Class Notes (1,000,000)
CA (610,000)
York (40,000)
PSYC (5,000)
PSYC 2120 (100)

PSYC 2120 Chapter 6.docx

Course Code
PSYC 2120
Irwin Silverman

of 4
PSYC 2120 Chapter 6: Attitudes and attitude change
The nature and origin of attitudes
- Most psychologists define an attitude as an evaluation of a person, object, or idea. They are
evaluative in that they consist of a positive or negative reaction to something
- An attitude is made up of three components:
1. An affective component, consisting of emotional reactions toward the attitude object (for
example, another person or a social issue)
2. A cognitive component, consisting of thoughts and beliefs about the attitude object
3. A behavioural component, consisting of actions or observable behaviour toward the attitude
- Attitudes very in terms of whether they are more likely to be based on affect, cognition, or
- An attitude based more on emotions and feelings than on an objective appraisal of pluses and
minuses is called an affectively based attitude. These attitudes could come from people’s values,
such as their religious and moral beliefs.
- Affectively based attitudes have certain key features in common: they do not result from a
rational examination of the issues, they are not governed by logic, and they are often linked to
people’s values, so that trying to change them challenges those values
- Cognitively based attitudes to the extent that a person’s evaluation is based primarily on beliefs
about the properties of an attitude object. The purpose of this attitude is to classify the pluses and
minuses of an object so we can quickly tell whether it is worth our while to have anything to do
with it
- A behaviourally based attitude stems from people’s observations of how they behave toward an
attitude object. According to Daryl Bem’s self perception theory, under certain circumstances
people don’t know how they feel until they see how they behave
- Once an attitude develops, it can exist at two levels. Explicit attitudes are ones we consciously
endorse and can easily report, they are what we think of as our evaluations when someone asks us
a question such as, what is your opinion importing carbon taxes?. People can also have implicit
attitudes which are involuntary, uncontrollable and at times unconscious evaluations
When will attitudes predict behaviour?
- In subsequent research, social psychologists have discovered that attitudes can actually predict
behaviours quite well, but only under certain conditions
- The theory of planned behaviour, the best predictor of people’s behaviour is their intention
(whether they intend to perform the behaviour in question), which is in turn determined by three
things: their attitudes toward the specific behaviour, their subjective norms, and their perceived
behavioural control.
- Specific attitudes, the theory of planned behaviour holds that only specific attitudes toward the
behaviour in question can be expected to predict that behaviour. Ex. The women’s general
attitude toward birth control did not predict their use of birth control at all
- Subjective norms, their beliefs about how the people they care about will view the behaviour in
question. Ex. Kristen may go to a heavy metal concert because her friend wants her to be there,
even though she does not like heavy metal
- Perceived behavioural control, people’s intentions are influenced by perceived behavioural
control, which is the ease with which people believe they can perform the behaviour. If people
think it is difficult to perform the behaviour, they will not form a strong intention to do so. If
people think it is easy to perform the behaviour, they are more likely to form a strong intention to
do so
- The theory of planned behaviour is useful in understanding an area in which people’s attitudes
and behaviour are often inconsistent, practicing safer sex. Although people tend to express
positive attitudes towards using condoms, they frequently fail to do so. One reason has to do with
subjective norms: if people believe that their peers are not using condoms, or if they believe their
partner would disapprove of condom use, they probably will not use them. Another reason is
perceived behavioural control: if people find it embarrassing to buy condoms or to bring up the
topic of condom use with their partner, it is unlikely that they will use condoms. Finally, condoms
also will be used if people’s intentions to use them are undermined (by excessive alcohol
Attitude change
- One way attitudes change is if people receive a persuasive communication. According to the
Yale attitude change approach, the study of the conditions under which people are most likely
to change their attitudes in response to persuasive messages; the persuasiveness of a
communication depends on aspects of the communicator, or source of the message, aspects of the
message itself and aspects of the audience.
- The heuristic systematic model of persuasion and the elaboration likelihood model specify
when people are persuaded more by the strength of the arguments in the communication and
when they are persuaded more by surface characteristics, such as the attractiveness of the speaker.
- People will take the central route to persuasion (systematic processing) when they have both the
ability and the motivation to pay close attention to the arguments.
- People will take the peripheral route to persuasion (heuristic processing) when they either don
not want to or cannot pay close attention to the arguments. Under these conditions they are
persuaded by such peripheral cues as the attractiveness of the speaker or the length of the speech.
- Importantly, attitude change is longer lasting and more resistant to attack when it occurs via the
central systematic route
- One way to get people’s attention is to scare them. This is called a fear arousing
communication, which can cause lasting attitude change if a moderate amount of fear is aroused
and if a specific recommendations are provided for performing the desired behaviours
- The effectiveness of persuasive communications also depends on the type of attitude people have.
Appeals to emotion work best if the attitude is based on affect; appeals to utilitarian features work
best if the attitude is based on cognition.
- Subliminal messages defined as words or pictures that while not consciously perceived,
supposedly influence people’s judgments, attitudes, and behaviour. A majority of the public
believes that these messages can unknowingly shape attitudes and behaviour
Resisting persuasive messages
- It is possible to make people resistant to attacks on their attitudes. Attitude inoculation is the
technique whereby people are exposed to small doses of arguments against their position, making
it easier for them to refute these arguments when they hear them later
- It is also important to be on the lookout for product placement, strategically placed products in
movies and television shows that are intended to persuade us. One reason product placement may
be so successful is that people do not realize that someone is trying to influence their attitudes and
Changing our attitudes because of our behaviour: The theory of cognitive dissonance
- According to cognitive dissonance theory, people experience discomfort (dissonance) whenever
they behave in ways inconsistent with their attitudes or when they hold two conflicting attitudes.
- There is evidence that dissonance is an uncomfortable state and that people are motivated to
reduce it. People reduce dissonance by either justifying their past behaviour of changing their
behaviour. The resulting change in attitude stems from a process of self persuasion
- Dissonance inevitably occurs after important decisions (postdecision dissonance), because the
thought that “i chose alternative X” is inconsistent with the thought that “I might have been a lot
better off with alternative Y”. People reduce this dissonance by increasing their liking for the
chosen alternative and decreasing their liking for the negative alternative. Dissonance also occurs
after people choose to exert a lot of effort to attain something boring or onerous. A justification
of effort occurs, whereby people increase their liking for what they attained.
- Another source of dissonance occurs when people commit foolish, immoral, or absurd acts for
insufficient punishment. For example, when people say something against their attitudes
(counter attitudinal advocacy) for low external justification, they find an internal justification
for their behaviour, coming to believe what they said. Similarly, if people avoid doing something
desirable for insufficient punishment, they will come to believe that the activity wasn’t really all
that desirable after all
- Dissonance reduction can have sinister effects. If we find ourselves acting cruelly toward
someone for insufficient justification, we will derogate the victim, assuming he or she must have
deserved it. The problem with reducing dissonance in this way is that while it makes us feel better
about ourselves, it can result in a rationalization trap, whereby we set the stage for acts of
increasing stupidity and immorality.
- As suggested by self affirmation theory, we can avoid this trap by reminding ourselves of our
competencies in other areas. It is also useful to remind ourselves that we are good and decent
people, so that we do not have to justify and rationalize every stupid or immoral act we perform