ATTITUDE’S INFLUENCE AND RELATION WITH THOUGHT AND BEHAVIOUR
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ATTITUDE AND BEHAVIOUR
Attitude and behaviour are closely related but they are two different concepts. Following differences can be observed between both:
- Attitude is internal whereas behaviour is external. In other words, behaviour can very well be seen by others as it is external whereas attitude is shelled within the mind of the individual and hence cannot be seen by others immediately.
- Attitude is what you think whereas behaviour is what you do. Attitude has to do with the mind whereas behavior has a lot to do with actions.
- Attitude is thought-oriented whereas behavior is action-oriented. Attitude can shape the behavior of a person. A person with the right attitude may be with right behavior too. But sometimes people act in accordance with their attitudes, and other times they act in ways that are quite inconsistent with their attitudes.
- Attitude is all about the opinion somebody has about something in life. Behavior is about how one responds to the impulsion and the pulls of the environment. This response can be shaped by the attitude of the person.
- It is possible to judge one’s attitude through one’s behavior though attitude is not visible externally. One can say that someone has a good attitude towards poor. It is evident from the person’s behavior. Hence attitude and behavior are related in some sense though they are two different concepts.
IS THERE A RELATION BETWEEN ATTITUDE AND BEHAVIOUR?
- During the early 1930s, La Piere conducted what has become probably the most widely cited study of the attitude–behavior relation. While traveling across the western United States in the company of a Chinese couple, La Piere stopped at more than 200 hotels and restaurants. The Chinese couple was refused service at only one establishment. Some 6 months later, La Piere wrote to the proprietor of each of the hotels and restaurants and asked whether the establishment served Chinese guests. Surprisingly, 92% of those who responded indicated that they did not accommodate Chinese guests. Thus, there was a startling inconsistency between the attitude responses to La Piere’s letter and the actual behavior toward the Chinese couple with whom La Piere had travelled.
- A very similar study concerning an African American guest, instead of Chinese guests, also observed much discrepancy between people’s reports of their attitudes and their actual behavior.
- Although it cannot be denied that a large number of studies suggest that attitudes do not influence behavior, sometimes attitudes do predict behavior. For example, studies of voting behavior consistently have indicated a substantial relation between preelection attitudes and voting. Basically, people vote for the candidates they like.
- Research has revealed everything from findings of no relation whatsoever to the nearly perfect relation observed.
- Thus, the answer to the question “Is there a relation between attitudes and behavior?” is a resounding “sometimes.” Given the range of findings, it becomes apparent that the question of attitude–behavior consistency has to be approached differently: Rather than asking whether attitudes relate to behavior, we have to ask, “Under what conditions do what kinds of attitudes of what kinds of individuals predict what kinds of behavior?” We need to treat the strength of the attitude–behavior relation as we would treat any other dependent variable and determine what factors affect it.
WHEN DO ATTITUDES GUIDE BEHAVIOUR?
- Strength of the attitude–behavior relation can be studied through qualities of the behavior, qualities of the person, qualities of the situation in which the behavior is exhibited, and qualities of the attitude itself.
A) Qualities of the Behavior:
- The behaviors that a social psychologist might be interested in predicting from knowledge of a person’s attitudes can range from the very specific (e.g., will the person attend church services this week?) to the very general (e.g., how many religious behaviors will the person perform over the next month?).
- A specific behavior is best predicted by a question that is equivalently specific to the action in question, the target of the action, the context in which the action is performed, and the time of the action (e.g., “How do you feel about attending church this Sunday?”). In a study conducted prior to the mandated use of lead-free gasoline, the actual purchase of lead-free gas was better predicted by questions asking specifically about buying lead-free gas than by questions assessing more general attitudes toward ecology.
- In contrast, a general pattern of behavior is best predicted by a general attitude measure. In one study, participants’ global attitude toward “being religious” was used to predict the likelihood that they performed each of many specific religious behaviors (e.g., praying before or after meals, donating money to a religious institution) and a general measure of performing religious behaviors that was a composite measure of the many specific religious behaviors.
B) Qualities of the Person:
- Some kinds of people typically display greater attitude–behavior consistency than do others. In general, two classes of individuals have been considered: those who are aware of and guided by their internal feelings and those who tend to rely heavily on cues in the situation to decide how to behave. In general, people who are aware of their feelings display greater attitude–behavior consistency than do people who rely on situational cues.
- Any given behavior of an individual can be guided both by the individual’s internal feelings and by external cues. Yet a number of personality dimentions have been developed and used successfully to assess whether a given person tends to rely more heavily on one type of cue or the other. Following are two personality dimensions:
(1) Level of moral reasoning:
- Level of moral reasoning has been found to affect the relation between attitudes and behavior.
- More advanced moral reasoning is characterized by principled, morally responsible thought based on people’s own general principles of moral action.
- Lower levels of reasoning focus on the general positive or negative consequences of a particular action or on a feeling of being bound by social or legal rules.
- Individuals who depend on their own feelings and principles to make moral judgments act much more consistently with their attitudes toward moral issues than do people who rely on external standards to determine what is moral.
- Individuals who score low on the self-monitoring scale claim to be guided by dispositions (i.e., their inner feelings). They agree with statements such as “My behavior is usually an expression of my true inner feelings, attitudes, and beliefs.”
- In contrast, individuals who score high on the self-monitoring scale view their behavior as stemming typically from a pragmatic concern with what is appropriate in each situation. They agree with statements such as “In different situations and with different people, I often act like very different persons.” Thus, these individuals are said to monitor the impression that they make on other people and adjust that impression to fit with others’ expectations.
- Low self-monitors behave more consistently with their attitudes than do high self-monitors.
- People who focus on themselves tend to act more consistently with their attitudes (e.g., people with high moral reasoning and/or low self-monitoring).
- On the other hand, people who are guided more by the environment or other external factors often do not act in a manner that is consistent with their attitudes (e.g., people with low moral reasoning and/or high self-monitoring)
C) Qualities of the Situation:
- A number of situational variables also affect the strength of the attitude–behavior relation. These include normative factors and time pressure to reach a decision.
(1) The Effect of Norms:
- Norms, or beliefs about how one should or is expected to behave in a given situation, can exert a powerful influence on behavior. People often behave as they believe others expect them to behave.
- A norm may be so strong and so universally held that virtually everyone in that situation behaves the same regardless of his or her attitude. For example, you might wish that someone were dead, but you would very rarely act on this attitude. Hence, attitude–behavior consistency is low.
(2) Time Pressure:
- Individuals are more likely to base their decisions on their attitudes when they are under time pressure because their attitudes provide a heuristic for making quick decisions. Time pressure pushes people away from a careful examination of the available information and toward a reliance on their pre-existing attitudes.
- For example, in one study, participants were asked to consider job applications from both male and female job candidates. When there was no time pressure, and so participants could consider all of the details carefully, their personnel decisions were unrelated to their attitudes toward working women. That is, participants whose earlier reported attitudes indicated some prejudice against women were just as likely to recommend hiring a female candidate as were those who did not hold such prejudiced attitudes. In striking contrast, when participants were under time pressure to make a hiring recommendation, an attitude–behavior relation was apparent. Participants who were prejudiced against women were less likely to recommend hiring a female candidate.
- Above example also points out that, from a societal perspective, there are some instances when attitude–behavior consistency is not desirable. In this instance, acting in accordance with an attitude leads to discrimination against certain groups within our society.
D) Qualities of the Attitude:
- Some kinds of attitudes appear to be stronger than others. In this context, the word stronger is not used in the sense of the attitude being more extreme. Instead, stronger refers to the apparent influence that the attitude has on the individual’s behavior. In fact, in all of the research that is explained earlier, groups of participants with different degrees of attitude strength were compared, but the distributions of attitude scores (i.e., the extremity of attitudes) in the various groups were equivalent to one another.
(1) The Role of Direct Experience
- One attitudinal quality is the manner of attitude formation. On the one hand is attitude formation through direct behavioral experience with the attitude object, and on the other hand is attitude formation through indirect nonbehavioral experience with the attitude object. For example, a child may form an attitude toward a toy by playing with the toy (direct experience) or on the basis of a friend’s or an advertisement’s description of the toy (indirect experience).
- Attitudes based on direct experience have been found to be more predictive of later behavior than attitudes based on indirect experience.
(2) Attitude Accessibility
- One thing that differentiates attitudes based on direct experience from those based on indirect experience is how accessible the attitudes are from memory. Accessibility in this sense refers to how easily attitudes come to mind. Some attitudes come to mind without any conscious effort on people’s part. When people see a cockroach, the “Yuck!” response probably comes to mind immediately. This attitude would be highly accessible from memory. But sometimes people have to deliberate quite extensively about what their attitudes toward some object are. If you are asked which of several restaurants is the best restaurant, you might have to think extensively about which one you like the best. This attitude would not be at all accessible from memory.
- As these examples illustrate, one way in which to measure how accessible an attitude is from memory is by how long it takes people to answer whether they like or dislike something. Attitudes based on direct experience tend to be more accessible from memory.
- There is also a functional value of such attitudes. Accessible attitudes ease decision making. Imagine what it would be like if every time you went into a ice-cream parlor, you had to decide which flavor of ice cream you wanted by reviewing the entire list of offerings and considering the relative merits of each type of ice cream. You would take a long time to make the decision, and the decision would probably be stressful. However, if the fact that you really like two flavors, readily comes to mind, the decision becomes much easier. Because accessible attitudes come to mind readily, they make the decision-making process that much easier.
- Discussing the functional value of accessible attitudes implies that accessible attitudes perform a number of useful functions for people, and indeed they do. However, there is a dark side to accessible attitudes as well. Accessible attitudes may be extremely difficult to change, with the upshot that people may be rather close-minded concerning topics toward which they have accessible attitudes.
HOW DO ATTITUDE GUIDE BEHAVIOR?
- Two different mechanisms by which attitudes can influence behavior. The major distinction between the two mechanisms centers on the extent to which the behavior is thoughtfully planned in advance of its actual performance as opposed to being a spontaneous reaction to a person’s perception of the immediate situation.
- In first mechanism, the individual may reflect and deliberate about a behavioral plan and may decide how he or she intends to behave. In so doing, the person may consciously consider the implications of his or her attitude. For example, when buying a car or deciding which college to attend, a person will extensively deliberate about the decision and consider all of the advantages and disadvantages before making a behavioral decision.
- Alternatively, in second mechanism, the individual might not actively reflect on his or her attitude, but that attitude may influence how the person interprets the event that is occurring and, in that way, may affect the behavior. When choosing between a vanila ice cream and a chocolate one, a person will rarely analyze the positive and negative features of each flavor. Instead, the individual’s attitudes toward the different flavors determine which flavor looks better at that moment in time.
- The former type of process is the essence of Theory of reasoned action. The latter is depicted in Model of the attitude-to-behavior process.
(A) Theory of Reasoned Action:
- The theory of reasoned action assumes that people deliberate about the wisdom of a given course of action.
- According to this theory an individual’s behavioral intention is the single best predictor of his or her eventual behavior. There are factors that an individual considers in forming a behavioral intention. The person considers, weighs, and combines (a) his or her attitude toward the behavior in question and (b) subjective norms regarding the behavior.
- The second component, subjective norms, involves both the person’s beliefs about what important others think he or she should do and the person’s motivation to comply with the wishes of these others. In deciding whether to attend college, an individual may consider what his or her friends and parents think about attending college as well as how important it is to comply with the wishes of his or her friends and parents.
(B) Model of the attitude-to-behavior process:
- The theory of reasoned action assumes that attitudes guide behavior through conscious consideration of and deliberation about a person’s attitude and its implications for a given course of action. In contrast, the process model suggests that attitudes can guide a person’s behavior even when the person does not actively reflect and deliberate about the attitude.
- When someone sees a cockroach, he or she probably does not consider the beliefs about how unsanitary cockroaches are, nor is the person likely to reason about what other people thinks of smashing the cockroach. If people did engage in such extensive thinking, the cockroach would disappear before anyone had a chance to decide how to react. Instead the process model argues that the individual’s attitude toward cockroaches would define this situation as an unpleasant one and that the person would act on this feeling or impulse.