The Psychology of Attitude
What is attitude?
Attitude is, in a word, how you express your likes and dislikes towards particular people, things, and occurrences. Attitudes can be positive, negative, or neutral. It is also common to have more than one of these feelings towards something – when that happens, for example, in the case of a person both likes and dislikes something at once, we say that that person’s attitude is “ambivalent”.
Attitudes are typically derived from judgments, which everyone makes. In psychology, it is believed that attitudes are rooted in an ABC approach: that is, affect, behavioral change, and cognition.
When we talk about an affective response to something, this is a physiological response to a particular stimulus that effectively expresses that person’s preference. The behavioral component is that individual’s verbal indication of what they intend to do. Finally, there is the cognitive response. This describes the individual’s cognitive evaluation of the entity, which is then used in the formation of an attitude.
It is believed that the attitude formation process as described above tends to happen as the result of observational learning in a person’s environment. Since a lot of human behavior is irrational, it is tough to characterize what the exact connection is between one’s attitude and one’s behavior.
There might be an individual, for example, who encourages others to donate blood, but refuses to donate blood himself or herself. Perhaps the person is afraid of the sight of blood. This explains the irrationality. This irrationality sets humans apart from other animals.
How does one change their attitude?
It is possible to change someone’s attitude via persuasion. The work of psychologist Carl Hovland in the mid 20th century helped psychologists gain a further grasp on what persuasion entails. Hovland established that attitude change had to be understood as a response to communication. Experimental research was conducted in the following areas as a means of understanding the process of attitude change: target characteristics, source characteristics, message characteristics, and cognitive routes.
Target characteristics are those characteristics that refer to the individual who is receiving and then processing a message. One of these characteristics is intelligence. The more intelligent an individual is, the less likely he or she will be persuaded by a one sided message. Self esteem is another major target characteristic that has been the subject of some investigation.
While it was once believed that individuals with high self esteem were less likely to be persuaded, recent evidence has emerged that self esteem is actually curvilinear.
What this means is that individuals with moderate self esteem are more likely to be persuaded, while those with either high or low self esteem are not. The mood and mind frame of an individual also weighs heavily when we are talking about target characteristics.
Then there are what is known as source characteristics. Attractiveness, expertise, and trustworthiness are all major source characteristics. One of the key variables in source characteristics is credibility.
When an individual reads an article on health, for example, and find out that it has come from a medical journal, they might be more likely to believe its accuracy than if they are told it came from a normal newspaper.
Hovland found that credibility does not have a very long lasting effect, however. Over time, the importance of credibility tends to disappear over time.
Then there are message characteristics. The exact nature of a particular message can play a major role in persuading individuals. A lot of time, a presentation of both sides to a case will help someone change their attitude.
Finally, there are cognitive routes. This describes the process whereby a message appeals to a particular individual’s cognitive evaluation and thus helps them change their attitude towards a particular subject. In the main route to persuasion, the person will be presented with data and subsequently motivated to evaluate that data before arriving at a conclusion that necessitates a change of attitude.
Then there is the peripheral route to changing someone’s attitude, wherein the person is encouraged not to look at the content of a message but at its source. This method is frequently employed by advertising campaigns that utilize celebrities. In other case, an expert or doctor might be used to persuade people of some truth.
How does attitude affect one’s career?
It is widely considered key by employers to have people in the work place who have positive attitudes.
What are implicit attitudes?
A lot of research has been done in recent years on implicit attitudes. These are unconscious attitudes, but they have major effects on our waking lives. Implicit attitudes are identified through specific sophisticated tests that measure people’s response times to stimuli. Just how much effect implicit attitudes have on our day to day lives has yet to be determined by medical science.