Attitude FormationCCSF, Shardlow In Social Psychology attitudes are defined as positive or negative evaluations of objects of thought. Attitudes typically have three components. • The cognitive component is made up of the thoughts and beliefs people hold about the object of the attitude. • The affective component consists of the emotional feelings stimulated by the object of the attitude. • The behavioral component consists of predispositions to act in certain ways toward an attitude object. The object of an attitude can be anything people have opinions about.
Therefore, individual people, groups of people, institutions, products, social trends, consumer products, etc. all can be attitudinal objects. • Attitudes involve social judgments. They are either for, or against, pro, or con, positive, or negative; however, it is possible to be ambivalent about the attitudinal object and have a mix of positive and negative feelings and thoughts about it. • Attitudes involve a readiness (or predisposition) to respond; however, for a variety of reasons we don’t always act on our attitudes. • Attitudes vary along dimensions of strength and accessibility.
Strong attitudes are very important to the individual and tend to be durable and have a powerful impact on behavior, whereas weak attitudes are not very important and have little impact. Accessible attitudes come to mind quickly, whereas other attitudes may rarely be noticed. • Attitudes tend to be stable over time, but a number of factors can cause attitudes to change. • Stereotypes are widely held beliefs that people have certain characteristics because of their membership in a particular group. • A prejudice is an arbitrary belief, or feeling, directed toward a group of people or its individual members.
Prejudices can be either positive or negative; however, the term is usually used to refer to a negative attitude held toward members of a group. Prejudice may lead to discrimination, which involves behaving differently, usually unfairly, toward the members of a group. Psychological factors involved in Attitude Formation and Attitude Change 1. Direct Instruction involves being told what attitudes to have by parents, schools, community organizations, religious doctrine, friends, etc. 2. Operant Conditioning is a simple form of learning. It is based on the “Law of Effect” and involves voluntary responses.
Behaviors (including verbal behaviors and maybe even thoughts) tend to be repeated if they are reinforced (i. e. , followed by a positive experience). Conversely, behaviors tend to be stopped when they are punished (i. e. , followed by an unpleasant experience). Thus, if one expresses, or acts out an attitude toward some group, and this is reinforced by one’s peers, the attitude is strengthened and is likely to be expressed again. The reinforcement can be as subtle as a smile or as obvious as a raise in salary. Operant conditioning is especially involved with the behavioral component of attitudes. 3.
Classical conditioning is another simple form of learning. It involves involuntary responses and is acquired through the pairing of two stimuli. Two events that repeatedly occur close together in time become fused and before long the person responds in the same way to both events. Originally studied by Pavlov, the process requires an unconditioned stimulus (UCS) that produces an involuntary (reflexive) response (UCR). If a neutral stimulus (NS) is paired, either very dramatically on one occasion, or repeatedly for several acquisition trials, the neutral stimulus will lead to the same response elicited by the unconditioned stimulus.
At this point the stimulus is no longer neutral and so is referred to as a conditioned stimulus (CS) and the response has now become a learned response and so is referred to as a conditioned response (CR). In Pavlov’s research the UCS was meat powder which led to an UCR of salivation. The NS was a bell. At first the bell elicited no response from the dog, but eventually the bell alone caused the dog to salivate. Advertisers create positive attitudes towards their products by presenting attractive models in their ads. In this case the model is the UCS and our reaction to him, or her, is an automatic positive response.
The product is the original NS which through pairing comes to elicit a positive conditioned response. In a similar fashion, pleasant or unpleasant experiences with members of a particular group could lead to positive or negative attitudes toward that group. Classical conditioning is especially involved with the emotional, or affective, component of attitudes. 4. Social (Observational) Learning is based on modeling. We observe others. If they are getting reinforced for certain behaviors or the expression of certain attitudes, this serves as vicarious reinforcement and makes it more ikely that we, too, will behave in this manner or express this attitude. Classical conditioning can also occur vicariously through observation of others. 5. Cognitive Dissonance exists when related cognitions, feelings or behaviors are inconsistent or contradictory. Cognitive dissonance creates an unpleasant state of tension that motivates people to reduce their dissonance by changing their cognitions, feeling, or behaviors. For example, a person who starts out with a negative attitude toward marijuana will experience cognitive dissonance if they start smoking marijuana and find themselves enjoying the experience.
The dissonance they experience is thus likely to motivate them to either change their attitude toward marijuana, or to stop using marijuana. This process can be conscious, but often occurs without conscious awareness. 6. Unconscious Motivation. Some attitudes are held because they serve some unconscious function for an individual. For example, a person who is threatened by his homosexual feelings may employ the defense mechanism of reaction formation and become a crusader against homosexuals.
Or, someone who feels inferior may feel somewhat better by putting down a group other than her own. Because it is unconscious, the person will not be aware of the unconscious motivation at the time it is operative, but may become aware of it as some later point in time. 7. Rational Analysis involves the careful weighing of evidence for, and against, a particular attitude. For example, a person may carefully listen to the presidential debates and read opinions of political experts in order to decide which candidate to vote for in an election.