstract attitude may be derived from these more elementary associations. Yet attitudes do not necessarily take the form of simple, unitary evaluations. To represent attitudes complexity, psychologists have assumed that the mental associations underlying attitudes can have structural properties. For example, mental associations may be more or less ambivalent, or evaluatively inconsistent with one another. In addition many important structural properties derive from attitudes links to other attitudesfor example, attitudes may form ideologies when they are linked by a common theme, such as liberalism or conservatism.

Attitudes may be implicit or explicit. Explicit attitudes are evaluations that are consciously experienced and may be reported by the person who holds the attitude. In contrast, implicit attitudes are those that people do not consciously recognize. These implicit attitudes may be automatically activated by the attitude object or cues associated with it. Regardless of whether attitudes are explicit or implicit, they are a source of motivational and cognitive bias and therefore generally foster attitude-consistent beliefs, affects, and behaviors.

Attitudes are usually assessed through questionnaire techniques that elicit respondents endorsement of statements or other stimuli (called items ) that imply positive or negative evaluation of an attitude object. Researchers typically combine each respondents reactions to these items according to a mathematical model that scales the reactions along an evaluative continuum that extends from very negative to very positive. Implicit measures of attitudes seek to assess attitudes without asking respondents for direct verbal reports of these attitudes. Such techniques may disguise attitude measures as tests of knowledge, assess physiological responses, or monitor the speed with which respondents associate an attitude object with positive or negative stimuli.


Attitudes can be changed on the basis of cognitive, affective, and behavioral processes. Most research on change has concerned persuasion by informational messages. Classically the independent variables studied by persuasion researchers are categorized as source, message, channel (or medium), recipient, and context variables. Variables within a single category do not necessarily affect persuasion similarly, nor do they necessarily act on attitudes through similar processes or through similar processes in varying circumstances. The reasons for this empirical complexity lie in the multiple psychological processes that can mediate attitude change.

Persuasion theory, which has a long history in social psychology, examines psychological processes that serve as mediators of the effects of information on attitudes. Some of these theories have emphasized what can be termed systematic processing, that is, the detailed processing of a communications content that produces acceptance of its conclusions. Yet dual-process models of persuasion emphasize that, in addition to careful, systematic scrutiny of the content of messages, people may use simple decision rules or cognitive heuristics to assess the validity of messages. For example, the decision rule that experts statements can be trusted might underlie persuasion by an individual expert communicator. A key assumption of dual-process theories is that people process information superficially and minimally unless they are motivated to turn to more effortful, systematic forms of processing. Furthermore systematic processing can only take place if they have the capacity or ability to evaluate the argumentation contained in messages. Therefore persuasion theorys predictions about the effects of variables such as the characteristics of message sources are contingent on the ability and motivation of members of the target audience.

Another technique for changing attitudes is to induce people to engage in behavior that has implications for their attitudes. This research has featured competing theoretical positions that make differing assumptions about the psychological processes that produce such change. The best-known theory, cognitive dissonance theory, took the view that the behavior of advocating a position inconsistent with ones attitude creates cognitive dissonance, an unpleasant state of arousal that motivates attitude change. Behavior inconsistent with an attitude changes this attitude toward the behavior, but only when the incentive for the behavior is not seen as the main reason for the behavior. Dissonance is particularly motivating when an individual accepts personal responsibility for his or her behavior bringing about an unwanted consequence. An example of such an unwanted consequence is provided by the case of a speaker who persuades audience members to adopt a viewpoint that he or she does not privately endorse. If the inducement for this behavior is small and personal responsibility is present, the speaker would be likely to show attitude change toward the position advocated. This attitude change occurs because such behavioral acts threaten the speakers self-identity or integrity unless attitude change makes the advocacy seem more consistent with his or her attitudes.


One of the greatest successes of attitude research is the substantial progress made in predicting behavior from attitudes. Relatively good prediction can be readily achieved if researchers design their measures of attitudes and behaviors appropriately. However, debates have ensued concerning the psychological processes by which attitudes influence behaviors. Many theories have assumed that people take the utility of behaviors into account in a rational cost-benefit calculation that determines behavior. However, other theorists have emphasized automatic links between attitudes and behaviors as well as the more deliberative route involving analysis of the utility of behaviors. According to the automaticity approach, attitudes can be formed automatically and then cause behavior to follow without any conscious reasoning process. Increasing the plausibility of relatively automatic attitude-behavior links is research suggesting that implicit measures of attitudesbut not explicit measurescan predict a variety of relatively spontaneous and subtle behaviors, such as nonverbal behaviors, that are for the most part not consciously controlled.


In summary, many specific research topics are encompassed within the broad area of attitudes, which in general pertains to the evaluative aspects of human experience. Researchers are concerned with the causes of attitudes and their effects. A wide range of causes can form and change attitudes. The attitude itself can have various structural properties and may be implicit or explicit. Attitudes in turn influence cognition, affect, and behavior.

SEE ALSO Attitudes, Behavioral; Attitudes, Political; Behaviorism; Cognition; Cognitive Dissonance; Communication; Ideology; Lay Theories; Personality; Persuasion; Research, Survey; Scales; Self-Perception Theory; Social Influence; Social Psychology; Values


Albarracin, Dolores, Blair T. Johnson, and Mark P. Zanna, eds. 2005. Handbook of Attitudes and Attitude Change. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Eagly, Alice H., and Shelly Chaiken. 1998. Attitude Structure and Function. In The Handbook of Social Psychology, 4th ed., eds. Daniel T. Gilbert, Susan T. Fiske, and Gardner Lindzey, vol. 1, 269-322. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Petty, Richard E., and Duane T. Wegener. 1998. Attitude Change: Multiple Roles for Persuasion Variables. In The Handbook of Social Psychology, 4th ed., eds. Daniel T. Gilbert, Susan T. Fiske, and Gardner Lindzey, vol. 1, 323-390. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Alice H. Eagly


views updated Jun 11 2018


Most people constantly evaluate various aspects of their environment. This process is often behavioral in its focus (e.g., "I like eating fast food"; "Breast self-exam is a waste of my time"; "Condoms are a good way to prevent pregnancy"). Attitudes are formed as a result of this ongoing evaluative process. Thus, attitudes are defined as evaluations of entities, including behavior, that result in perceptions of favor or disfavor (Eagly and Chaiken, 1993). Consequently, attitudes may predispose individuals to adopt or reject specific health-related behaviors.

Substantial evidence suggests that attitudes have an important influence on the adoption of health-related behaviors such as: contraceptive and condom use; being screened for breast, cervical, or colorectal cancer; smoking cessation; and maintenance of a healthy diet. However, the relationship between attitudes and behavior is complex, and understanding how attitudes influence behavior may be enhanced by the use of a theoretical framework.

The theory of planned behavior is based on the premise that attitudes influence behavior in unison with two other factors: perceptions of social norms (e.g., "Is this something my friends think I should do?") and beliefs about one's personal ability to perform a specific behavior. Studies of various health behaviors have found that attitudes, perceived social norms, and perceived ability each contribute, in varying combinations of importance, to predicting behavior and behavioral intent. Thus, it is appropriate to consider attitudes toward a behavior as one of these three broad classes of psychological determinants of health-related behavior.

One common problem encountered in studying attitudes is that attitudes may either influence behaviors or be influenced by behaviors. For example, a favorable evaluation of oral contraception may prompt a woman to rely on the pill for contraception. Alternatively, a woman who begins using the pill because it is popular (social norms) or because it is easy to use (perceived ability) may subsequently infer that she believes the pill is a good thing (an attitude). In the latter case, the behavior preceded the attitude. A. H. Eagly and S. Chaiken (1993) provide a comprehensive view of how people infer their attitudes based on their behavior.

Measurement of attitudes can also be problematic. An attitude typically involves multiple evaluations. For example, an individual's attitude toward drinking may involve evaluations of social benefits, benefits of getting drunk (e.g., escape), risks (e.g., injuries and addiction), and other problems (e.g., alienation of family members, missed days of work). One strategy for measuring an attitude this complex is to sum the evaluations (favorable or not) for each of the beliefs contributing to the overall attitude. Thus, an attitude can be measured with questionnaire items that can be read as a scale. For example, when the Condom Attitude Scale was recently administered to a group of adolescents, favorable attitudes on this scale were associated with lower odds of the adolescents' reporting unprotected vaginal sex during the previous thirty days.

The professional literature in the field of public health contains numerous examples of theorybased investigations that help determine the influence of attitudes on health-related behavior. For example, K. Jennings-Dozier (1999) used the theory of planned behavior to predict intentions among minority women to obtain a Pap smear (a test for cancer of the cervix). Assessed attitudes toward obtaining a Pap smear were the best predictor of this intent among African-American and Latina women. The implication of these findings is that, assuming the services are accessible and affordable, prevention programs can promote first-time Pap testing by providing women with information that favorably influences their evaluation of the test and procedure. In fact, the content of prevention programs is often designed to highlight the benefits of an entity (e.g., high-fiber foods prevent heart disease and some forms of cancer) or a behavior (e.g., breastfeeding helps protect your child from illness).

R. Prislin and colleagues (1998) provided another example of how the study of attitudes can be applied to the field of public health. They found that six beliefs commonly held by parents about childhood immunization predicted the immunization status of their children. The findings suggest that childhood immunization rates could be increased by facilitating parental beliefs in the efficacy and safety of vaccines and dispelling the belief that it is better to acquire immunity by getting sick than by receiving a vaccine. These beliefs contribute to parents' overall evaluation (their attitude) toward having their children immunized. Given that parents have access to affordable vaccination services, a more favorable attitude is likely to influence greater compliance with recommended immunizations.

Ralph J. DiClemente

Richard A. Crosby

(see also: Behavior Change; Behavior, Health-Related; Health Belief Model; Predisposing Factors; Psychology, Health; Theories of Health and Illness; Theory of Planned Behavior )


Ajzen, I., and Madden, T. J. (1986). "Prediction of Goal-Directed Behavior: Attitudes, Intentions, and Perceived Behavioral Control." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 22:452474.

Eagly, A. H., and Chaiken, S. (1993). The Psychology of Attitudes. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.

Jennings-Dozier, K. (1999). "Predicting Intentions to Obtain a Pap Smear among African American and Latina Women: Testing the Theory of Planned Behavior." Nursing Research 48(4):198205.

Kingree, J. B.; Braithwaite, R.; and Woodring, T. (2000). "Unprotected Sex as a Function of Alcohol and Marijuana Use among Adolescent Detainees." Journal of Adolescent Health 27:179185.

Montano, D. E.; Kasprzyk, D.; and Taplin, S. H. (1997). "The Theory of Reasoned Action and the Theory of Planned Behavior." In Health Education and Behavior: Theory, Research, and Practice, 2nd edition, eds. K. Glanz, F. M. Lewis, and B. K. Rimer. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Prislin, R.; Dyer, J. A.; Blakely, C. H.; and Johnson, C. D. (1998). "Immunization Status and Sociodemographic Characteristics: The Mediating Role of Beliefs, Attitudes, and Perceived Control." American Journal of Public Health 88(12):18211826.


views updated May 29 2018

attitudes, attitude research Variously defined as an orientation towards a person, situation, institution, or social process, that is held to be indicative of an underlying value or belief; or among those who insist that attitudes can only be inferred from observed behaviour, as a tendency to act in a certain (more or less consistent) way towards persons and situations. Milton Rokeach's much-quoted definition (Beliefs, Attitudes and Values, 1976) embraces both tendencies and describes an attitude as ‘a relatively enduring organization of beliefs around an object or situation predisposing one to respond in some preferential manner’.

Social psychologists and sociologists have invested a great deal of effort in the measurement of attitudes, opinions, and views on society at large; on relationships and events within it; and on the identification and measurement of underlying values, which are less volatile, more deeply held ‘prejudices’. Attitudes are studied both as a substitute for measuring behaviour directly and because they are (sometimes) assumed to predict behaviour. Some social scientists treat them as important variables in their own right, key features of the individual, as reflected for example in the so-called authoritarian personality.

The sheer volume of attitudinal research is not difficult to explain. Consider, for example, the phenomenon of race discrimination. It is not easy to observe instances of discrimination, and isolated incidents, while illustrative, may not be representative. The alternative in surveys is to ask people to report their behaviour, but this runs into difficulties with situations that have never arisen, or are purely hypothetical. The other approach is then to collect attitudinal data on people's predispositions and stated values, the advantage being that the questions seem to be appropriate for everyone.

In reality, however, many people do not have well-developed or even superficial opinions on topics that may interest the sociologist. Some would argue that the idea of attitudes is closely tied to the culture of Western industrial society, in which citizens are regularly invited to express their views on public issues, both directly and through the ballot box. What is certain is that attitude scales developed in Western societies do not function in the same way in other cultures. Even the standard simple job satisfaction question attracts a different pattern of response as soon as it is used beyond the confines of Western industrial societies—in Japan for example. There is some debate about the ethnocentricism and broader cross-cultural validity of many attitude scales that have been developed over the past eight decades.

At the simplest level, attitude questions invite people to agree or disagree, approve or disapprove, say Yes or No to something. More sophisticated techniques for measuring attitudes (treated under separate headings in this dictionary) include the well-established and easy to use Likert scale, the Thurstone scale, Osgood's semantic differential scale, the Bogardus social distance scale (in which attitudes are equated with hypothetical behaviour), and Guttman scales. A huge variety of personality tests, attitude and aptitude scales have been developed in the United States and Europe for commercial use by employers and recruitment agencies, as part of the staff selection process. Attitude scales of various types are sometimes used in opinion polls, occasionally in simplified form. Attitude research shades into studies of reported behaviour, sociometric scales, the sociology of knowledge, research on motivations, preferences, aims and objectives, which are also causally linked to behaviour, and the whole range of social psychological research.

One of the longest-running disputes in social-scientific research concerns the relationship between attitudes and action. What are the behavioural implications of holding particular attitudes? This debate, which has taken place mostly among social psychologists, has culminated (after some six decades of research) in ‘general agreement that attitude, no matter how assessed, is only one of the factors that influence behaviour’ (see Icek Ajzen and and Martin Fishbein , Understanding Attitudes and Predicting Social Behavior, 1980
). However, this is as far as the consensus goes, since there is then widespread disagreement, both about where attitudes stand in this list of factors, and how they relate to the many other variables in the equation. After exhaustively reviewing the literature, Richard Eiser (Social Psychology: Attitudes, Cognition and Social Behaviour, 1986) was able to conclude only that ‘attitudes, in short, have behavioural implications’, and that ‘the question of which specific behaviours are implied by a particular attitude, however, will depend on circumstances, and is therefore an empirical one’.

For a useful summary of the major contributions to this debate, together with a discussion of other salient issues in attitude research, see Richard Eiser and and J. van der Pligt , Attitudes and Decisions (1988)


views updated May 11 2018


Predispositions to react in a certain way in response to certain kinds of stimuli. Attitudes are accompanied by positive or negative feelings associated with a specific psychological object, i.e., a habitual way of thinking and feeling about a group, person, situation, or object.

Attitudes are complex; they are composed of elements that fall into three categoriescognitive, affective, and behavioral. Attitude structure tends to be hierarchical; specific attitudes tend to be subsidiary to general attitudes; e.g., one prejudiced against a religious minority group will more than likely be found prejudiced against other minority groups whether religious, racial, or national.

In most adults attitudes are moderately well integrated and generally resistant to change. People tend to seek out persons and situations reflecting attitudes consistent with their own. It is unclear, however, as to whether consistency or attitudes is a cause or a reflection of certain personality characteristics.

Social environment is the principal determinant of the kinds of attitudes acquired and held. A child tends to acquire the attitudes he sees and hears expressed within the home. Where there is attitude uniformity in the environment, attitudes take shape readily. Generally accepted attitudes become stable and enduring. They can be changed through altering a person's perception of the significance of the attitude object as a means for obtaining cherished goals.

In principle, an attitude cannot be measured directly but rather by inference from what a person says or does. In general, what one says is the more direct measure of attitude since what is said is affected principally by one's habitual way of thinking and feeling about a given object or situation.

Attitude scales, consisting of 15 to 25 statements, fairly equally spaced along the continuum from very favorable to very unfavorable, ask the respondent for expressions of opinion on specifics of a given attitude. Each attitude statement is assigned by a group of "judges" a value on a 1-to-11 point scale according to degree of attitude expressed. An individual's score is the median value of items checked.

Attitude measures can evaluate the extent to which educational aims are achieved, e.g., the effect of a school program in achieving attitudinal objectives. Attitude evaluation likewise assists in the understanding of the dynamics of behavior.

Attitudes are effective determinants of behavior that can be influenced through education and measured. Current techniques, while being improved, are sufficiently valid and reliable to warrant their use.

Bibliography: h. j. lausmeier, Learning and Human Abilities (New York 1961). r. e. ripple, ed., Readings in Learning and Human Abilities (New York 1964). l. l. thurstone, The Measurement of Values (Chicago 1959), pt. 3; Multiple Factor Analysis (Chicago 1947). m. j. rosenberg et al., Attitude, Organization and Change (New Haven 1960). b. f. green, "Attitude Measurement," in Handbook of Social Psychology, ed. g. lindzey, 2 v. (Reading Mass. 1954).

[u. h. fleege]