PSY220H1 Chapter Notes - Chapter 6: Caffeine, Safe Sex, Optimism
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Chapter 6: Attitudes and Social Behaviour
What Are Attitudes?
Geoff Keller‟s (president of „Attitude Is Everything, Inc.‟) definition of an attitude: a general perspective
on life, an outlook that can be positive (leading to success) or negative (leading to failure); corresponds
closely to the dimension of dispositional optimism (discussed in Chapter 5)
Social psychologists have a much more specific meaning for the term attitude.
Attitudes: Evaluations of Targets
Attitude: an individual‟s evaluation of a target (can be an object, an issue, a person, a group, a behaviour,
or any other identifiable aspect of the environment (e.g. a colour, an emotion))
By calling it an evaluation, theorists mean that an attitude is a good-bad judgement: it represents the
individual‟s overall assessment of whether a particular target is positive or negative.
Researchers must infer attitudes from individuals‟ observable responses as attitudes cannot be seen
Although it is true that people can have an attitude toward almost anything, social psychologists have
been interested mainly in attitudes that are directed at important targets, such as controversial issues,
ethnic groups, and consequential behaviours.
Three Parts of Attitudes
Attitudes can come from sources: emotional reactions, cognitive information, and past behaviour.
Whether an individual evaluates a target positively or negatively will depend on three things:
1) How the object makes them feel
a. Targets that arouse negative feelings and emotions (e.g. snakes, hypodermic needles) are
more likely to generate unfavourable attitudes than are targets that arouse positive
feelings and emotions (e.g. puppies, chocolate).
2) The person‟s beliefs about the object
a. Targets that are known or believed to possess negative characteristics (e.g. criminals,
cholesterol) are more likely to generate unfavourable attitudes than are targets that are
known or believed to possess positive characteristics (e.g. medical doctors, healthy
3) The person‟s previous actions toward the object
a. Targets toward which someone has behaved negatively in the past (e.g. enemies, weeds)
are more likely to be seen as disliked than are targets toward which someone has behaved
positively in the past (e.g. friends, kittens).
Two-way relation between attitudes and behaviour: past behaviours influence current attitudes, and
current attitudes influence future behaviour.
Attitudes toward certain targets depend mostly on people‟s feelings toward those targets (e.g. attitude
towards blood donation depends on one‟s fear of donating blood), whereas attitudes toward other targets
depend mostly on people‟s knowledge and beliefs (e.g. attitude toward controversial social issues depend
on one‟s agreement with arguments supporting each side of the issue).
Ambivalent attitudes: evaluations of targets that include both positive and negative elements; this conflict
among the attitudinal elements is experienced as unpleasant
A key implication of ambivalence is for the consistency of behaviour – what kind of behaviour does an
ambivalent attitude produce? Is it constant or variable?
Ambivalent attitudes can lead to different behaviour over time because either the positive or the negative
elements about the target may come to mind at a particular point, and whichever type of element is
dominant will drive behaviour (accessibility).
Attitudes that are low in ambivalence (all positive or all negative) will not produce such variable
Explicit Versus Implicit Attitudes
Explicit attitudes: those that people can report consciously
Implicit attitudes: an individual‟s automatic evaluative response to a target, which can occur without
awareness; spontaneous good-bad response that cannot be consciously controlled
Typically, implicit attitudes conform to explicit attitudes (they match); however, inconsistency between
the two does occur – people may not always realize that their implicit and explicit attitudes toward a
Perceptions of Others’ Attitudes
There is a common structure to people‟s perceptions of others‟ attitudes. Two dimensions are most
1) Liberal vs. conservative
2) Traditional vs. novel (or radical)
Thus, perceptions of other people‟s attitudes tend to be guided by consideration of the extent to which the
others are liberal or conservative and traditional or innovative.
Why Do We Evaluate?
Recognition, per se, is not very informative unless the memory system also triggers some sort of
evaluation of the object.
Object-appraisal function: attitudes give the individual a quick assessment (appraisal) of whether targets
are likely to be helpful or hurtful; most basic function of/principal reason for attitudes
The fundamental goal of object appraisal can be served by simple, affective responses that do not rely on
complex cognition, causing attitude-development to generalize beyond humans.
Values: broad, abstract standards or goals that people consider to be important guiding principles in their
People‟s values are related to their attitudes toward specific issues (e.g. religious individuals might adopt
specific positions on issues such as birth control or gay marriage to display their support for their faith);
the attitudes serve, in part, symbolic functions for the holders
Value-expressive function: attitudes allow people to convey an identity that connects them to some
groups and makes them distinct from other groups
Testing the Functions of Attitudes
How can an investigator determine whether a particular attitude fulfills an object-appraisal or a value-
The motivations underlying object-appraisal attitudes differ from those underlying value-expressive
Sharon Shavitt‟s experiment:
Idea: attitudes toward a particular object may fulfill the same function for almost everyone
Two examples of attitudes she studied: attitudes toward coffee and attitudes toward perfume
Shavitt proposed that one of these attitudes typically fulfills an object-appraisal function, and the other
typically fulfills a value-expressive function.
Object-appraisal attitudes give the individual a quick evaluation of the target, whereas value-expressive
attitudes tell other people about the individual‟s identity or values.
Shavitt hypothesized that attitudes toward coffee typically fulfill an object-appraisal function: people
either like or dislike the taste of coffee (as well as its dose of caffeine) and that attitudes toward perfume
often fulfill a value-expressive function: many people purchase a particular brand of perfume because it
projects a desired image or because it is promoted by a beautiful model or movie star with whom they
Shavitt asked participants to write down thoughts about their attitudes toward a particular target (e.g.
coffee, perfume) and to explain why they felt that way. These thoughts were later examined by judges
who recorded how often the participants mentioned specific themes.
When participants described an object-appraisal attitude (e.g. toward coffee), they were likely to mention
positive or negative features of the object.