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Attitudes and Behavior

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Attitudes and Behavior

Americans are very proud of the fact that our country provides us with freedom of speech. What most people mean when they use this phrase, though, is the freedom to hold personal attitudes that may differ from the norm and behave according to those attitudes. While many people debate mainstream attitudes and opinions, individuals maintain their own attitudes about the world around them. So what are attitudes? How are they different from behaviors?

  • What is the difference between attitude and behavior?
  • What are the functions of attitudes?
  • What are the effects of attitudes on behavior?
  • What are some examples of how attitudes lead to behaviors?

The Difference Between Attitude and Behavior

In social psychology, attitudes and behaviors are viewed as connected to each other. It is important to remember, though, that attitudes and behavior are not the same things. Attitudes are predisposed feelings toward people, places, or things. They are different from beliefs, but beliefs can influence our attitudes. Behaviors are actions in response to stimuli. This includes observable actions, unobservable mental processes, and non-conscious processes.

"Ice cream is really great." This is an example of a positive attitude towards ice cream that involves pleasant feelings or a positive disposition towards ice cream. This attitude is likely to lead to the behavior of eating ice cream.

The Functions of Attitudes

Attitudes help us navigate the world around us. We grow up learning and absorbing the attitudes held by our caregivers, and we start to develop our own attitudes about the world as we grow. The functions of attitudes have to do with how our attitudes help us make sense of the world. Some of these functions are gaining knowledge, maintaining self-esteem, improving social interactions, and expressing core values.

Gaining Knowledge

This is the role attitudes play in our ability to gain and interpret new information. Your attitudes inform how you interpret new information that you take in about the world. Having a positive attitude towards a public figure might lead you to interpret a negative story about them in the news as caused by situational factors rather than a moral problem. Your positive attitude toward that person will inform how you interpret new information about them.

Jared really likes a certain football player. He feels like the football player is a great guy. When a news story is released that the football player was caught with illegal drugs after a game, Jared feels like this was probably due to a set-up or someone else's fault. Jared's positive attitude toward the football player informs his interpretation of the news story.

Maintaining Self-Esteem

This is the role attitudes play in our ability to maintain our own self-image and self-esteem. Often this looks like maintaining a high regard for our own social circles because our social circles reflect back onto us.

Megan's roommate, Sarah, invited friends over to hang out who stole some of Megan's food while they were over. When Megan confronted Sarah, she refused to believe her friends would do that. Sarah's attitude towards her friends influenced her ability to see their mistakes.

Improving Social Interactions

This is the role attitudes play in our ability to maintain or improve social relationships and interactions.

This can look like holding positive or negative attitudes toward the style of a certain social group or club. The attitudes could be about appearance, music, food, or other group preferences.

Carlie enjoys punk music and alternative clothing styles. She has a positive attitude about alternative styles and music. She often finds herself becoming friends with others who share the same attitudes as her.

Expressing Core Values

This is the role attitudes play in how we express our core beliefs or values. This can look like wearing religious symbols or politically affiliated clothing because of our attitudes toward the values or beliefs of that group.

Jones holds a strong positive attitude towards his favorite mayoral candidate in the upcoming city election. He decided to buy a sign to place in his yard and a button to keep on his backpack to express his positive attitude toward this candidate and his support of their run for mayor.

The Effects of Attitude on Behavior

The attitudes we hold can impact our behaviors in a variety of ways. One way is through attitude change or persuasion. There are two main ways we can process a persuading message: central route processing or peripheral route processing.

Central route processing is when someone encounters an argument and thoughtfully considers the logic and strength of the argument's key points. When this happens, someone might be persuaded to adopt a new attitude or change an old attitude based on the overall merit of the argument. Sometimes juries will come to a verdict in a court case by central route processing if they thoughtfully listen to both sides of the argument and key points before deciding on their attitude towards the case verdict. They also have to separate personal biases and attitudes toward the case from their judgment of a person's guilt or innocence. Attitudes toward certain behaviors can influence guilty or not guilty verdicts.

Emily didn't really believe that the climate crisis was important. She was assigned a research assignment on the topic. After reading various research and academic reports on the subject, Emily found herself adopting an entirely new attitude towards the climate crisis.

Attitudes and Behavior, a picture of a brown wooden gavel, StudySmarterGavel, pixabay.com

Peripheral route processing is when someone becomes persuaded by factors that are not a part of an argument's key points, such as an emotional appeal or the person presenting the argument. TV commercials use well-known celebrities or beautiful people and places to make their products seem more attractive. We might feel like trying the product due to our attitudes toward the people and places in the commercial and not necessarily because the product is something we really want or need.

Peggy hadn't thought much about needing a new hairdryer. After seeing her favorite YouTuber make a vlog about a new hairdryer on the market, Peggy's attitude towards her old hairdryer changed. Peggy was only interested in the hairdryer because of the YouTuber's influence and not because of her need for the product.

Not surprisingly, attitudes changed by central route processing tend to last longer and become more meaningful. But how do these attitudes impact our behavior? Attitude strength is sometimes a predictor of behavior. The stronger a feeling or attitude, the more likely it is to impact a person's behavior.

Usually, people strive to hold consistent attitudes. Those who feel that certain behaviors are immoral might also feel negatively towards a movie, book, or event that portrays that behavior. This desire to maintain consistent attitudes is problematic when we find ourselves holding beliefs and attitudes that are inconsistent. Cognitive dissonance happens when there are contradictions in a person's attitudes and behaviors. Despite desiring to maintain consistency, many people experience contradicting behaviors and attitudes which can lead to changes in behavior or attitude in order to resolve the dissonance.

Mark holds the attitude that relationships should involve compromise, but he refuses to compromise during a specific disagreement with his spouse. In order to resolve this mismatch between his attitude and behavior, Mark can either change his attitude towards compromise or change his behaviors in the disagreement.

Another way that attitudes can impact the way we behave is through role expectations. The expectations of how we should behave in certain scenarios can cause a shift in our attitudes and behaviors. We behave differently as high school students than as college students and as lower-level employees than as managers because of our expectations of how we should behave. If our role in life did not change, there would be no need to change our attitudes toward certain behaviors.

A teen going to prom wears a really fancy dress, even though she dislikes wearing fancy clothing. She feels uncomfortable in the dress, but she wears it anyway. Her attitude towards fancy clothing is usually negative, but her attitude and behaviors change somewhat due to the event she is attending and what is expected at the event.

While it is easy to see how attitudes can influence our behaviors, attitudes are not a great predictor of behavior. People often feel one way and act a different way, or they say they'll do one thing and then they do something different. People often maintain attitudes that do not match their behaviors.

Examples of How Attitudes Lead to Behaviors

Over the years researchers have conducted many research studies involving attitudes and behaviors. Below are a few studies that highlight different ways attitudes connect and relate to our behaviors.

Richard LaPiere's Study

Richard LaPiere (1934) conducted one of the earliest studies looking at the relationship between attitudes and behavior. His study explored American prejudice and discrimination in the 1930s. LaPiere traveled to the west coast where Asian-American discrimination was extremely prevalent. He observed guests in restaurants and hotels to identify the mistreatment of Asian patrons. LaPiere observed only one instance of discrimination.

Later he called the same establishments and asked how each establishment felt about treating Asian patrons. LaPiere found that 90% of the establishments reported negative attitudes toward serving Asian patrons, which contradicted LaPiere's observations. While LaPiere's methods were far from foolproof and discrimination is much more complex than his experiment took into account, his study is an interesting example of how attitude does not always accurately predict behavior.

Leon Festinger's and James Carlsmith's study

In the 1950s, Festinger and Carlsmith conducted a research study exploring the concept of cognitive dissonance. They asked participants to perform a boring activity and then lie and tell the next subject that they enjoyed themselves. The next person was actually a confederate (a person who is in on the study). Some participants were offered $1 to lie, and some were offered $20 to lie.

The researchers assessed each participant's attitude towards the task. The results showed that participants who were given $1 to lie maintained a negative attitude towards the task. In their mind, $1 was not enough to justify lying, which would create cognitive dissonance between their attitudes and behaviors. Those who were offered $20 felt less dissonance about lying and a more positive attitude toward lying because they felt that the reward justified the lie. More money was enough to change a participant's attitude toward lying, and the attitude change impacted their experience of cognitive dissonance!

Attitudes and Behavior - Key takeaways

  • Attitudes are predisposed feelings that inform our opinions about objects, people, and events.
  • Behavior is an action in response to a stimulus. This includes observable actions, unobservable mental processes, and non-conscious processes.
  • Central route processing is when someone encounters an argument and thoughtfully considers the logic and strength of the argument's key points.
  • Peripheral route processing is when someone becomes persuaded by factors that are not a part of the argument's key points, such as an emotional appeal or the person presenting the argument.

  • Cognitive dissonance is the desire to avoid contradictions in attitudes and behavior.

  • LaPiere's discrimination study and Festinger and Carlsmith's lying study are two examples of how attitudes can impact behaviors in psychological research.

Frequently Asked Questions about Attitudes and Behavior

Attitudes impact our behavior is through persuasion, cognitive dissonance, and social roles. 

Attitudes are beliefs we hold, and behaviors can be a response to those beliefs, but they can also be a response to other types of variables like a person's environment or health.  

Attitudes can influence behavior through cognitive dissonance. We desire to maintain consistent attitudes and beliefs can lead to cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the desire to avoid contradictions in attitudes and behavior.

An attitude would be, "I believe in God," while a behavior would be praying before bed. One is a belief or opinion and the other is an action. 

Final Attitudes and Behavior Quiz

Question

______ are feelings or beliefs that inform our opinions about objects, people, events, etc. 

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Answer

Attitudes

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_____ is an action in response to a stimulus. This includes observable actions, unobservable mental processes, and non-conscious processes. 

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Behavior

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This is the role attitudes play in our ability to gain or interpret new information. 


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Knowledge function of attitude

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This is the role attitudes play in our ability to maintain our own self-image. 


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Ego-defensive function of attitude

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This is the role attitudes play in our ability to maintain or improve social relationships, interactions, or cohesion. 

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Social-adjustive function of attitude

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    This is the role attitudes play in the way we express our core beliefs or values. 


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Value-expressive function of attitude

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_____ ____ _____ is when someone encounters an argument and thoughtfully considers the logic and strength of the argument's key points. 


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Central route processing

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____ ____ ____ is when someone becomes persuaded by factors that are not a part of the argument's key points, such as an emotional appeal or the person presenting the argument. 


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Peripheral route processing

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True or False: Cognitive dissonance is the desire to create contradictions in attitudes and behavior.

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False: Cognitive dissonance is the desire to avoid contradictions in attitudes and behavior.

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True or false: Role expectations and the attitudes we hold about how we should behave in certain roles can bring about behavior changes.

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True

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True or False: Attitude are a great predictor of behavior.

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False: While it is easy to see why our attitudes can influence our behaviors, attitudes are not a great predictor of behavior.

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An example of Peripheral route processing is 


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When T.V. advertisements use well-known celebrities or beautiful people/places to make their products seem more attractive.

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An example of Central route processing is

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If a jury thoughtfully listens to the arguments and key points made by both sides before deciding to change their attitude about the case verdict. 

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Question

True or false. In social psychology, attitudes and behaviors are viewed as connected to each other.

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True

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Question

"I love dogs!" is an example of:

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Attitude

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____ help us navigate the world around us.

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Attitudes

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In which of the following does the attitude function of maintaining self-esteem come into play?

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A teacher raises a concern to a parent regarding his son, and the parent refuses to believe

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The attitudes we hold can impact our behaviors in a variety of ways. One way is through ______ or ______.

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attitude change or persuasion

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What are the two main ways we can process a persuading message?

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Central route processing and peripheral route processing

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You and your friend decided to eat at a restaurant which is one of your favorite movie filming locations. What process is involved in this situation?

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Peripheral route processing

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True or false. Attitudes changed by peripheral route processing tend to last longer and become more meaningful.

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False

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Question

This desire to maintain consistent attitudes is problematic when:

I. We find ourselves holding beliefs and attitudes that are inconsistent

II. We fail to see that there are no problems with our attitudes

III. We compromise our values

IV. We face situations that challenge our consistency

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Answer

I

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True or false. Many people experience contradicting behaviors and attitudes, leading to changes in behavior or attitude to resolve the cognitive dissonance.

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True

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Pauline doesn't like to be in the spotlight, but when the teacher asks each student to introduce themselves, she tries to change her attitude to feel more comfortable speaking in front of the class. This describes:

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Role expectations

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People often maintain _____ that do not match their _____. 

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attitudes, behaviors

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Which is an example of cognitive dissonance?

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A person who claims to be a vegan but eats meat during holidays

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