Attitude in Ethics UPSC | Difference between Positive and Negative Attitude | Attitude Formation Theories | Functionalist Theory | Learning Theory, Cognitive Dissonance Theory, Bem's Self Perception Theory | IAS TARGET IAS Target

Attitude Formation Theories

Attitude is always about “Something.” It’s a state of mind- your positive/negative feeling towards a person, object, event, idea, or environment.
Attitude determines how people will arrive at a correct judgment. Attitude AND Aptitude are different- Surviving terminal disease depends on your ‘attitude’ towards life rather than ‘aptitude’ in physical training.

Attitudes can be positive or negative

Positive attitudes Negative attitudes
Optimism, persistence Pessimism
Content (satisfied) Jealous
Tolerant intolerant, rigid
Modest, humble Inferiority, superiority
Cooperative Condescending, hostile
Cheerful Cynical

Theories of attitude formation and change.

  • Functionalist theory.
    Daniel Katz proposed a functionalist theory of attitudes. He takes the view that attitudes are determined by the functions they serve for us. People hold given attitudes because these attitudes help them achieve their basic goals. Katz distinguishes four types of psychological functions that attitudes meet.
    • Instrumental
      we develop favorable attitudes towards things that aid or reward us. We want to maximize rewards and minimize penalties. Katz says we develop attitudes that help us meet this goal.
      We favor political parties that will advance our economic lot –
      • if we are in business, we favor the party that will keep our taxes low,
      • if unemployed we favor one that will increase social welfare benefits. We are more likely to change our attitudes
      • if doing so allows us to fulfill our goals or avoid undesirable consequences.
    • Knowledge
      AAttitudes provide a meaningful, structured environment. In life, we seek some degree of order, clarity, and stability in our personal frame of reference. Attitudes help supply us with standards of evaluation. Via such attitudes as stereotypes, we can bring order and clarity to the complexities of human life.
    • Value-expressive
      Express basic values, reinforce self-image.
      Ex: if you view yourself as a Catholic, you can reinforce that image by adopting Catholic beliefs and values.
      Ex: We may have a self-image of ourselves as an enlightened conservative or a militant radical, and we therefore cultivate attitudes that we believe indicate such a core value.
    • Ego-defensive
      Some attitudes serve to protect us from acknowledging basic truths about ourselves or the harsh realities of life. They serve as defense mechanisms.
      Ex: Those with feelings of inferiority may develop an attitude of superiority.
  • Katz's functionalist theory also offers an explanation as to why attitudes change. According to Katz, an attitude changes when it no longer serves its function, and the individual feels blocked or frustrated. That is, according to Katz, attitude change is achieved not so much by changing a person's information or perception about an object, but rather by changing the person's underlying motivational and personality needs.
  • Ex: As your social status increases, your attitudes toward your old car may change - you need something that better reflects your new status. (For that matter, your attitudes toward your old friends may change as well).
  • Learning theory
    (which stresses attitude formation). There are several means by which we learn attitudes.
    • Classical conditioning.
      Ex: A father angrily denounces the latest increase in income taxes. (Pavlovian conditioning) A mother happily announces the election of a candidate she worked for. These parents are expressing opinions, but they are also displaying nonverbal behavior that expresses their emotions. For a child watching the parents, the association between the topic and the nonverbal behavior will become obvious if repeated often enough. And the nonverbal behavior will trigger emotional responses in the child: the child feels upset and disturbed when listening to the father and happy when listening to the mother.
    • Instrumental, or operant, conditioning.
      Behaviors or attitudes that are followed by positive consequences are reinforced and are more likely to be repeated than are behaviors and attitudes that are followed by negative consequences.
      Ex: People agree with your opinion.
    • Observational learning.
      Children watch the behavior of people around them and imitate what they see.
      Ex: If a young girl hears her mother denounce all elected officials as crooks, she may repeat that opinion in class the next day. Whether she continues to repeat that opinion depends on the responses of her classmates, teacher, and parents. That is, observations determine the responses we learn, but reinforcement determines the responses we express.
  • Cognitive dissonance theory
    Stresses attitude change - and that behaviors can determine attitudes.
    • Cognition: An individual perception of own attitudes, beliefs and behaviors
      Cognitive dissonance: The feelings of tension that arise when one is simultaneously aware of two inconsistent cognitions.
      For example, when we act contrary to our attitudes; or, when we make a decision favoring one alternative despite reasons favoring another
    • Consistency theories hypothesize that, should inconsistencies develop among cognitions, people are motivated to restore harmony.
    • Key propositions of dissonance theory
      • Dissonance theory says relationships among two cognitions can be either consonant, dissonant, irrelevant
      • Cognitive dissonance is a noxious state. It produces unpleasant physical arousal.
      • Individual will attempt to reduce or eliminate dissonance - and will try to avoid things that increase dissonance.
        Ex: Selective observation.
    • Cognitive dissonance can be reduced or eliminated only by
      • adding new cognitions,
      • changing existing ones.
        Ex: Can change our minds. Decide we were wrong.
        Ex: Can "make up" information, as in the "When prophesy fails"
    • Sources of dissonance
      • Informational inconsistency
        Receive information that refutes what they already know or believe. Ex: Assume you believe USA President George Bush did not know about Iran-Contra - & then suppose Oliver North asserted that he was the mastermind behind it. (Real-life, For example, some Iranians are said to believe Bush did head up Iran-Contra because he used to be chief of the CIA, a USA agency, and they believe the CIA runs the United States of America.)
      • Disconfirmed expectations.
        People are ready themselves for an event that never occurs - or even worse, an an event whose opposite occurs. Ex: You expect to do well on an exam, and you don't. Ex: When prophecy fails. In 1955, Marian Keech predicted that a great flood was going to destroy the Western Hemisphere on Dec. 21. She said she got her information from the planet Clarion. She attracted a band of followers and received further messages about how the faithful could save themselves. Midnight of the big day came and passed, and nothing happened. At 4:45 a.m., they received a Christmas message informing them that because of their commitment and faithfulness, the earth had been spared.>br> Many of these people had quit their jobs and broken up with their spouses and friends based on a belief that had been disconfirmed. This produced dissonance. They couldn't deny their past beliefs - they couldn't say the flood had occurred - they couldn't deny they had quit their jobs. They could have decided they were mistaken, but that would create dissonance with other cognitions, such as their being intelligent people. Hence, they convinced themselves they were right all along, and their faithfulness had saved the world. Further, if they could convince others to adopt their views, this would affirm their sense that their views were correct.
      • Postdecision dissonance
        after every decision, you feel dissonance because you have rejected some good things and accepted some bad. We tend to become more certain of decisions afterward. Ex: Bettors approached after they had placed bets at the racetrack were more sure of their choices than those approached before placing bets.
      • Note:
        This does not mean we never regret a decision. Disconfirmed expectations, new information, or whatever may cause us to feel we made a mistake. However, until these new events/information or whatever comes along, we will tend to feel more confident about our decision. Obviously, in the case of the racetrack example, people may have felt more confident after they placed their bets, but after the race was run, a lot of them probably didn't feel so confident anymore! 
        • Cognitions may not be necessary to the individual - hence inconsistency does not produce discomfort.
        • Cognitions may not come in contact with each other - contradictions can go unnoticed. Behavior may be mindless.
          Ex: We might enjoy a national park - without realizing we are overtaxing it.
        • Aversive consequences are not perceived. A product must result from counter attitudinal behavior for cognitive dissonance to occur. That product is the bringing about, or possible occurrence, of an aversive event. Aversive event: Something that goes against your self-interest or that you would instead not have occurred. Ex: In a variation of the tedious tasks experiment, some subjects believed they had deceived their fellow students, while others thought they had not. Only those who thought they had succeeded experienced dissonance. Ex: In another variation, subjects were led to like or dislike the other student. The only subjects who changed their attitude about the task were those who successfully convinced a student they liked.
        • A person must feel personally responsible. If the person feels that environmental forces caused the action or that the unwanted events were unforeseeable, they won't feel dissonance. How voluntary is the behavior? Were the consequences foreseeable? Note that foreseeable is not the same as foreseen - if you could have foreseen it but didn't, you can feel dissonance.
  • Bem's Self-perception theory.
    We infer our attitudes from our behavior. There is no tension; instead,behavior just serves an informative purpose. We calmly observe our behavior and draw reasonable inferences from it, just as we observe other people. 
    Ex: In the Festinger experiment, those who got $20 would assume their behavior was forced by the environment. Those who only got $1 would assume they did what they did because what they said was true.
    Ex: Bem showed that the results of cognitive dissonance experiments could be replicated quite well by observers. People read descriptions of the procedures, and predicted people's attitudes correctly.
    It is hard to choose between self-perception and cognitive dissonance theory since both usually make the same predictions. However, there is evidence that, as c. d. theory predicts, physiological arousal (that is, tension) accompanies dissonance conditions. Further, when arousal is eliminated (through the use of drugs or alcohol), attitude change does not occur.
    On the other hand, self-perception can explain some things dissonance can't. For example, when people are suddenly rewarded for doing something they did before just because they liked it, they can come to like it less.
    Ex: (From Myers): Child was reading 6-8 books a week. Library then started a reading club which promised a party to those who read 10 books in three months. Child started checking out only 1 or 2 books a week. Why? "Because you only need to read 10 books."
    Myers suggests dissonance theory successfully explains what happens when we act contrary to our clearly defined attitudes. We feel tension, so we adjust our attitudes to reduce it. Dissonance explains attitude change. When attitudes aren't well-formed, self-perception theory explains attitude formation that occurs as we act and reflect. (I think he may be right about the latter point, but I'm not so sure about the first.) Key thing, then, is how discrepant is the behavior with the attitude.