What is Attitude?

Why Does Someone have a Certain Attitude?

Defining attitudes can be difficult. Some definitions:

  • “A mental and neural state of readiness, organized through experience, exerting a directive or dynamic influence upon the individual's response to all objects and situations with which it is related”

  • attitudes have a cognitive component, an affective component, and a behavioural component

  • attitudes are just thoughts and feelings or affective orientations toward objects

  • attitudes are “an evaluative categorization of a stimulus object”.

In general, we can define attitude as the way that that we tend to evaluate things (or interpret them). It is affected by what we have learned to believe about the world (e.g. people are basically good or basically bad), ourselves and others, what we have learned to like or dislike, and how we have learned to respond to people, things and situations.

Characteristics of Attitudes

  • Attitudes are not tangible, we can not see them, they are hypothetical and can be inferred but not directly observed. We can observe the effect of an attitude, but not the attitude itself. So an attitude is a hypothetical construct, representing an individual’s dislike or like for an item.
  • Attitudes are directed at some other object or person. They are different to emotions or moods, in that we can be happy for no particular reason. You may hold an attitude towards legalised drug use, abortion, drink driving etc.
  • Attitudes can be positive, negative or neutral towards an “attitude object” (a person, behaviour or event). People can also be ambivalent about an attitude object – that is, holding a simultaneous negative and positive bias towards the attitude being considered.
  • They are relatively enduring. Emotions can be over very quickly, but attitudes are quite stable. You may be extremely opposed to the legalisation of drugs, and your attitude is unlikely to change quickly. You have probably experienced this type of thing when trying to get someone to change their mind about an issue you feel strongly about. People don’t change their attitudes easily.
  • Attitudes are thought to influence behaviour. For example, a positive attitude towards a political may lead us to vote for him/her. A negative view about corporal punishment may cause us to vote against it in a referendum.
  • Attitudes are also more motivating than emotions and habits. For example, if you do not like men with punk hairstyles, you may be moved to move to another seat in the train, or cross the road to avoid him.
  • Attitudes can be implicit or explicit. Implicit attitudes are unconscious beliefs that can still influence behaviour and decisions. Whilst explicit attitudes are conscious beliefs that guide decisions and behaviour.

Researchers have identified three Dimensions of Attitudes

  • Strength of Attitude – strong attitudes are those that are held firmly and influence behaviour. Attitudes that are important to the individual tend to be strong. They are also strong if an individual tends to have a vested interest in them. People tend to have stronger attitudes about those things which they are knowledgeable about.
  • Attitude Accessibility – how accessible an attitude is refers to the ease with which it comes to mind. Highly accessible attitudes tend to be stronger.
  • Attitude Ambivalence – Ambivalence refers to the ratio of positive to negative evaluations that make up an attitude. The ambivalence increases as the positive and negative emotions get more and more equal.

 

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